Interview with actor Niki Aneja Walia
 
"I know I deserve an award, chances are that I won't get one"
Posted on 14 August 2003

Let's not debate whether she would have made a charming pilot or not. But hadn't it been for the rebellion, television would have missed out on a seasoned actress. Niki Aneja nee Walia didn't plan her career as a television actress, she just took up a few modelling assignments to fund here trip to Boston for pilot training. Although she didn't make it to Boston, she did take up acting on late ad film maker Mukul Anand's suggestion.

Following her cousin's (well known television actor Parmeet Sethi) footsteps, she decided to give the small screen a try too. Shows like Dastaan, Seahawks, Andhi Jaazbat Ki, Piyaa Binaa, Patang and comedies like Baat Ban Jaye and Gharwali Uparwali followed.

After a freak accident of the sets of Gharwali Uparwali, she had almost packed her bags. Then followed her marriage with UK-based marketing consultant Sonny Walia, which gave her another good reason to leave the industry and settle down in UK. But as luck would have it, the she got an offer from Ajai Sinha, for a project that she couldn't let down. Now as we know she is getting rave reviews for her performance as Dr Simran in Astitva.

In an interview that took place on the sets of
Astitva, she told indiantelevision.com's Trupti Ghag about her journey as an actress and her latest show Astitva Ek Prem Katha. Excerpts:

 

What was it that made you take up Astitva, after you almost bid adieu to India television?
Though I didn't admit it then, I have always admired Ajai Sinha as a director and secretly hoped that I would get to work with him. When I heard the story, I went 'wow!!!' I was offered an author backed role on a platter. It would have been stupid to let it go.

I don't really want to sound pompous but I was bombarded with mails and telephone calls when I met with an accident. There were pujas held for my well being. I was overwhelmed with this response... I am not a film star to receive such response. People really wanted to see me back on the small box. So I couldn't hang my acting cap. Well, not yet anyway.

 

Of late the industry is taking quite a keen interest in your show Astitva. What do you think is the reason it is doing so well?
Take a look at the shows around, television really does not have anything different to offer. Therefore a show like Astitva, which does not have huge sets or bejewelled women, is a visual treat. It is more realistic in its approach.

 

Care to elaborate...
Take for instance the scene where Simran is to discover that Abhi (husband) is cheating her. There was a dramatic climax built up toward it, like Simran's constant threats to clear his drawer where he has slashed hotel bills. All that dramatised climax aside, after Simran finds out that her husband's infidelity all she does is to lock herself in her room.

With Simran being such a composed and well balanced character, it seemed ridiculous even to think that she would loose her cool. She is visible upset, but she does not blame anybody else for it.

 

Is there any kind of homework that you do prior to coming on the Astitva set?
Personally, I am against taking the scripts home because I do not have time. Plus I do not want to rehearse before hand. It might sound paradoxical, but it saves a lot of time. When you read your dialogue line beforehand, you already make up your mind on how you want to emote. Even if there is a slight change in the script, you are bound to get disturbed.

And since I am shooting for 20-16 days a monthfor almost 14 hours every day, I have to do my groundwork on the sets.

 

What is the groundwork that you do for 'Astitva'?
Don't get me wrong, but writing for a daily is quite a tedious task. At times you find the writers taking liberties with the script, so we have to be forever on our toes. For instance, Simran is a very mature and composed character. She would not get worked up so easily, so she wouldn't swear in public even if provoked. If the writer adds such a line we would have to improvise.

I also make it a point to crosscheck the medical facts. Although the hospital is just a backdrop, you cannot let past a single detail without verifying it. I have a friend who is a gynaecologist; I rely on her expert advice for all the medical details.

Also, I have put on quite a lot of weight ever since I got married. That has worked to my benefit I guess. I am 37-years-old on the show, which I am not in real life. The extra weight helps me look older. Although people, including my co-star, insist that I lose weight I think it lends the character that authenticity. Plus, I keep my nails short and never put any nail varnish and stick to minimal makeup.

I get a good help from nature too. After 10 days of continuous and rigourous shooting schedule fatigue shows on my face. Guess with my character going through personal turmoil in reel life, the face matches too (laughs).

I am a good observer, so when Astitva's Simran was pregnant. I made sure I interacted with pregant women. I tried to copy their facial expressions and body language. Did you know people thought that I was actually pregnant.

 

Do you always put in this kind of effort or is 'Astitva' an exception?
Actually, I don't really have to put in a lot of effort. It was just a matter of common sense. But I did spend quite a lot of time rehearsing for Pooja's role in Gharwali Uparwali. I used to stand in front of the mirror making faces... making sure that I don't look bad on the camera. I think anybody, who is working for a comedy, should do this exercise. Comedy is a serious job; it should not be treated like a monkey game. What artistes don't understand is that while adopting certain mannerisms, they should check if the expression looks good or not, otherwise instead of laughing with them the audience will be laughing at them.

 
" A show like 'Astitva' which does not have huge sets or bejewelled women, is a visual treat. It is more realistic in its approach"
 

What was the reaction of people when you left modelling for television? Was there any pooh-poohing?
No, the term model-actor never really applied to me. I guess at that time I was this newcomer actor, who looked like Madhuri Dixit. Although my career as a model was pretty successful, everybody thought I would make a good actor. So instead of the sniggering at me, I had people encouraging me.

 
How do you feel when people called you a Madhuri look-alike?
It felt very weird when I started out. The statement used to describe me was the actor who looks like Madhuri Dixit and now it is Niki Aneja, who looks like Madhuri Dixit. So I take it as a compliment.
 
Are their any other projects in the pipeline?
Well, the second line of my designer label Niki Aneja is out and the third is scheduled for December. It is basically a collection of western party wear blouses.
 

So after 'Astitva' you are planning to become a full-fledged designer?
No, it was just that I didn't like being a bored housewife in the UK when Sonny was busy with his work. Since I have been in the industry for long enough to know about fashion, I decided to design some clothes. It is basically something that I would be comfortable wearing myself.

On the acting front, I have shot a pilot for Manish Goswami for a political drama based show Swarth. It is a story of three career-driven women from a political background, who happen to be sisters. I play the middle sister, while Neena Gupta is the elder sister and Shweta Kawatra is the youngest. I keep getting offers to do soaps at least once every 15 days but I am not really keen on such stuff.

 

Are you disgruntled with the industry?
Yes and with good reason. Wherever I go, I meet up with people who like my performance in Astitva. People have come up to me and started offering advice on whether I should take Abhi back or not. It clearly indicates that the show is watched, but is it reflected on the ratings...no! I do think TRPs are rigged.

There are award ceremonies coming soon, though I know I deserve an award, chances are that I won't get one. It is likely that the Balaji girls will take away the awards. Didn't you think that Anchit Kaur was brilliant in Saaya. But she got an award for her two-bit role in Dhadkan instead! Even she was surprised.

Even amongst the current lot there are a lot of talented actors. I think both Shweta Kawatra and Sangeeta Ghosh have a lot of potential but are unfortunately reduced to a bunch of hams.

 
Any last words...
Yep, to my fans... I am really touched by all the mails you send. I may not reply to them but doesn't mean that they go unnoticed. It is because of your mails that I am back. And I really don't need an award to know that I am a good actor, via your responses I get an award everyday.
 
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