Smriti Z Iraani is used to playing multiple roles. She’s the top star on television, a politician and the mother of two children. But now she has added one more arrow to her quiver. She has crossed the dividing line that separates the actors from the men and women behind the camera, and become a producer.
Iraani’s days are already crammed with back-to-back schedules. But, in addition to all that, she’s now the producer of the serial Thodi Si Zameen Thoda Sa Aasman which airs on Star Plus. And being Smriti Iraani, and the most famous face on the small screen she will, of course, be doing a double role even here. She’s acting as Uma, the daughter of a mill worker, who’s the central character of the serial.
The new serial is a joint venture between her production company Ugraya Entertainment and Balaji Telefilms. “Shobha Kapoor liked the concept and Ekta invited me to do a series on it. Since I know the credibility of Balaji Telefilms, I agreed to it instantly,” she says.
The soap revolves around Uma, who works day and night to make ends meet. Set in the heart of Mumbai in a middle-class chawl, the story is about the mill labourers who are mostly out of work.
Apart from Iraani, the others in the show include Pawan Shankar, Harsh Chhaya, Usha Nadkarni and Jaya Bhattacharya. Written by Kamlesh Pandey, and directed by Santram Verma, Iraani describes the serial as, “reality mixed with Ekta Kapoor’s clever twist. But it doesn’t start with the alphabet ‘K’,” she says, laughing.
How is she splitting up her day to fit in this new commitment' Well, she has become used to working round-the-clock, starting early and finishing late and dashing from one set to another and from there to a political meeting.
Iraani insists that she knows exactly what producing is all about and she has played this role before. She handled production technicalities as the executive producer of Salaam Bollywood five years back. And her production company has also produced a Gujarati play, Maniben.com and a Hindi theatre production, Kuch Tum Kaho, Kuch Hum Kahen. “I agree that there’s a huge difference between producing a play and a serial. There are certain aspects of my profession which are exciting, and this too I have taken as a big challenge.”
Will there be interference from Balaji Telefilms' Smriti diplomatically insists she can rely on Ekta’s support and understanding of the concept.
These have been times of change for Smriti. After years at Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, she has metamorphosed into the aged grandmother Ba. She says the last few months have been fun and that the sudden leap into the future seems to have gone down well with the audience. “It has helped in increasing a few TRPs,” she laughs. But as Ba, she appears more infrequently on the show which is one reason why she’s able to make time for the new show.
Initially, Smriti had apprehensions whether people would accept the new Ba as they are used to seeing the earlier Ba (Sudha Shivpuri). “I really look up to Sudhaji. She has the warmth and energy, which is very rare to find. She has an awesome personality and that is reflected in her acting. But my way of enacting Ba is completely different and so I didn’t take any advice from her,” she says.
The fact that she no longer plays Tulsi in Kyunki doesn’t bother her much, she insists. The new Krishna Tulsi is played by newcomer Mouni Roy who, Iraani says, has all the makings of a talented actress. But did Iraani ever give her tips about the character' “Not at all,” she says, “I don’t think it’s needed because she’ll act according to what the director tells her. I only sometimes tell her to spend more time on her look and pronunciation,” she says.
Whether Kyunki should have a graceful end or not, is, says Iraani, for Ekta Kapoor to decide. But as far as she’s concerned, it will always be the serial that helped her achieve fame and name. She always remembers how during shooting an episode of Kyunki in Haridwar, an old woman came up to her and touched her feet. She also remembers how during her political trips during the 2004 elections, people instantly connected to her as Tulsi Virani and not as Smriti Iraani.
Iraani’s co-star Apara Mehta, who played Tulsi’s mother-in-law in the serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi remembers her association with her. “She’s a hard working actress and does her homework before giving a shot.” Actress Kamolika Guhathakurta too, says that they share a wonderful relationship off-screen. She says, “She’s very friendly and goes all out to help you. She’s also very focussed in her work and deserves all the adulation.”
Certainly, Iraani has come a long way in recent years from the time she started as the coy housewife Tulsi. But she has never been averse to trying her hand at different trades. She was an airhostess in Jet Airways and also a model in commercials.
She even anchored a few episodes of Bakeman’s Ooh La La on Star Plus. That was where she was spotted by Shobha Kapoor and picked for the role of Tulsi Virani. Besides this, she also hosted a talk show on Sab TV called Kuch Diiil Se.
What about her political career' She fared miserably in the last election and was thrashed in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency by lawyer-turned-politician Kapil Sibal. Still, she’s not giving up and was recently elected as a permanent member of the BJP’s Maharashtra State Executive. As a result, she’s travelling extensively in Maharashtra and meeting party workers.
She has also mastered the art of political talk. “We need political will and sensitivity to tackle our problems. Before shouting slogans for Mumbai being the next Shanghai, we must work towards providing basic amenities, power and improving infrastructure,” she says.
Getting into the thick of politics can be tough but Iraani says that she’ll learn the ropes quickly. But will she finally give up her career as an actress' Says Smriti, “No, I don’t think I ever will. Being a committed party member, I can never neglect the duty my party has entrusted on me. But I don’t see my working in serials as a hurdle in my political career.”
Photograph by Gajanan Dudhalkar