A couple of weeks ago, in Star Plus’s popular soap Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon?, a bone-tired but determined Arnav, played by television’s latest heartthrob Barun Sobti, takes on the goons who have kidnapped him, fighting them off relentlessly, even while he is blindfolded and his hands are tied behind.

The camera clearly knows what it should focus on and it does so in style — it caresses Sobti’s bulging biceps, sweeps over his dishevelled locks and zooms in on his smouldering eyes in what is clearly soapland’s very own seeti maro moment.

But the real whistle is being blown by Bollywood for television stars like Barun and several others — the new and, dare we say, lucky recruits, for whom seeking out new pastures does not necessarily mean abandoning their old abodes. These are the brave new trendsetters who are successfully straddling both the television and film worlds — a feat unthinkable a few years ago.

Be it Barun, who continues to play Arnav while simultaneously shooting for his new movie, or Ram Kapoor, who is playing the lead in Sony’s Bade Acche Lagte Hain as well as happily managing significant roles, most recently in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, or the ageless Ronit Roy, who appears every weekend as the upright lawyer in Sony’s Adaalat and certainly has busy weekdays, what with him working in not one but three films, or the cutie pie Mohit Sehgal, rumoured to have bagged a plum role recently, TV actors are hacking their way inside the ‘big bad wood’, even if it means working double shifts and persuading production houses to change storylines.

The surprise success of Vicky Donor, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, another familiar face on television, and the appreciation Khurana has garnered, seems to be working as a big shot-in-the-arm for other aspiring TV stars. The women aren’t too far behind either. Ragini Khanna (of the recently concluded Sasural Genda Phool), Shweta Tiwari (currently acting in Sony’s heartwarming Parvarrish) and Gurdeep Kohli (of Sanjivani fame) have all tried their luck in Bollywood with moderate success and more importantly, continue to pursue their television careers.

For television stars, who earn very well nowadays, it is no longer pay cheques that attract them to the big screen. Rather, it is the challenge of that longer, meatier role and the temptation to break out of the nerve-racking daily grind of television that demands 12-13 hours of work every day for all 30 days of the month.

But in the past few years, TV actors have become stars in their own right, enjoying their fair share of adulation and exposure. So much so that when the news of Barun being signed as one of the leads for a movie came out, there was an uproar amongst his fans, who feared they wouldn’t be able to see their beloved Arnav Singh Raizada on the small screen anymore. Barun had to go on a clarifying spree to assure his fans that he wasn’t quitting television — plainly demonstrating why abandoning television for films isn’t such a hot idea anymore.

When Sushant Singh Rajput (of Pavitra Rishta fame) quit the long-running serial to work as one of the leads in Kai Po Che!, Abhishek Kapoor’s adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes Of My Life, fans were left disheartened but were consoled by a more-than-able replacement in Hiten Tejwani. Sushant has said in many interviews that he is well aware of the risks he is taking and he isn’t afraid of failure.

Brave words indeed, but many others before him, who have taken the big leap, have had to, sadly, eat them. Take the case of Karan Singh Grover, one-time favourite lover-boy who stole many girls’ hearts with his performance in Star One’s Dill Mill Gayye.

He abruptly quit the show in 2009 with big dreams in his luminous eyes after being offered the lead role in a Vikram Bhatt movie. But the movie got shelved and Karan was forced to return to his old role. But the charm had gone out of the soap and it was soon wrapped up, leaving Karan high and dry. Stories of Amar Upadhyay and Aman Varma’s sputter-stop Bollywood journeys are now part of television folklore.

At a time when film stars are descending on television in hordes and the small screen’s reach as well as impact is only getting wider and deeper, those who quit one medium in lure of the other are in great risk of losing a foothold in both. If television is ruthless, Bollywood is even more so. Getting lost in its wilderness is easy and quick.

This new breed of actors seemed to have grasped this reality well. Hearteningly, they also appear to have the full backing of television production houses, which have to juggle budgets, TRPs and actors’ crazy schedules, but seem to be doing so willingly — for, in television, when opportunities come knocking, accommodation is the name of the game.

