By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Nineteen years after she made her television debut in the Doodarshan serial Shanti, Mandira Bedi, looking better than ever before, has struck back into the idiot box with her RAW agent act in Anil Kapoor’s much talked-about serial 24.
Mandira seems pleasantly surprised by the serial’s and her character’s popularity.
“There is no getting from the serial’s impact. Everywhere I go people insist on calling out ‘Nikita’ , just as they used to shout out ‘Shanti’ 19 years ago when they saw me in public. And believe me I am as bowled over by the serial as any one else. I am confined mostly to one section of the goings-on during shooting, so I haven’t even met many of the cast members. I don’t know how the episodes finally look. So I watch them from the edge of my seat with my husband Raj and son Vir, like the rest of the nation.In fact this weekend I recorded the episodes as I was shooting nights for the serial,” Mandira says.
Everyone seems to enjoy 24 to the hilt except maybe her little son who finds Mom missing at bed-time.
Mandira’s voice melts with maternal longing when she says, “For the last five days we’ve been shooting nights and my son has to make do without me.He sleeps with his arms tightly around me. So while I am sleuthing on the sets as Nikita I am also wondering how my son is coping without me. Of course my husband is extremely supportive. But so far whenever I was asked what it feels like to balance out a career with my domestic responsibilities my response was academic. Now I finally know how painful it is a for a mother to be working when her child needs her.”
But hey, no complaints! Mandira is in top shape in every which way right now.
“I think I look and feel far better now than I did when I acted in Shanti 19 years ago. 24 was a series waiting to happen to me. When I heard about it I wanted to be part of it. The role that I had mentally assigned to myself was that played by Nina Myers from the original 24. I had gone to audition prepared to play Nina Myer. But when I reached the audition Ajinkya Rao who was the casting director offered me another role (the role of the prime ministerial candidate Aditya Singhania’s sister). I was shocked. I told Ajinkya, ‘Look at me. I am Nina Myers.’ I had been working out like a beast, and I had gone in my trendy slinky vest, jeans and boots.Ajinkya looked at me and said, ‘Come to think of it, you ARE Nina Myers.’ That’s how I got the role I wanted.”
Mandira has only auditioned for two roles in her entire career. “One was for Shanti and the other is 24. And they’ve both proved career-defining. As a bonus in 24 I get to work with one of my favourite actresses Shabana Azmi. She is in only five episodes. And most of her scenes are with me.”
And yes, the athletic side of Mandira will surface in the coming episodes of 24. “So far my gun has been in the holster. Now it’ll finally come out in the final episodes when I get to fight in the field. 24 is such a game-changer.I think audiences were somewhere fed up with watching the same Saas-Bahu soaps all the time. I’ve been part of one of them.”
Mandira’s stint as….well… Mandira in Kyunki….Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi elicits a shuddering response from her.
“I couldn’t seem to shake off the evil woman’s image. I was determined to do another fiction serial only when I played the title role in a game-changing serial. Well, I don’t play the title role in 24. But I am pretty much close to the top of the credit lines.And what an experience! People have just taken to the series and to my character. If I tweet about Sachin Tendulkar they tweet back about 24.”
Speaking of Tendulkar, Mandira is also known for her cricket-commenting skills on television.
Mandira has an interesting story to tell about how that avatar of hers materialized. “I had gone to see a cricket match in 2002. That’s when I was spotted by Sony Max. They were impressed by the fact that a girl had paid for her ticket to watch a match. They asked me to come on board as a commentator. I thoroughly enjoyed changing the rules of cricket commentary, sparring with male colleagues on the nuances of the matches. It was fun.”
Happily, Mandira’s very successful television comeback coincides with her new endeavour as a saree designer.
“It started with my passion for sarees. I love them. And people loved the way I wore them with my noodle-strap blouses. Designing sarees was never part of my plans. But you know how it is. There is someone up there planning your life over and above your own designs. It started with just some fabrics being thrown together. When the result looked good my husband suggested I take this further. I had two exhibitions of my sarees. In both I sold out most of my creations. Now we have opened an outlet in Khar (Mumbai). Hopefully, it will do well even when I am not around personally. My husband Raj is again, very supportive in this endeavour. I don’t think I could ask for more.”