Archana Puran Singh is known for her comic timing. Be it as Prema Shalini on the 1990s Doordarshan show Shrimaan Shrimati, or Miss Breganza in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Singh’s screen outings have been memorable.
The actor, who began her career nearly four decades ago, has also been part of films like Raja Hindustani, Mohabbatein, Krrish and De Dana Dan. Singh was last seen on The Kapil Sharma Show.
But how did the former model end up becoming an actor? Here’s what Archana Puran Singh shared:
1. What was your first acting project? How did it happen?
I must have been around 20 and had done a television commercial with director Jalal Agha. We became good friends. One day, Jalal accompanied me to the dentist. He said he needed to meet the famous writer Javed Siddiqui enroute. At his place, he related the story of Mr Ya Mrs, that its hero was Mahesh and the heroine was called Seema. I found it really funny. After returning to the car, Jalal asked my feedback and I said I loved it. Now I’m sitting on the dentist chair and he starts drilling. That’s when Jalal asks me, “Archana, you are a model, but would you like to act?” The moment I got to know that he was offering me the lead role of Seema, I sat up straight and screamed, “What!” The drill was still in my mouth, and the dentist shouted at me (laughs). I couldn’t sleep that night.
Trikaya was the agency behind the show, while Jalal was directing and producing it. The agency warned him that models were notorious for not knowing how to act. Jalal told me it was a big risk, also because Jayant Kriplani, who was a well-known theatre personality, was cast opposite me. I asked him how much money went into shooting the pilot. He said Rs 60,000, which was a lot of money back then. But luckily, my dad was well-off. So I told Jalal that if the pilot gets rejected because of me, I will give that money. We shot the pilot, and it got rejected by the agency! I thought I would need to call my dad, but Jalal revealed that though the pilot needs to be re-shot, the only thing that remained were the two actors. They loved Jayant and me. So we re-shot it. It was a 26-episode show which was telecast on Doordarshan every Sunday morning.
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
The show’s concept revolved around the girl going out to work and the man staying back and looking after the house. In my first scene, I am cooking some vegetable in a kadhai. There was no dialogue, but I am just fed up and not enjoying the process. My mind is somewhere else. That was the shot.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you need?
I did my first shot and Jalal said it wasn’t funny enough. Today, if you give me a similar situation, I can show you 10 different funny ways to do it. At that time, I kept looking at Jalal dumbstruck as I had no clue how to make the process of cooking in a kadhai look funny! He was yelling at me. I asked for a few lines and he told me I am working alone in the kitchen. Jalal had to face the problem of me being a non-actor. He had to show me how it was done, but I was a quick learner. I managed this particular shot after a lot of retakes.
4. How was the rapport with your co-stars and team?
It was nice to work with Jayant, though we hardly met after the show. We did go to his house a few times. I was really heartbroken when Jalal died. He was one of the few genuine people in the industry, and he went too soon. I learnt a lot from him. I grew so fond of his family too. His sister, who is married to Tinu Anand, remains a dear friend.
5. If given a chance to go back to your debut role, is there anything you would like to change?
I haven’t seen the show for the longest time, so I really don’t know how bad I was in it. Of course, I am sure it can be done better. But maybe there was a freshness to it. The lack of finesse might have worked for that role and made it look real. Maybe it worked because we were raw and untrained. So, I don’t think I would like to change anything. I think it was way ahead of its time, a revolutionary concept, and Jalal treated it very differently. It had scenes on the beach with someone playing a guitar and us dancing. Today, we have gone back to regressive times on TV.
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6. One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?
I was in love with Sadhana and even had the ‘Sadhana cut’. I idolised her so much that I thought by cutting my hair like her, I could look like her. I was very young then, but it was because of her that I thought of being in films. There were so many other actresses who inspired me. I would watch Helen dance and copy her moves. I was crazy about Zeenat Aman too. For me, she was the epitome of glamour. Later, when I entered the industry and became her friend, it was an unreal journey after being a fan.
It was the time of Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra. And movies were the only form of entertainment for us. We used to sit in a dark Dehradun theatre, with broken seats, hardly any fans and lights going off in the middle. I have grown up in that kind of atmosphere where films meant they were worth sitting there. We were so mesmerised by the whole experience. All of that influenced me so much.
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