Amar Upadhyay, Gurdeep & #BANNER1 & # Kohli, Nausheen Ali Sardar, Rajeev Khandelwal - remember them? No? Try, instead, Mihir Virani, Dr Juhi, Kkusum and Sujal? There glows the light of recognition if you are a true couch potato. All these are characters that have become household names over the years; the first list was of the names of the actors who played these characters.
Sometimes, a character goes down so well with the audience that the actor playing him begins to suffer from an identity crisis in which he has to reconcile himself to the fact that he will never be as famous as the character he's playing.
In most such cases, such an actor is unsuccessful when he tries to portray a different character in another show. The obvious examples are those of Gurdeep Kohli, who played Dr Juhi in the popular hospital drama, 'Sanjeevani', and Nausheen Ali Sardar, who acted as the long-suffering Kkusum in the serial of the same name. Kohli appeared later in 'Sindoor Tere Naam Ka', while Sardar was seen in 'Kaal Chakra'.
Shailja Kejriwal, creative director, STAR India, says, "People start following the characters, not the actors." She confirms that there are plenty of examples of this phenomenon on the small screen.
The reasons are obvious. The viewers become so emotionally involved with the show and its protagonists that they start identifying the actors as the characters. This is universally true for all popular programmes.
The phenomenon is not new to today's C&S TV world. The trend was observed even when only Doordarshan existed in the genre of television. Kajal Malik, regional director, Optimum Media Solutions, recalls how Arun Govil, a till then moderately popular actor who landed the role of Lord Rama in the mythological serial, 'Ramayana', got typecast and has never been able to shed his divine image since then.
"When roping in actors who have played famous roles, the channel must capitalise on the character they have portrayed earlier," says Malik. According to her, this will make it easier for the audience to relate to the show because they will have already seen the actor in a similar role.
Manish Porwal, executive director, Starcom, says that such tactics have been practised on the small screen. He cites the example of the serial, 'Devi', in which Saakshi Tanwar (Parvati of 'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki') played the lead role. 'Devi' did well because Tanwar's character was similar to that of Parvati.
Sudha Chandran, who played wicked stepmother Ramola Sikand in 'Kahin Kissi Roz', played a similar role in 'K Street Pali Hill'. Media observers say that was a smart move to attain viewership.
Anupama Mandloi, senior V-P and head, on-air programming, SET India, offers a different opinion. She believes viewers are eager to see their favourite actors in a different role. Though she agrees that it might be difficult for viewers to digest their favourite actor in a new avatar, she says that the success quotient depends on what kind of role it is, who is playing it and how the character is sketched.
Surprisingly, even the hugely popular SET soap, 'Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin', witnessed declining TVRs when Jassi, played by Mona Singh, went through a makeover and became glamorous during the natural course of the serial.
The industry is now looking forward to seeing Smriti Irani, Tulsi of 'Kyunki… Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi', in a completely new role in the about to air 'Thodi Si Zameen Thoda Sa Aasman' ('TSZTSA'), where she will finally play her real age.
Malik is not so optimistic about the acceptance of the show and the character that Irani will portray as her role in 'Kyunki…' is almost historical. "So much so that the BJP even cashed in on that during elections," she says.
Porwal also feels that it is a huge risk to portray Irani in a new light, completely different from her earlier role as Tulsi. He feels that people might watch the show initially, but he doubts whether they will relate to it in the long term.
Kejriwal admits that STAR India is running a big risk with the new show. "The character in 'TSZTSA' was scripted keeping Smriti in mind. She has given 'Kyunki…' huge popularity by playing an older woman. With the kind of sacrifice she has made, we thought it only fair to offer her a role where she can play her own age," explains Kejriwal.
When scripting a role for an already popular character, media planners are certain that channels need to be cautious and to ensure that the new role is similar to the earlier one. Running the risk is worthwhile only if the storyline is appealing enough. After all, everything comes at a price, even stardom!
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