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Mrinal Kulkarni with Sudesh Bhosle

Why should a television actress who has ruled the small screen for more than a decade bother to pick up a new craft? And agree to be judged for that on screen? “But Jjhoom India is such a great diversion,” protests Mrinal Kulkarni. “I have been doing television for donkey’s years. Ek monotony aa jaati hai. The show has given me a chance to break that monotony,” she asserts.

The actress had debuted on television when she was only 16, as the Peshwa queen Ramabai in Swami, after being spotted on campus. “It was a historical love story.” Since then she has followed it with a string of meaty and memorable roles in The Great Maratha, Meera, Draupadi, Hasratein, Teacher, Sparsh and Sonpari. “And to think I couldn’t even speak Hindi well till I did my second project Shrikant with Farookh Sheikh!” The heavy Marathi accent did not go away by itself. “I had to work on my diction reading aloud for a couple of hours over two months.”

Mrinal is no shirker. She points out that Sharad Kelkar and she were the busiest among the actors signed on the show. And she had to pay the price initially for biting off more than she could seemingly chew. When the first four episodes of Jjhoom India were being shot, the focus in Solhah Singarr, the Sahara One show she stars in, was on her character. “I hardly had time to rehearse. In fact, I had started worrying ki maine show galat time pe le liya.”

But time management has been a forte, having completed an MA in linguistics after joining television. Mrinal smiles on being reminded of her academic credentials. “I come from a paraku family. My grandfather was a Marathi novelist,” says the editor of a women’s magazine called Tanishka. Over the years the family has been her greatest support system when it comes to balancing professional and personal lives. “It was to please my son Virajas that I signed Son Pari.” The role of a fairy fetched her two awards.

Perhaps it was the fairy godmother’s boon that saw the Jodi claw its way back into the show last weekend. The two Maharashtrians — Sharad and Mrinal — were tied in the wildcard round. But solo performances without their mentors saw the judges Kalyanji, Mahesh Bhatt and Shabana Azmi give the nod to Mrinal over Sharad.

Her mentor-partner in the Sahara One reality show is Sudesh Bhosle, better known as the voice of Amitabh Bachchan. “He is a great mimic and keeps all of us entertained on the sets,” she laughs.

The rest of the Jodis therefore must have cheered out loud when they made the cut.

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