Apara Mehta Interview with Jahnavi Pal
Apara is another name for Goddess Saraswati and the goddess has indeed blessed her. Her mastery over her craft and her memory power are evident. Over the years the gited Apara has deftly straddled theatre, TV and films and is considered one of the finest talents in the industry. She is one of the few actors who proudly claims to be a successful commercial actor and her name has been the biggest draw on Gujarati stage. With a track record of having acted in the biggest hits on stage Apara has almost no shows that flopped. In fact she is known as the actor with a Midas touch.

 By Jahnavi Pal

A trained Kathak dancer and a classical singer as well Apara is a complete package. With almost 80 plays to her credit like PATI NAAME PATANGIYU, ADHURA TOY MADHURA, KEM CHO MAJHAMA, EK BIJA NE NADTA RAHIYE, UMMAR CHE ANTIQUE PAN DIL CHE ROMANTIC, APNA TIME AAYEGA and U- TURN amongst several others she has acted in long running soaps like Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Saat Phere, Sajan Re Jhoot Bolo and films like Devdas and Tees Maar Khan.

With an actor's gene in her it was no surprise that Apara chose to follow in her mother, Mandakini Mehta's footsteps. "The first memory I have of being on stage is when I was in grade 9. I did a play called SASUJI NI SAWARI which was directed by Chandravadan Bhatt. And soon I began anchoring for a show on DD called Santakukdi. I turned 18 and got married to Darshan Jariwala. In fact everything in my life has been very organic. Nothing has ever been planned. My career on stage had by now taken off and I did a lovely role in a comedy called TAN MAN DHAN. I was doing a lot of second leads and I feel that this was the best thing to happen to me. One should move ahead one step at a time. I learned a lot from these roles as I was acting with stalwarts like Padmarani and many others."

Soon her daughter Khushali was born and though she was offered several films at that point in time she refused them all. "It was after about five months later that my mother-in-law advised me to get back to work. So when my daughter was five months old I did a thriller with Darshan called KHALEL. I used to feel very guilty leaving her behind and we made it mandatory that one of us should stay at home and hence decided not to work together."

Talking of some of her best assignments Apara says, "A play that I am so proud of was AJATSHATRU directed by Dinkar Jani. It was a lead role where I played a vamp. This was the first turning point in my life. Dinkar Jani had worked very hard on my character and he had changed my voice, my look and given me a role that was very unique. I was very young then and I thoroughly enjoyed playing the part. I recall audiences going crazy. The second turning point came in 1994 with PATI NAME PATANGYU. It was directed by Siddarth Randeria and based on this play the TV serial Shriman Shrimati was made. It was when I did this comedy that it hit me that this was what I wanted to do. I let go of my shackles and came into my own as an actor. Along with this play I started doing serials for Ahmedabad Doordarshan. I still consider that some of my best work has been in Gujarati serials."

Apara was now on a roll. She had signed one of the longest running soaps Sapna Na Vavetar which was also made in Hindi as Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka. "I thought my love affair with Gujarati theatre was over as by now I was doing so much on TV. In those days I would not go to see a single play as I would succumb to the temptation and return to my first love."

Apara was on the way to creating history as in 2000 she signed the iconic Balaji serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu thi. She says she was called for a narration and she got up halfway through it as she didn't want to play a mother-in-law to such an old character. But Ekta Kapoor convinced her and the rest is history.

"During that time I worked non-stop. I was also offered the film Devdas which I had signed. I would rush from one shoot to another and in all this Feroz Bhagat offered me a play. I told him I would be a liability. But he insisted. He wanted to do 30 shows a month! And soon I was shooting day and night. In fact for the first time in my life I shot 17 days without a break. I realized that the pace for crazy and it would only end in death, not even hospitalization! I would come home only for a shower. I was taking flights to Ahmedabad every evening for the play and would return late night to shoot the next morning. The play Adhura Te Madhura written by Pravin Solanki was the one on which Baghbaan was made. I played the role of Amitabh Bachchan. The play was a hit and Ferozbhai and I got to be labelled as the golden pair. We did 453 shows. It was at this time that I was shooting the famous Mihir's death scene in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi. I shot this without using my hands as I had aalta (red liquid colour) for my scenes in Devdas. Even today I am amazed as how I managed it all. But that was the reality of my life. I did it all as I believed in commitment. Once I take up a project I see it to its end. I was earning well and was in an enviable position. Nobody from theatre has done what I have done. People talk about my work and passion. But I say it was pure professionalism."

Apna Time Aayega

Apara is probably one of the few actors who has done three plays in three different languages all in one day! A Hindi play, A Gujarati play PAPPA NA SECRETARY and an English play CARRY ON PAPA.

The actor in her rues the fact that she has done some good plays which have not been accepted by Gujarati audiences. "Ferozbhai and me did a play called U-TURN. It had just the two of us but unlike my other plays it didn't do as well though the original play in Marathi did 750 shows. Character based shows don't work with Gujarati audiences.

But one of my favourite plays will always be MASTI MA MARRIAGE MARRIAGE MA MASTI. This was written by Khushali in English which we then did as a Gujarati play and a story which was way ahead of its time but yet was one of the most successful plays of Ferozbhai and me - commercially."

Apara says that after having stayed home during the lockdown she has made one very important decision in life. She will now never ever work in more than one medium. Either it's TV or films or theatre.

Apara has also done a play in Marathi which she is very proud of. "AKHER TU YESHILACH was adapted from a Gujarati play for which I had done 25 shows. It so happened that an actor opted out at the last minute. Director Suresh Rajda asked me to step in. A Marathi play and that too to step into someone's shoes just a few hours before the show! I agreed. I read the script in the car as I drove up to the theatre for the performance. It had Reema Lagoo in a pivotal role. She too was wondering if I would pull it off. We discussed a few strategic things and I performed. I got a standing ovation for this one. I have done several last minute replacements for many plays. And on principle I never ever charge a rupee for replacements as I feel that I have been called only because someone is in distress and I should not charge him for this. I recall one more such instance when I was to doing MAHARATHI with Paresh Rawal and we were to leave for USA that night. Priya Tendulkar who was doing DIKRI NAAM NO had opted out at the last minute due to serious differences and I was asked to step in for a show that evening. I agreed and did the show after only seeing the grand rehearsal. I got a standing ovation for this one as well. In fact in the last scene I was required to cry and I ended up sobbing longer than was needed as it was such an emotional moment for me as an actor to have achieved this feat. God has really been very kind. I owe it to my memory power. After so many years as an actor I have seen it all. I know I can direct, design a set and do other related stuff but I am of the belief that one must do only what one is meant to do. In fact I recall that in my play AA PAAR KE PELE PAAR the set designer Twisha Pal got a car on stage. It was a never done before thing and the highlight of the play. Though I had understood the dynamics I would never attempt to do it because it's not my job. The more intelligent a person the better as an actor. I have a long way to go as I am still learning. I am not going to stop acting unless my fans throw me out. As Saroj Khan once said that in any performing art , the art leaves you if you leave it.

For this feisty go-getter life has been beautiful. Though she has a few grievances she says she has a lot to thank god for. "Yes, I must confess that everybody has walked all over me. I am not complaining as I chose to be a doormat. I did it as I don't like conflicts. I am a very satisfied soul. I have eventually turned out to be the winner. People have given me so much love and respect. I am at peace with myself and not bitter with anyone or anything in life. In fact isn't that evident with the way I look?"

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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