Alpana Buch Interview
She never ever wanted to be an actor. Despite having been born to an art director dad (Chhel of the Chhel –Paresh duo) and a film director (Sanjay Chhel) as a sibling, Alpana Buch wanted to pursue anything but acting. Destiny had other plans and its three decades that she has been acting and now loves her profession. After a successful career as an announcer on AIR Alpana shifted gears and did theatre, TV and films. With TV serials like Baal Veer, Papad Pol, Saraswatichandra and the ongoing Anupamaa she is a much recognised face on the small screen. The big screen too did her justice by offering her roles in films like Yamla Pagla Deewana 3, Love Yatri, Sharato Lagu,(Gujarati) and Love Ni Love Stories.

 By Jahnavi Pal

Alpana started her career on stage when she was in college with a semi-commercial play called TAAK DHINA DHIN and then she made her professional debut called SAALMUBARAK. Though it was only for a lark she tasted success with her first play and there was no looking back. Plays like JAANTA AJAANTA, EK SELFIE SAJODE, THODU LOGIC THODU MAGIC, RUPIYA NI RANI DOLLARIO RAJA, CHUP RAHO KHUSH RAHO gave her career a great impetus.

"In 1990 people never encouraged girls to act. Though my father was an art director my mother never wanted me to become an actor. Acting was always considered a second option. In fact people were not willing to let their daughters get into theatre, forget serials and films. I too kept it that way. I went on to study a lot and did my M.Com and diploma in Financial Management. All I wanted to do then was take up a good job and then get married. But it so happened that when I was in college I did some Inter-collegiate plays and got noticed by directors. I went on to do a few commercial plays after which I got married (to actor Mehul Buch) and took a long break from acting."

Alpana switched over to AIR and worked as an announcer for 18 long years. "In a way I was acting even then because as a RJ I was involved creatively too. I never felt I had left acting. But as my daughter, Bhavya, was small and I had family responsibilities I hesitated taking up any plays which required me to travel. In fact whenever I was offered a play my first condition was that I would not travel out of Mumbai. "

Going down memory lane Alpana recalls her maiden experience on stage. "As I was not serious about acting I treated my debut show as a picnic. It wasn't work. It was only entertainment. I was happy to get whatever little money that they gave and get on with life. When I observe youngsters today I notice a marked difference. They are so serious about their work and so committed. I was not focused. Today's generation is keen on finding work. I never ever approached anyone for work and till date don't do it. I have been plain lucky with work. My first play also came to me as Kanti Madia, the guru of theatre, noticed me at the inter-collegiate competition and offered me a role. But I was studying therefore I didn't opt for acting. It was much later I did SAALMUBARAK with Sarita Joshi and after this I went on to do other good plays. In fact I can say I learnt a lot by observing Saritaben who is one of the best actors on stage. This was my first play where they asked me how much money I would charge!! I am untrained actor and have learned this craft by observing the greats I was exposed it.

"When I did EK SELFIE SAJODE with Darshan Jariwala it was a major landmark in my career where it was a pleasure working with an actor of his calibre. Another play worth mentioning is THODU LOGIC THODU MAGIC with Tiku Talsania. My stage journey was brief as I moved on to the small screen and films. After I got married I stopped doing plays as my husband was a full-time theatre actor and we had mutually agreed that one of us would do theatre and one a full-time job. Since I was doing a full-time job with AIR I continued with it whereas he continued with his theatre. It was only after I quit my job that I took up TV serials and films."

After this whatever work came to me I took it with a vengeance as I wanted to cover the 18 years I had lost when I was doing my job. Now time was running out for me. But with God's grace I work kept pouring in. In 2014 I left my job and after that I could say now I am only an actor. "

Alpana says she is fortunate to have found a life partner in Mehul who encouraged her to continue acting as in those days boys wanted to marry girls who would only be housewives." In fact it was my mother-in-law who told me to continue working. And after I got married I soon left for London with my play PAPPA PARNAYA TRIJI VAAR, a comedy. After 2014 I started getting very good roles and I was happy with what I was doing on stage. "

But I can say that unfortunately theatre was always my stepney. The insecurities of life, money made me use theatre as a stepping stone. There was no money on stage and TV and films offered me good money and I chose the latter. Actors on stage always struggled with finances and hence once they start getting lucrative options they return to stage only for a play or two in a year. I can say I am a very selfish actor. As against Mehul who is such a dedicated stage actor I wasn't one. I would be happy to see the fat cheques that I got from acting in serials. I would also like to add that never have I used my father or husband or brother's name to get me work. I always got work on my own merit. It was very different for me. I have introduced myself as Alpana.

"Now the times have changed so drastically that when you look back at the actors they lived for theatre. They would live their characters, rehearse for over a month and dedicate their entire life for theatre. Now we are like instant noodles. Pour some hot water and an actor emerges!

"I return to theatre annually for that adrenalin rush. Films gives you fame, serials give you recognition for the character you play but only in theatre you get recognised by your name. Theatre audiences are so loyal that even if you come back after years to do a play they will come to watch you. TV and film audiences don't care. I can say I am so lucky as in this pandemic nobody is working whereas I am shooting and God is kind. So I feel that I love my work on TV more than theatre as there is nothing happening there currently. But when I see a good play then I rue the fact that I am not doing theatre. As an actor I miss theatre but on the survival level I don't miss theatre. All theatre actors are finding it difficult to survive."

Alpana ends on a very despondent note as she says that theatre audiences should buy tickets and come to watch plays so that actors are paid well. "I want to request audiences to come on time, buy tickets and respect us. This will help theatre."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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