Many remember Renuka Shahane as the anchor of Surabhi who had short hair and sported crisp sarees and junk jewellery. For others, she was the female lead opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Circus. For millenials though, Shahane still remains the lovable bhabhi from Hum Aapke Hain Koun.
In a career spanning more than three decades, Shahane ruled the television screens in the 1980s-1990s, being part of iconic shows like Sailaab, Junoon, Ghutan, 9 Malabar Hill and Kora Kagaz. While Surabhi made her a household name, her stint with writing and direction was well received too. The ace actor later went on to be a part of several Hindi and Marathi films.
But which was the first project that forced Renuka Shahane to quit her studies and theatre, and take up acting as a full-fledged occupation. Here’s what she shared.
1. What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?
My first acting project was a breakfast serial for Doordarshan called PC Aur Mausi and at that time the concept of a personal computer itself was very rare. The show featured a working couple, Pankaj Berry and I, who have a mausi (maternal aunt) at home, played by Farida Jalal. The Mausi wants a new fridge but the couple wants a personal computer. So they go in for the personal computer, which the mausi hates because that’s something she doesn’t understand. But they are at home together! So the PC falls in love with the mausi (laughs). It was a light-hearted funny concept. It was just five episodes, and it was written by Jayant Kriplani and directed by Gulan Kriplani.
It was 1987. Jayant Kriplani knew that I was doing theatre with Satyadev Dubey. I started doing theatre because I really love the medium. I love the way a script would finally transform in front of people. It’s fascinating. There’s a magic about theatre and I did everything. I set the floor. I was a set assistant, make-up assistant, costume assistant and lighting assistant. I have done the whole thing. In amateur theatre, you have to do everything. That’s a great training actually.
So that’s how Jayant Kriplani called me over to audition for the part and even asked me to learn a paragraph by heart and read it. So it was more like a reading rather than an audition. And they were very happy with my reading, so they cast me immediately. It was my first project with Pankaj Berry. Farida Jalal was lovely to work with. She is such a delightful actor and a delightful person. It was a very nice crew, and Rajan Kothari ji was the cameraman. It was great fun.
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
I remember I was wearing a Pink salwaar-suit, very nice floral sort of light baby pink. In that shot, I was getting ready to go for work. And I think mausi stops me and talks about getting the fridge, or something like that. So, that was the first shot. You know I remember not thinking too much about it because I am not a trained actor. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that day. But it was this mundane thing that happened in one go. So not many retakes. The first day was okay, and I was very pleased. So I said this is my calling. I was very comfortable.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?
Not really, because apart from Faridaji, all the people I was working with, including Pankaj Berry, were new. And I had known Gulan and Jayant because of theatre. So I was very comfortable with them. Gulan is such a great director to work with. She was so cool herself. Nobody was hassled. Nobody was doing something to make you feel uncomfortable. It was as if I was a part of some rehearsal or something, and I was enjoying myself thoroughly.
4. How was the rapport with your co-stars when you got to meet or work with them again later?
Pankaj Berry and I met at various occasions. We did a lot of work on television. We always discuss about facing the camera for the first time together. It was like a new thing for us. We didn’t know whether this would be our career, whether we would be accepted or what would go on in our life. And then both of us did well in our lives. So we are pleasantly happy about the circumstances. And of course, I met Faridaji later, not very often, because she doesn’t go out very much. I have not had the opportunity to work with her again. But, whenever we met, maybe at Asha (Parekh) ji’s place or something like that, it’s the same kind of love and warmth she has for me. I am very happy that I began my career with her in front of the camera.
5. If given a chance to go back to your debut role, what’s that one thing you’d like to change or do better?
Not really. I would actually like to learn from that girl now! Because there is a certain rawness and passion that you have in your first project that you can never repeat. It is magical at times. Maybe you weren’t technically as good or maybe you could do better. But since it was a light-hearted thing, we weren’t required to do any brave acting. The main thing that we had to do was to be as natural as possible. And I think we did achieve all of that. So that was pretty smooth sailing.
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6. One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?
At that time, I had still not decided (to take up acting). I was still studying. I was finished my B.A. in 1987. And then I started my M.A. So obviously, that was my priority in a way. I was doing amateur theatre, and films were an extension of acting in a different media. I didn’t really look at it as a career option at that time. I was doing it as a fun hobby, something where I could really learn on the job and even do theatre. You don’t take yourself as seriously as an actor (at such a time). I started looking at acting as a profession, only after I finished doing Circus. Aziz Mirza was actually the one who kind of encouraged me to take up acting. He said, ‘forget the PhD and stuff that you are planning to do. Become an actor because I believe you are a good one.’ You need somebody like that to tell you that you are very good, so you better do this. Because I didn’t have any internal ambition. After Circus, I went for Surabhi’s audition, and I got through it.