Rediff Logo Movies Find/Feedback/Site Index
July 3, 1999


Anita KanwarI'm too insecure to ask for work

Anita Kanwar is rather expressive. If she is earnest while discussing her character as Inspector KC, she is ebullient about her roles in some films.

Anita Kanwar belongs to a league of actresses who draw critical acclaim and little else. Her work and talent were appreciated and acknowledged, but there was no place for an actress in Bollywood; they only wanted caricatures -- a fluttery-eyed bimbette, a female sidekick, a suffering mother, a mauled sister, a homely sister-in-law, a vamp...

Anita kept away from most of the roles she was offered then though she knew she could have done with the money then.

It was actually her first TV serial, Buniyaad, that catapulted her into the national consciousness. Since she played the quiet mother there, she naturally got only similar roles, Bollywood producers being as incapable of seeing the actress beyond the character.

She did some great roles though, that of the prostitute in Mandi and Salaam Bombay, a tomboy in Thodasa Rumani Ho Jaaye and a hysterical parent in Trikaal.

A natural actress, she has never been criticised, even when did some inconsequential roles in commercial films. But Fame always kept its distance.

After almost trying to track her down for over a month, we finally managed to run her down. We found that her reputation for reserve has some foundation and that she is very passionate about her work. Here she is in a chat with Sharmila Taliculam:

When did you think you wanted to be an actress?

I started in college. I always acted in school too but in college I saw a [adaptation of a] play called Look Back in Anger by Ibrahim Alkazi. When I saw that play, I said to myself that I wanted to be an actress. And that's how it started. I joined the National School of Drama. I was fortunate to be trained under Mr Alkazi himself. I never had films or television in mind because, really, it was theatre I wanted to do.

But at some point you realise that you need to survive -- and theatre didn't provide that [security]. So then the natural choice was to move on and find better ways to survive. I came to Bombay then. I struggled a lot in Bombay. I had no work for a long time. And then came Buniyaad....

After Buniyaad, you didn't accept many roles again. You didn't take advantage of the popularity of your character?

After Buniyaad there was a lean period again because there was no work. I was typecast as that Buniyaad character. I decided to leave and go. I'm no longer in Bombay. I live in Delhi now.

I took on [the role of] KC because she is such a different character, something we haven't seen on the Indian screen. The Indian woman had never been portrayed as KC has been.

How did you pick this one serial after such a long time?

When Cinevista approached me, the first thing I asked was, 'Who is the director?' I refuse a lot of work if I don't like the director. I have known of Ravi Oza and I have seen some of his work. I also knew that he puts a lot in his work. And then the character in the serial was good.

At that time of course I didn't know his wife Mithali was the writer. So, because the character was so good and because I knew Ravi Oza was so dedicated in his work, that I accepted this serial.

Weren't you worried that this character might not work?

Anita Kanwar When I take something up, I don't really think on the lines of it working. Because it's how much I am able to put in and how much I am going to enjoy playing the character. When the serial went on the air, we were sure it wouldn't last.

We thought there was nothing to it that an Indian would like. Suspense and drama and thrills -- there was nothing. So we were quite certain it wouldn't be on for long.

But then it started picking up -- and I think it has picked -- the effort has been so honest. There is so much work that goes into every episode, especially at the scripting level. This serial depends completely on the scripts.

So much work went into defining KC's character: exactly how she would dress, exactly what she would do. I think that has paid because ultimately it is the product and how well it is done that catches the attention. It was just luck that I picked this up.

This character is so soft-spoken. Did it help that you are like that too?

I am just an actress. If I have to be harsh and hard, it's not difficult for me. I did a serial in between called Pukar where I played different women. And this whole serial was about the problems women face and how society deals with them. A lot of women I played were very aggressive. I am only an actress and I will portray the character as it should be.

It so happens that KC is gentle and so I am being gentle. I as a person I am gentle, but that's a coincidence. I haven't put the gentleness in because I am like that. It's very easy for me to be harsh and hard. But this character demanded it. I am like that.

I don't know how the character is built. The writer gives you so much, the director gives you so much, you put in so much. So you don't know who has contributed -- you can never say. It's really a combined effort.

We all would sit together and talk about this for hours. The costume was discussed and I remember that when the serial started coming on the air, my friends' said, "Why are you so badly dressed? There is no glamour to you. This won't go down with the audience." I said glamour is all right if the situation demands it.

But here is a woman who is so brilliant that she doesn't need these niceties. Her whole purpose is to catch somebody. If she were dressed well, their reactions would be so different. Now the reaction is, 'She is so stupid or 'She is so inefficient, how is she going to solve the case?' ".

To get that effect I had to do something that would make me very easily dismissable. So the costume were changed. Everything has been thought out and worked out. Nothing has been done to please the audience. We have been very true to the character and have done what we wanted to do. And it's just fortunate that it's turned out well and that people have liked the character.

We have had instances of very glamorous detectives. It didn't work. So this whole dependence on glamour, I don't think we really need it. If there is substance then glamour can be overlooked. When the substance is missing, then you have to depend on glamour. Here we have the substance.

Good clothes and make-up does give one a very confident air too...

It gives you that. But here she [Inspector KC] had to be somebody you will definitely miss in a crowd. If she is walking on the road, she is the last person you will look at. I had to make her like that.