Which is why, while Barun Sobti wraps up the shooting of his new film, his screen persona Arnav Singh Raizada conveniently gets kidnapped. A case of television being filmy, very filmy!

Published in Sunday Herald on 24.06.2012. Find it here: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/259121/film-forward.html

Barun Sobti playing the kidnapped Arnav Singh Raizada
Articulation is what Aditi Mangaldas does best. Be it conveying power through her intricate footwork or grace through her fluttering hands or yearning through her wide almond eyes, Kathak dancer and choreographer Aditi excels at it all.

Little wonder then that she is equally articulate when she speaks about her passion and her art.

In a freewheeling interview with Sunday Herald, the artistic director of Drishtikon Dance Foundation spoke lucidly about the roots of her creativity, what it means to be a classical dancer in India today, her approach to experimentation and how imagination and innovation must go hand in hand for traditional dance forms to survive.

Despite her extensive training in the classical form under leading exponents like Kumudini Lakhia and Birju Maharaj, Aditi is better known for infusing contemporary idiom into traditional Kathak and using her artistry and technique to break some boundaries and build new bridges.

But mention the phrase ‘contemporary Kathak’ and Aditi’s hackles go up. “The phrase ‘contemporary Kathak’ has never sat well with me. We use it only because of a lack of terminology. Kathak is a form that has imbibed several influences from the time of its genesis… it has travelled from temples to Mughal courts to the present-day stage.

In that sense, Kathak has always been a contemporary art form; what I or others are doing now is imbibing it with newer nuances to make it relevant to the 21st century and globalise its essence,” she explains.

Her passion for what she does makes me curious about what Kathak really means to her. “I think of Kathak as a huge, revered, ancient tree with branches spread miles wide and roots embedded deep in the earth.

I think of myself as one of several gardeners who is nourishing this tree with water from different lands, thus providing it with new energies. I have watered it with yoga and Kalaripayattu and tried to give it a thoroughly modern rigour.”

She denies that such experimentation is a conscious decision and reiterates that an artiste cannot experiment for the sake of novelty. “An artiste is not being true to her self if she sits down one day and decides to ‘experiment’. The fakery will then show up clearly on stage.”

But when Aditi is on stage, it is not fakery but genuine skill and technique that is clearly visible. But Aditi is very clear about her goals regarding her art and emphasises that she was never satisfied with merely learning the technique of Kathak and showcasing her much-lauded footwork.

“I have always wanted to explore, use the skills I learnt to paint a larger image, fill it with colours and ultimately transform my thoughts into movement. I look at experimentation as sitting in a room with five windows surrounding me and letting the wind, the rain, the light, myriad fragrances and unheard voices in.”

I wonder whether such a free run of the imagination will hinder or help a structured project.

Does it ever happen that she is forced to rein in her ideas? “Yes, once a concept is formed, creativity has to be fine-tuned and narrowed down. For instance, in my production ‘Uncharted Seas’, we began with the idea of unfettered exploration but the final product encompassed a whole range of ideas quite removed from the original; it portrayed the search for the unknown and fused it with the search for God, touched upon the search to find love and search for freedom, to mention just a few,” she says.

Shifting the topic slightly, I ask her how her contemporaries react to her experimental works. Laughingly, Aditi says that while some genuinely appreciate her work, there are others who show their admiration by imitation!

What Aditi is passionate about though is not so much her contemporaries’ reaction as her audience’s. “To be frank, when we perform abroad, the ‘exotic quality’ of India takes us a long way. But that is not to take away from the sincere appreciation we get from international audiences who are undoubtedly ready to accept and embrace Indian dance forms in their modern avatars.”

She believes that if dancers ignore the short attention span and the wide variety of choices today’s audiences have, and fail to evolve, they will be collectively responsible for “the death of a beautiful, flexible form that was always ready to adapt whenever its practitioners wanted it to.”

Aditi firmly believes the only way to evolve is to consider every performance as a journey into the unknown. “If you don’t, even the most creative of art can become a mundane, mechanical exercise.”

Published in Sunday Herald on 03.06.2012. Find it here: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/253984/spirit-exploration.html
A still from Aditi's production 'Uncharted seas'