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An Interview with Bhavana Balsaver

'Comedy is about timing, not buffoonery'


Be it the role of a scatterbrain
Chachi in popular sitcom Dekh Bhai Dekh or as a stunning actress in another sitcom Zabaan Sambhal Ke, Bhavana Balsaver has etched a place for herself as a convincing actress.

Though happy about being able to depict characters well, she expresses some disappointment at being typecast in the comedy slot. "I feel glad when I hear people say that I shouldn't be such a simpleton," quips the actress, pleased to be able to play characters that make people laugh with conviction.

An ICSE Board topper, Bhavana matriculated from Arya Vidya Mandir, before she took up dress designing and fashion coordination at SNDT College. I did not wish to take up medicine or engineering since I am inclined towards the creative field

"Acting was the last thing that I thought of, till I faced the audience as a last minute replacement when one of the cast of
Bottoms Up could not come," she recalls. The first acting experience while still a school-going student left a lasting impression. "It changed my attitude towards acting," she recalls.

Indiantelevision.com correspondent Harsha Khot met the actress at her residence in Bandra, where she stays with her mother Shobha Khote, and five dogs that mean the world to her and found that there's much more to her than just acting.

While passionate about acting, Bhavana also has a flair for writing which not many know of and has been penning down poems and couplets ever since she was a child. "They still think of me to be a scatterbrain," she laughs. Excerpts from the interview:


What got you interested in acting? How and when did you take it up?
I was never interested in acting, even though my mother has a background in acting. During my childhood, if anyone had ever asked me whether I would grow up to be an actress, which considering my family background seemed the most obvious thing to do, 'no' would have been the reply. Basically I am a studious person and an introvert. Theatre didn't seem a possibility until I accompanied mother for the Bottoms Up play. She was one of the cast. One day one of the actresses didn't turn up and they needed somebody to take her place. Since I was a regular backstage they urged me to fill in. And as it was a matter of a few minor scenes I took it up. It was the first time I ever acted and that too on a professional stage and did not get nervous at all. That was the time I suppose the acting bug hit me. But I still hadn't made up my mind whether I would take this up though I did do some episodes of Karamchand, Askansha and Jugal Bandi after that.


At what point did you decide to take up acting seriously?
Midway through my course of dressmaking and fashion coordination designing at SNDT, Anand Mahendroo offered me Dekh Bhai Dekh. The script was interesting and the role exciting. The character of "Chachi" was very unlike me and I thought it was something I would enjoy doing. But taking up the project meant total commitment, setting six months aside. I would have to give up college. I gave it a considerable thought and that was when I got serious about acting.

What does acting mean to you?
Acting means portraying a character. It means convincing the audience that you are the character without letting them realise that you are acting. To play the character realistically and not let mannerisms get in the way that would make it seem that you are doing a performance. It is not the performance that should come through, it is the character.


What is your approach to enacting a character once you're in front of the camera?
Once the camera starts rolling, the personality of Bhavana Balsaver just switches off and adapts to the personality of character. Since I am a very nervous person when among large groups of people, switching off and on is what works for me. I get into the character. It is not a conscious effort, because with action it starts and with cut it ends. It is just a matter of being spontaneous. You have to condition your mind according to the character. "Chachi" was a simpleton. She did not understand what was happening around her. She would be clueless about people playing games with her. So keeping in mind how she would react to things I have to act accordingly.

What do you consider while finalising a contract?
I want a script before I shoot, just to be aware of what level of scripting to expect. The character is important. The character should have something that stands out. The kind of set-up is also important. I should be comfortable with the way things are organised because if I perceive a lack of interest then I am not interesting in working there. I don't do anything I don't enjoy and luckily I have the liberty to do so.

Often the script isn't etched or written that well so how do you bridge the gap? How do you contribute to the script?
It is quite often nowadays that scripts that come to me are unexciting. Two to three years ago there, good scripts were not so hard to come by, but with the spurt in channels, no one seems to have the time.
As far as my contribution to a script goes I will give you an example. I am presently anchoring a show on Zee, which is a programme based on scenes from films. Sometimes the script may be good but it fails to gel with the location where we are shooting so we have to adapt accordingly. That is where I contribute. That is what teamwork means. If things go wrong you cannot sit back and stick to your script and be adamant about not doing things that are not in the script. One has to contribute.
Otherwise, if there are regular scripts then I don't interfere in any way. If the script is good then one doesn't try and butt in.

