INTERVIEW

‘I love the camera and it loves me back’: Swaroop Sampat on her big-screen comeback

The actress, special needs teacher and evergreen Shringar model will be seen in the movies after several years in R Balki’s ‘Ki and Ka’.

Swaroop Sampat is the woman who put the top knot, halter blouse and Shringar bindi on every Indian woman’s must-have list in the 1980s. A Miss India winner in 1979, Sampat made her movie debut in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Naram Garam two years later and stormed into every living room as Renu, the hardworking and fun-loving wife of Ranjit Verma (Shafi Inamdar) in the highly popular television series Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi in 1984. However, except for a few movie roles, Sampat has mostly stayed away from the spotlight, preferring the role of a social worker, teacher for special children and wife to actor Paresh Rawal. She is back with R Balki’s Ki and Ka, which stars Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor and is being released on April 1. In an interview with Scroll.in, Sampat tells us what took her so long to make a comeback, and how she fell in love with Rawal all over again after watching Ketan Mehta’s Vallabhbhai Patel biopic Sardar.

What is it about ‘Ki and Ka’ that enticed you to back to the big screen after so many years?
The role is nice, I play Kareena Kapoor’s mom. But more than the role, it was Balki. I just adore his work.

You know, there is always a huge conflict at home. Paresh does not want me to do bit roles. I don’t want to do big roles, which is why I have said no to serials all these years after Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi. Because it means 15-20 days of shooting every month. I love, love, love acting. I don’t do it for winning laurels. I feel super in front of the camera, on the set. But I am also a lot of other things. I am a super teacher, researcher and trainer. I work for child rights. I paint. I am good, excellent in whatever I do. So unless the film is really good, I cannot afford to waste my time. I have other meaningful and fulfilling things to do in my life.

I am so passionate about acting and being on a set that I cannot work with people who don’t care about their work, who say, accha chalo, let’s get this done and move on. I love every minute in front of the camera. Every time I finish a shot, I call up Paresh and tell him, “This is what I am meant to do.”

But I also know that if I were to do it every day, I would not feel the same excitement. Because the experience is so special, precious and rare. I want that freshness, that excitement every time I face the camera. The bit roles for Saathiya and the Gujarati film Saptapadi do not really count because they were just a day’s shoot or so.

With Balki, it was different. The co-stars were nice and everyone was engaged, involved and enjoying themselves.

Play
The trailer of ‘Ki and Ka’.

How did Balki pitch the film to you?
He had called me and Paresh to his office and narrated the story to us. At the end of it, I was smiling. And then he said, “I want you to do the film.” I was stunned. The first thing that popped into my mind was, “Oh shit. Commitment!” My younger son Aditya, who is studying screenplay writing at New York University, turned to me and said, “Mom, you have to do this film.” The encouragement I received from my family was enough.

I play a modern mom to Kareena, who loves to order in food every evening while Arjun says, “We don’t order in, we cook food at home.”

It is a feel-good film. I was very happy to do it.

Since you play a modern mother to a career-oriented woman, what do you feel about empowerment and the role of the men in your life?
I am an empowered woman and believe empowerment happens only when your loved ones, especially your partner, support you. He for she. My dad had filled out my form for my Masters, my brother supported me, Paresh supported me through my acting career, as did some of my closest friends.

There was this one instance when Paresh was juggling many responsibilities – as a Member of Parliament, actor, filmmaker – and he was quite flustered. He came home and started venting, “Why is this house like this, how am I supposed to get any work done?!” My elder son calmly turned to him and said, “But dad, even mom is working.” Yes, so now my sons are there to support me. That is empowerment. It happens when everyone works together, supports each other.

What is it like being married to Paresh Rawal?
Paresh and I dated each other for 12 years and have been married for 27 years. It was our love of theatre that brought us close. My dad was with the Indian National Theatre, and Paresh and I have had this extraordinary journey together with theatre. On Sunday evenings, we would always go out to watch plays. We were the best of friends since I was 16 or 17. It was great to have a best friend who was supportive and shared my passion for theatre as my life partner. He is also my worst critic! Which is why I am scared to work with him again. I worry that if I don’t do things right, maar padegi.

I was always a fan of Marlon Brando. For me, Brando was the ultimate star, and films like On the Waterfront were among my favourites. Paresh used to tease me that good-looking people are bad actors.

Then I watched Paresh in Sardar. There is a scene in which the camera is focussed on him and he says, “I hope the next generation remembers what we have done for them.” I turned around to Paresh and exclaimed, “Brando!”

So you found your Brando at last.
Yes, I found my Brando in Paresh!

Since he wants you to do meaningful roles, why don’t we see you in any of his films?
Paresh and I share incredible chemistry on the stage. But we cannot work together because we are diametrically opposite to each other. I am full of masti, he is serious. Whenever we would be on stage together, his standard line to me was, “Picnic bandh karo.” During the rehearsals of the play Maharathi, we were both stars in our respective fields. But he was very strict with me. I would keep jumping off the stage, saying I don’t need this. He would apologise and bring me back.

Has he seen ‘Ki and Ka’ yet?
I showed him the trailer on the computer. He watched it and said, “Nice, nice, nice,” three times. I was thrilled and called up Balki immediately. Since acting is my hobby and not my profession, the opinion of my family and friends matters to me the most. Even my elder son turned around and said, “Mom, I don’t see why you don’t act as often!”

How did you get involved with training special children?
It was during one of my phases, when both my kids had grown up. I was at home reading a trashy romantic novel. Paresh walked in and said, “You are reading this?” That remark was enough to get me back on my feet and do something with my life. I enrolled for a Masters in literature. I learnt about children with disabilities. I was 40 when I did my PhD in the role of drama in changing the lives of special children.

I know the dire need of educating our teachers, not only in cities but also in smaller towns. During my viva [defence of the doctorate thesis], I was asked what I wanted to do with my degree. I said, “I want to change the lives of all the children in my country.”

I am also on the Central Advisory Board of Education and work with [the non-profit] Save the Children. It was that one remark from Paresh that changed the course of my life.

You are still the woman on the Shringar bindi packets.
Yes, can you believe I was only 18 years old at that time and would hang around the studios for a lark. Those pictures were shot to finish the camera reel after the main shoot. But as Hrishida [Hrishikesh Mukherjee] used to say, the camera loves my face. I am not arrogant about it. I just think that I love the camera and it loves me back. Even while shooting Ki and Ka, the cameraman was my best friend. For obvious reasons.

Play
The first episode of ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’.
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