Seema Pahwa might have become one of the most loved screen mothers in Bollywood lately, with films like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, but the ace actor has had a journey that dates back 50 years.
Pahwa, who entered the industry as Seema Bhargava, began as a child artiste in numerous plays and TV shows, eventually finding a place in several noteworthy movies by Shyam Benegal. But her most prominent work still remains the iconic Doordarshan show Hum Log, where she portrayed the role of Badki.
While Seema Pahwa says she did mature roles too early in her career, she agrees that it also taught her a lot about the craft.
In this edition of the ‘First of Many’ series, Pahwa talks about her first acting project as a heroine. It was a play that was shot and telecast on television.
1. What was your first acting project? How did the project come to you?
I started doing plays from the age of five or six. My mother, who was also an actress, pushed me into it. But guess it was God’s will that it all fit in well and I got a lot of work as a child artiste. People still remember my plays and roles. All those characters have a deep impact on me even to this day.
After playing child roles for several years, I got a break as a heroine at around the age of 15. Director Chaman Bagga wanted me to wear a saree as he thought I will look mature. This was my break as a heroine. It was for a play called Sab Ki Izzat. This was also broadcast on TV.
2. What do you remember of your first day on set?
I don’t even know what I did on camera. But people said I looked good, so I think I did well! It was funny for me because I did not know how to tie a saree and I had to wear one to look mature. Then to hold onto the saree in the middle of the performance was a task. I wasn’t used to it so I wouldn’t even realise when its pleat came off. People on the sets knew me from childhood and treated me like a kid. They used to laugh and tell me to take care of my saree. Then they began to pin-up my saree from all ends. Even the next role I got required me to wear a saree. It was a time when heroines required to look mature. I think I grew up way too fast (laughs).
When I was a child, I used to get the roles of boys and so my hair used to be really short. Once I cut my hair and then realised that it was a girl’s role. So there was a lot of confusion during my childhood as to what I will be playing – a boy or a girl. In a way, I barely got roles suiting my age. It’s now that I am getting to play my age.
3. Were you nervous? How many retakes did you take?
I was quite tensed because as I said I was hardly 15 at that time and I was given a very mature role. I was nervous that how would I look. At an age when I did not even know what falling in love meant, I had to do romantic scenes.
We used to rehearse a lot. Camera did not move a lot at that time. The actors needed to move towards the camera. They used to draw lines with a chalk on the stage and we had to keep a tab of that line and move towards the camera, because if we went off that line, we won’t be visible in the frame. Camera 1 used to be close-up, camera 2 had a two-shot and camera 3 had the master frame. We had to keep a track of all those cameras while acting. All that was quite challenging back then with so many elements, rehearsals before the main performance. It was a very difficult time because technology wasn’t that advanced. We couldn’t say ‘cut’. We had to perform in a single shot from start to end as there was no editing. If there happened a cut in the middle, we had to start afresh. So even if your part was over, you had to wait till the end until the entire play got over. Things were always on the edge. Now, it’s become easier. But that struggle opened us as actors to such an extent that later there was no hesitancy, no fear to perform anything.
4. And who were your co-stars? How was the rapport with them when you got to meet or work with them again later?
Dr Ashwini Kumar was my co-star in Sab Ki Izzat. He was also with me later in Hum Log. I gave my first young performance with him.
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?
To learn something new and improve, you need to deny certain things of the past. So many times, when you think about your past performances, you realise this is the kind of work you believed in back then. Today, I think there were so many things that weren’t required to be done. Like actors have a habit of moving their hands, their neck a lot, giving expression on everything. Even I have passed through all that. But now I feel I did not need to do all that. A lot better can be achieved in minimal ways too. Earlier, I used to think that it will be great acting if I cry. I used to concentrate on crying. But now I know I have to cry only if I feel like, not unnecessarily. Now I know it’s a wrong perception that in an emotional scene, if your tears don’t come out, it won’t be impactful. It might be that I don’t cry but seeing me you will end up crying. The main thing is to express well. You take time to understand things.
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6. One film or role that inspired you to become an actor?
My mother was an actress and she pushed me into acting initially. In 1972, I did a play by Mannu Bhandari called Aapka Banti. I was hardly 9 at that time. I was so small. I couldn’t even reach the mic. But I remember it was during that performance, I got so involved and choked while doing it. I thought what’s happening with me since I am not that girl, then how am I able to feel some other character so deeply. That magic never left me and I realised this is some unusual thing. And if you are involved with something at such a deep level, such magic happens and also reaches others. After that moment, I pledged that henceforth whatever work I do will be from my heart and with full dedication.