Any challenging roles that you have played?
Zabaan Sambhal Ke by Rajiv Mehra and Asmaan Se Aage by Anand Mahendroo. As different as chalk and cheese really. The character in Asmaan Se Aage smoked and had negative shades. People remarked on how different she was to "Chachi" in Dekh Bhai Dekh. I got appreciation for that which made me feel quite good.

How do you go about sketching out the character that is to be played? Do you work on your voice and get-up?
I don't do a lot of homework but in a certain way the character is sketched out. For instance in Oh Daddy on Zee, "Preeti" is an assistant director on the sets of a film where she is shown to be in complete awe of her hero. You tell her to eat stone she would, not because she is stupid or anything but because he is simply God to her. When he's around she just gets funked out because of her eagerness to please him. She has this high-pitched voice which goes an octave higher when the hero is around. I gave her a high-pitched voice because she is so excitable.

The character in Kissa Khursi Ka on the other hand is always wearing a saree and keeps a simple plait since she is an advisor to the minister. In her case I wouldn't get into fancy stuff. While in Kabhi Kabhi Mere Ghar Main Bhuchal Aata Hai, she is the eldest "bahu" (daughter-in-law) so a subdued character fits her profile.

While shooting what are you particular about?
I am particular about the look. If I am going to be playing "Preeti" of Oh Daddy and was given a salvar kameez to wear because the clothes she was supposed to wear were not ready, then that is something I would not agree to do because that would not fit into the character I play.


Bhavan Balsaver , Mohan Kapoor in 'Ateet'


So do you take your own clothes in case the character requires it and the ones provided by the production house doesn't match up?
Fortunately I haven't had to do that till now.

What roles are close to you?
Dekh Bhai Dekh, because it was my first serial and went on to become very popular. The character came across as a dumb person and I manage to convey that. Even in real life people thought that is the way I am which amuses me. During shoots, every take I did was as if it was for the first time, never mind how many takes it took. Be it even 50 takes.

How do you schedule you work routine?
It is not possible to decide how much and when you are going to work. As far as possible I don't take on too much work. At a given time I don't take up more than three serials. But you can't say I am going to work only for so many days. There have been times when I had one serial on air and times when four serials were running for 20 days.

How do you sketch out characters. Since most of the characters you play were in a comedy series what went into bringing them out differently?
Nowadays it is not really possible. No one wants character. It is just do it, do it. It is more like you have to do it. There are very few good directors. Earlier, it wasn't so.

For instance while working with Anand Mahendroo, he would give me a complete breakdown of the character. This is how the character is and this is how she reacts. He would do his homework on his character.

Now there are directors who don't even know what the script is all about so it is very difficult to ask such directors about character. Personally, I try to see that the characters are not too similar to each other.

I was doing Zaban Sambhaal Ke and Dekh Bhai Dekh simultaneously. Both were comedy, and both characters were dumbos. But the South Indian character "Vijayadhar" in Zabaan Sambhal Ke was not a birdbrain like "Chachi" in Dekh Bhai Dekh was. "Vijayadhar" may have been limited intellectually but at the same time she was sharp, worldly wise, smart and knew how to get her way. She was quite unlike "Chachi" who needed to be protected by everyone around.

How soon do you see professionalism coming into in television?
There has always been a certain kind of professionalism in the industry. It is just that currently there is a mad rush. If something takes off all the others follow suit. If daily soaps are doing well everybody wants to get into doing them. The work quality obviously gets affected. Which is why I want a good director.


Bhavana Balsaver in 'Mrityu '

What according to you makes a good director? Who are your favourite directors?
I am director's actress. I have worked with Anand Mahendroo whose work would be detailed to the extent of when to take a breath. So I would love to rely on a director. It is only when I don't get one then I have to do my own thing. At least know how the character would be, what her dresses would be like, her tempo of speaking, behaviour.
If the director knows exactly what he wants, it may be difficult to work with him because he needs 50 takes to okay a shot, but I respect that kind of perfection.

In what way has theatre helped you?

While doing theatre, there is no second chance. You have to be alert all the time. Eventually it is the actor who has to look after everything and carry the show. There is a director but he has done his job once he has made you rehearse for days and months together. But when you are on stage, it is for the actor to carry it on the show. There is no close up, no support so it is you alone who has to do the job.

