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Friday, January 29, 1999

"I may never act again"

Exit Lajoji, enter Inspector KC. After a six-year hiatus from the world of acting, six years she refuses to discuss, actress Anita Kunwar is back on the small screen in a new, and entirely unexpected, avatar: a CBI officer. Catapulted to fame by her unforgettable role as the gentle and quietly dignified Lajoji in the 1980's mega serial, Buniyaad, Kunwar went on to win critical acclaim for her performances in films such as Salaam Bombay and Thoda Sa Rumani Ho Jaye. Then she simply disappeared. From big screen and small. Now Kunwar dons the mantle of Inspector KC, chief of Homicide, in Saboot, Cinevista's `howdunit' series on Star Plus.

The actress spoke to Sona Bahadur:
How do you feel to be back?
Nervous, out of practice. The last time I acted was in the TV serial Pukaar in 1992.

What made you choose this serial as your comeback vehicle?
(Looks uncomfortable) Please let me clarify: I haven't come back. Saboot is the one project that I'm doing. I'm not involved in other projects. In fact, I may never act again. When I was offered this role two years ago, there were no women inspectors on television. Though Ruby Bhatia played a cop in Yeh Hai Raaz, Saboot had been conceptualised much earlier. So it was a wholly new idea. It also presented a new type of Indian woman. What we have had so far is either a woman who is victimised and at the receiving end or one who is the agressor, the killer. We haven't had the in-between: a woman of today in a hard core profession who also retains her humane side. KC is such a character. Though she is dealing with murderers, she has a lot of compassion as a human being. I was attracted to this human quality in KC's character.

What does KC stands for? A female Karamchand or what?
(Grins) That's big secret, never to be revealed.

Is it true that Saboot is modeled on the American detective TV serial, Colombo?
The serial is a melting pot of several influences, maybe even Karamchand, so it is difficult to pinpoint any one source, Mitali (Bhattacharya, scriptwriter), Ravi (Ojha, director) and I sat together and etched KC's character. The `howdunit' format, wherein the murderer is revealed to the viewer at the very beginning and the emphasis is on the gradual unravelling of clues by the detective, has been influenced by Colombo. KC's dishevelled appearance and clumsiness is another feature which recalls Colombo's character. KC's messy appearance and low-key manner misleads the criminal into not taking her seriously, which is what leads to his or her getting caught eventually. But our scripts are absolutely original.

Would you say that KC is a true-to-life portrait of a CBI officer?
Difficult for me to say since I have never met a CBI officer! But I think it would be correct to place KC somewhere between the imagination and the reality.

How do you compare Saboot with other crime serials? How are viewers reacting to a howdunit wherein the element of suspense is totally missing?
There's lot of obvious drama about other crime serials, whereas here the action is subtle, underplayed. Even KC's character is totally deglamourised. Also, the howdunit frame gives Saboot a cerebral quality, which sets it apart. There is a shift in perspective: unlike a whodunit, here the suspense relates how KC will tap the clues and crack the case. So the viewer has to really apply his mind. It is a very intelligent format.

In the beginning I did fear that only a certain type of audience would enjoy the serial. However, the response of the viewers has been very encouraging. The other day my hairdresser surprised me by saying how much she enjoys watching the show, (laughs). Of course, she also added that I, or rather, KC should at least wear lipstick!

What changes do you find in Indian television since the days of Buniyaad?
When we started Buniyaad, there was an innocence about television. It wasn't a money-making medium. There is hardness, a loss of heart now. People seem to driven solely by commercial success. Of course, this is only partly true: there are still people who are inspired by their passion and convictions, people like Ravi and Mitali.

Between TV and cinema which medium do you prefer? Would you agree that TV offers a greater range of roles as opposed to Bollywood, which almost always typecasts women characters?There was a time I only wanted to do films. I didn't want to do television at all. But films didn't come my way, so I had no choice. In general, it is true that Bollywood turns out stock women characters, but this happens on television as well. There was a time when only women-oriented films were being made. Ultimately, it's what you do with the medium which matters.

What has been your most challenging role so far?
I would say KC has been my most challenging role so far. Other roles in the past have been easier because I could identify more with them. For instance, I could indentify with Lajo in a round-about way through my grandmother, who was born at the same time as Lajo was supposed to be born. The traumas of Partition faced by Lajo and her family were similar to those faced by my own family.

The Salaam Bombay character required a great deal of emotion and was therefore easier to play. By contrast KC is completely different. She is a happy balance between the emotional and the objective. I aspire to achieving this balance on my own life.

From Lajoji to Inpsector KC, how have you evolved as an actress over the years?
When I started I was more instinctive, not settled at all as a person, very on the edge. Now I am more settled. I have a home, a place, these things matter to me. My attitudes are different. I work differently. back then I wanted to make it big -- that was of prime importance, now I am no longer interested in proving a point. As you grow older, whatever you do, there's a lot more meat, a lot more thought to it.

Any new projects in the pipeline?
Now I want to do comedy, something I've always been frightened of.I would like to do something totally different from acting, take up another profession. Of course, it would something creative.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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