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Ulka Gupta is better known as young Lakshmi Bai from television soap Jhansi Ki Rani, but before she rose to fame in 2009 with the show, the teenager faced rejection many a time for her dark skin tone. And while one would think that things must have changed for her now, the 19-year-old actor reveals she still sees casting calls that require “fair, up-market girl”.
In an interview to indianexpress.com, Ulka speaks about dealing with prejudices at work since the age of seven, battling with complexes that come with them and her confidence in her talent.
“Rejections made me feel inferior at times but I held on to my talent,” said Ulka. Quite frank in her admission about the inferiority complex she had while growing up, she says getting rejected on the basis of her skin tone only made her more conscious about her looks. “I am a conscious person by nature. In school, I used to be curvy. So, when people started telling me that I was growing fat and when my jeans didn’t fit me, I went on a diet. I know, I shouldn’t have done that. Then, when these things happened in my career, I became more conscious. These are the general complexes a girl feels. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t feel I am not beautiful,” the actor says before adding that no complex, however, has overpowered her desire to act.
Ulka says she never stopped giving auditions as she was sure her talent would speak for itself, one day. “I never let that dampen my spirit. My father always tells me that patience is the key. ‘This industry has a place for everyone, every talent,’ he tells me. I swear by it. I am confident about my work.” The actor also seems to seek inspiration from Bollywood actors like Vidya Balan and Deepika Padukone. “I am sure at some point in their life, Vidya Balan must have been told she is ‘too old’, Deepika Padukone would have been told she is ‘too tall’, and Rani Mukerji would have faced something like this for her height. People are subjected to prejudices on the basis of how they look. But talent finds its way.”
Ulka explains that not much has changed post Jhansi Ki Rani, in fact, other stereotypes have kicked in. “After Jhansi Ki Rani, I became famous. So, of course, the number of offers have increased. But there hasn’t been much change in the audition calls I get. They still want a fair, up-market girl. The perception is such that if you have a fair complexion, you belong to the elite class and if you are not fair, you come from a village or are more earthy. This is something I still have to face,” she says.
But the thing that makes Ulka most conscious now is the degree of maturity on her face. The actor, who will turn 20 in April, says she keeps hearing from the people in the industry that she looks younger than her age. “I am conscious about not looking mature enough. There are girls, who are younger than me but look older. I think, my growth has been slow! This is a problem for me right now but I am sure it will benefit me in a long run.”
Besides her looks, another thing that bothers the actor is that most of the TV offers that come her way are historical and mythological dramas, thanks to her powerful performance in Jhansi Ki Rani. Ulka reveals that the makers of Peshwa Bajirao were quite keen on roping her to play Kashibai but she repeatedly declined the offer. “All I get nowadays are shows, which are historical or mythological. I don’t want to stick to one genre. I want to break away from that. I don’t want people to think that I can only act in period dramas. This is why I have refused the role of Kashibai. They really wanted me in the show but I said no. There have been great stories and roles, which I have rejected because they were historicals,” she says.
Ulka is certain she doesn’t want to quit television but believes her talent will be tapped in a much better way in cinema. “I will never say I don’t want to do TV because the medium is evolving and has a greater reach than films. But in terms of acting and stories, I feel our movies are much better and I want to pursue them. On TV, besides historical shows, what sell are saas-bahu sagas and love stories, which I feel don’t have any scope to act.”
Ulka has already done two films in Telugu and will soon make her Marathi film debut. “I am a Maharashtrian, I have been born and brought up in Mumbai. I wanted to give back to Maharashtra through my work. My film, Odh-The Attraction will soon release. It is a teenage love story. I want to work in Bollywood next.