A memory is good because you remember what you memorised. During shoots after three or four takes the reaction generally tends to become stale. Experience in theatre helps you bridge that gap. In theatre you get accustomed to spontaneous reactions that are fresh. It doesn't get stale even though you have said the same thing week after week show after show and every time the reactions have to be genuine and spontaneous. A theatre actor is used to giving that, producing those kinds of reactions.

Would the absence of theatre have made a difference?

I don't think the results would be as good. Whatever I am is because of theatre.

What do you do when you're not shooting?
I read, write, watch television, and spend time with my dogs


Achint Kaur & Bhavana Balsaver in
'Oh Daddy'
Which programmes do you generally watch? Any good comedies on air?
I am not into watching to Hindi soaps and unfortunately there is no good comedy on Indian channels except for Tu Tu Main Main, which has been running for many years. I watch more of English sitcoms. Their scripts don't focus on buffoonery. They are funny and witty.

Why do you say comedy isn't easy? What to you is a good comedy?
Good comedy it mainly about timing. Today, the comedy we see on our television shows is lots of buffoonery with a lot of jumping and screaming. This is not comedy. Well it is called comedy but that is not how it should be. In fact it's all about timing and correct reactions. Timing is not something that can be taught. It just has to be there. The reason Dekh Bhai Dekh clicked so well was everybody's timing was perfect. On as well as off sets we all gelled as a family. There was no one who was going overboard with a lot of jumping and screaming. We were normal people. Comedy is not making faces; it is about being a victim of situation and circumstance.

You have to make it seem very genuine to bring laughter out of a person. One has to be alert, there has to be repartee, something that would complement the situation, not one-upmanship. A lot of time because the script is bad there is a lot of one-upmanship. It not a pleasant feeling watching that on screen.

Which are your favourite serials?
Friends is my favourite and I have watched every episode religiously ever since it came to India. In fact I have seen every episode nearly four to five times. Apart from Friends I like Just Shoot Me on Paramount Channel, Jessy, and Three is Company.

What of when you are not shooting?
Then you'll find me surfing the Net and writing. I want to be creative. I surf. I like to know, I like to travel. Even if I want to go for dinner I rely on the Net.

What do you write?
I have been writing poems and couplets ever since childhood. I would like to direct and write someday. Usually I fill in half an hour with pages that would probably sound like an episode script. On the set I am always observing and theatre has helped me too.


Would you be writing scripts
in the near future?

Not at this point of time really.Right now I want to concentrate completely on acting. It is so demanding. You have to do five episodes a week.


Bhavana Balsaver, Karan Shah& Natasha
Singh
in 'Oh Daddy'

Who are your favourite actors?
Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar and Balraj Sahani among many others. Sanjeev Kumar was one of the most amazing actors in Biwi Oh Biwi. The man has amazing timing in comedy, and yet he could do serious roles He has given such a range. Balraj Sahani was never Balraj Sahani, he was whatever the role demanded. A school headmaster or a farmer ploughing land in Do Bigha Zameen. The actor is one who gets into character and portrays it. These are the people who really left a mark.

What do you like about Amitabh Bachchan?
I watch a lot of actors and am influenced by them. At times getting into character isn't enough. To know how a character dies I somehow rely on others. Suppose there is a scene where the character is about to die. I have seen Mr Bachchan doing it in a particular way in a particular film. This is my guideline and this is what I should follow. Every time you can't rely on experience so you watch people who have portrayed it. He is the one who has conveyed it and I have been watching Bachchan films every since childhood and till today watch them. To be given a credible script and do it, that is something every actor can do. But to be given something completely nonsensical, like some of the roles he has had to do and yet he has managed to carry it with conviction.

Hasn't he had tailormade roles?

Tailormade because he is been able to do it. Isn't it amazing to watch him play the scene in Amar Akbar Anthony where he is drunk, beaten up and talking to himself in the mirror. One asks how can a drunkard be doing this, but he makes it looks plausible and credible. He can play a village idiot in the film Adalat who has absolutely no idea and would be taken for a ride by village "mukhiya" (head) and other villagers and at the same time he will play a suave underworld don in some other movie.

So what are you getting at?
When a person can do all these things and still have the audience glued through the film believing everything he is doing, that's something. It is the convincing power that he has which I am completely taken aback by. Today he is anchoring the gameshow Kaun Banega Crorepati and has the contestants in complete awe and the audience glued. There is something about the charisma of this man.