I said I would wear a salwar kameez because that is the most ordinary dress in India. A shirt or a trouser or anything different would make her stand out, even if in a small way. Whereas a salwar kameez is something which you see all the time. So she is the most missable.

Anita Kanwar People have liked her and understand her. To begin with they are like, 'What are you doing? You are so stupid'. They didn't like her being so stupid, so foolish, so unheroic. Now they understand that beyond all that is a human being that is very, very evolved as a person. So that has caught on. It took time, but it did catch on.

You have not done many films despite being a good actress. Am I wrong in assuming that you were not offered any or did you refuse them?

I refused them because the roles that I get are inane. I don't see why I should do something that doesn't excite me. I don't want to do anything just to be seen. In fact, I prefer not been seen than being seen all the time. So I have no problems about not doing films.

If something really nice comes, then I will do it. One thing I'm often told is that I'm not glamorous. But glamour is something you can work on. It's like any other character. Now KC is not me, but I have worked towards her. I have made her insignificant, inconsequential, inconspicuous. I am not like that. But I have worked towards making her like that.

If I can do this, then I can do that [being glamorous] too. It's just how much you put into it, how you work on it. So I have no problems about being glamorous. But I won't be glamorous just because it has to sell. That I find very boring.

What kind of roles were these?

Inane roles. All the sidekicks. Something I will never do. If I do them, then it has to be the main role or nothing at all.

You don't think that initially doing these roles can be an advantage to you later? When you can choose the roles you want to do?

I haven't seen anything like that happening. There must be some freak case where something like that has happened. But, by and large, whatever you start with, you get stuck with it. I don't need to do that.

You have never gone to a producer who has an interesting role to offer?

No, they have to come to me. I will never go to them. Till today I have never gone to anybody and said, 'Please give me some work'. So they come to me which means they have me in mind. And that's how things have worked.

Why is that?

I am too insecure to go and ask for work. Even to go to someone and ask for work, there has to be certain amount of security. I don't have that kind of security, so it has to come to me.

Then what do you do when you don't have much work?

I really do nothing. We just run a home -- my mother and I. But I want to get back to theatre. So when I get back to Delhi this time, it will be theatre.

Are there any roles that you would have wanted to do in recent times?

I hardly watch films.

Do you keep in touch with your colleagues? Don't they tell you of any good roles going?

I don't keep in touch with any colleagues. There is no reason. But if somebody wants to work with me, they will call me. And if I like what they offer me, [I'll take it].

I don't think about these things. Initially, I wished that I got some work. But now I don't anymore. It doesn't matter.

You must have had some dreams about being a success in the industry. Was there a definition of success, according to you?

Anita Kanwar No, it's not so much success, but it is the joy of doing a certain role. Unfortunately, we don't concentrate on smaller roles. You know the greatest concentration is on the main role.

So what would give me the greatest joy is doing the main role. Because then I would get all the inputs. I never really thought of success. But I needed money to live. And I wanted to do roles that were satisfying to me. No, success never mattered.

How do you survive when you do less work?

There is no end to wants and needs. So you must know how much to cut out. You must know how to live within your means. I do that. Whatever money I have, I live accordingly. I don't work for money. So I am lucky, I think.

Aren't you doing any films at all?

I am not doing any films at all. And Saboot is the only serial I am doing.

What will you do after Saboot?

I go back to where I was. I am quite happy being there. I have no problems.

How did Thodasa Rumani Ho Jaaye happen?

Oh it was a beautiful film. And a beautiful experience too. It's one of my pieces of work that I will take in my heart to my grave. They just called me up once and said that there is this film. I went and they told me this story and I was like, 'Wow'.

You know, having a good role is one thing and being successful is another. Working on it [Thodasa Rumani Ho Jaaye] was so nice. It was such a nice time. I just loved it.

How did you get Trikaal?

You know Trikaal was so far back that I don't remember anything about it. Nothing at all. It's nice to do different things, different roles, different people. If you repeat yourself, it gets boring.

You have done a commercial film too?

I have done two commercial films. That film came because -- I think -- it was Smita Patil or Raj Babbar who asked me to do it. Something like that I couldn't refuse. There is another film called Dacait. Again I couldn't refuse. So both these films have come about for one reason or the other.

They were roles which otherwise you wouldn't accept. You didn't ask what kind of roles these were?

I didn't ask because an actress can do any role. She can be bitchy, violent, bad, good. She can be anything. That's the joy of being an actress. I have no problems about being a negative or a positive character as long as I enjoy what I am doing.

You sound as if you might be difficult to work with. Are you?

I am easiest person to work with. I shouldn't be saying this -- you should ask my directors -- but really I think I am easiest person to work with. No demands except the work be good and that the director not allow a shot that is not up to the mark. The script should be good too.

I don't care if I don't have a boy, or a hairdresser or a make-up person. All that I don't want. It's a burden on me to have somebody hanging around me, waiting for me to ask for a glass of water. It irritates me. But if I don't have a good director or a script, then I go mad.

So what are you planning after Saboot?

To go back to Delhi. Right now I want to go back and rest and relax and enjoy life till something interesting comes along. I will be doing 52 episodes, which will be over by October, I think. I am not taking anything more because I am tired. I want to go back and rest.

Tell us what you think of this interview