`I grew up in the green room'

I f you thought mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are always at loggerheads, meet Apara Mehta and Smriti Irani and you would be forced to think again. The country's most famous saas and bahu, who are recognised more by their reel names Savita chachi and Tulsi (in the longest running Hindi serial "Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi"), are the best of friends off screen. While thousands of TV-soap addicts idolise Tulsi, they also enjoy watching her mom-in-law's emotional flip flop, ethnic attire and attractive face.A Miss India finalist-turned-actress-turned-politician, though Smriti lost the last Parliamentary elections as a BJP candidate from Delhi, she is quite serious about her political career, is producing plays and may soon be doing two films. Apara, an established name in Gujarati theatre for more than 25 years, hit big time on television with the popular serial "Ek Mahal ho sapnon ka", which had a four-year run. These days she is busy adapting all good Gujarati plays into Hindi to draw more audiences to keep theatre alive and kicking. In Chennai recently, both regaled Chennai-ites again as saas and bahu in the Hindi play "Kuch tum kaho, kuch hum kahein". In a hurried Take Two in the green room, they talked about their professional aspirations and personal rapport. CHITRA SWAMINATHAN listened in... Smriti: (posing for pictures wrapping an arm around Apara) Don't you think we look like Dharmendra and Amitabh in "Sholay"? (Referring to their friendship and difference in height) Apara: (Bursts out laughing) This is an interview my dear, not Balaji Telefilms sets where you love to fool around. Smriti: We are supposed to chat and ask each other questions. Don't you think it's a risky proposition as we can be unstoppable? (Flashing her trademark toothy smile) Anyway, Apara tell me when is the last time you slept well? Apara: You are impossible, I say. Shooting, plays, family, travelling... sleep comes last. I find it so funny when we sometimes cross each other in airports. Okay, tell me what will happen when I am not there in "Kyunki... "? Smriti: That can never happen. In Ekta Kapoor's serials the dead always make a comeback. So you will still keep me company as a ghost. Apara: But thanks to the record breaking run of the serial, we have come to know each other so well. We have grown up... Smriti: You mean girth wise? There's no doubt about it. Apara: I mean as actors and human beings. I saw you join as a young girl, then you got married, became a mother, turned a politician, all these have happened during the course of this serial. Smriti: Actually we are both traditionalists at heart, who share the same passion for work and value system in life. So, despite the age difference there's hardly any difference of opinion and approach. Apara: Your commitment to work is what instantly appealed to me. Quite like Tulsi, you have a mind of your own, know what you want and go all out to do it. At least I have a grown up daughter, I don't know how you manage so much with kids at home. Smriti: Please stop, I am floating in air. But I think it's about time management and setting your priorities right. For instance, before taking my flight to Chennai, I spent the whole day with the kids, took them out for a picnic and had a good time. No parties for me. Nor do I spend hours in parlours. Only work and home matter to me. Apara: I am no party type either. All my free time is spent with my actor-husband Darshan Jariwala and daughter. If not for our family's support our dreams will remain dreams. I am a trained Kathak dancer and Hindustani musician. That's how I landed the role in "Devdas". Luckily, my mother (Mandakini Mehta) and mother-in-law (Leela Jariwala) were also into theatre, so they completely understood and encouraged me. I have grown up in the green room, so has my daughter. Most of her birthdays were celebrated backstage. Smriti: So is politics in my family. I was actually working for my political organisation even before I became an actress. I am a third generation politician; my mother was a Jan Sangh worker. But as an actress when I entered the party headquarters everybody wondered what I was doing there and a press conference was called to announce my joining the party. As a member of the BJP national executive, I was made vice-president of the youth wing, Maharashtra, specifically to draw more women into politics not just in urban but rural areas too. You know Apara, in my first term itself, within six months 60 women took charge as zilla district heads. Apara: How did you feel about all the criticism? Smriti: When you are a known face, you have to work with some disadvantages. Only with time can you convince people about your sincerity and commitment. Apara: True, like many criticise us for doing serials such as "Kyunki... ", calling them regressive. If you look at it professionally, a role is a role and as an actor you have to make everything believable. But I wonder how you can call being decently dressed, wearing sindoor, bindi, mangalsutra and caring for the family regressive. Smriti: I remember after I started playing Tulsi, when people would see me in jeans and tee, their jaws would drop, "Arrey, dekh Tulsi ko." Apara: Remember the number of condolence letters I got after my reel son Mihir's death in the serial? I even used to get film offers for a mother-in-law's role every other day. Smriti: And you would have created a record for playing saas to the most number of actors.


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