FPJ Exclusive: Archana Puran Singh On Being Denied Of Serious Roles And On Facing Sexism In The Industry

FPJ Exclusive: Archana Puran Singh On Being Denied Of Serious Roles And On Facing Sexism In The Industry

I have been deprived of good roles. I am not complaining, yet the actor inside me is still craving and saying that one day I will get that opportunity to show that what you are seeing of me is just one facet of me as an actor

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Wednesday, November 22, 2023, 08:06 PM IST
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If we engage in a game of word association, particularly in any part of India, the name that would promptly be linked with a woman possessing contagious laughter is Archana Puran Singh. Over the last four decades, numerous women in the country have risen to prominence as comedians, and when discussing Indian comics, Singh’s name consistently takes the lead. Does she ever stop being comic? “Comedy is the most fine form of art and I love it.” Like her or hate her, you can't ignore the comedy queen's infectious laughter, especially in shows like Comedy Circus, and The Kapil Sharma Show. In conversation with India's pioneer female comic about enduring struggles to make her space in the industry, finding humour in pain, and her beautiful bond with husband Parmeet Sethi.

On being one of the first female anchors and comic

“I started my career in comedy with Shrimaan Shrimati (1994), where the woman went out to work and the man stayed at home. That was a revolutionary thing at that time. When we started 29 years ago with a content of women working and a man taking care of the house was acceptable. The show was a big hit. In some ways, comedy has been, like all art forms, a mirror of society. In so many ways we regressed as a society and so has comedy. Now we are catering to more baser tastes. But all kinds of comedy are welcome, even if it is basic, adult, insult comedy, whatever it is. As long as it is making people laugh, without hurting anyone's religious and personal sentiments, it's fine. Comedy is the most fine form of art and I think I have been associated with good projects.”

On being typecast in the industry

“As a comedian, I have enjoyed my work, but the only drawback is that I have been only considered as a comic actor, so my other talents and another part of my craft have been put on the side. Anything really serious, artistic or intense work has been denied to me for a very long time. We all like to slot things. They have slotted me in this zone including Mehmood Sahab. He was a great actor, forget comic actors. They say in Hollywood that you are very lucky as an actor if they stereotype you and slot you because you have done something so brilliantly that they just want to see more of that. It's a double-edged sword that takes away from you the opportunity of doing anything else. An actor survives, thrives, and lives for doing different roles. I have been deprived of good roles. I am not complaining, yet the actor inside me is still craving and saying that one day I will get that opportunity to show that what you are seeing of me is just one facet of me as an actor. I have gone through a lot and faced a lot but as a performer, I didn't have a chance to grow as a performer. Today, if I get a chance to perform, I really have to learn on the job again.”

On sitting on one of the most desired seats 

“I have been made to sit on one of the most coveted seats in the entire country. There are very few celebrities who would say 'I don't want to do it'. There are big stars who say you get paid so much and you just sit there and laugh. Another good thing that has happened is that India has got to know the real me because the real me sits there and laughs. They know this is how I am. Actors hide behind their characters but I am not hiding behind anything and I am just the same for the last decade. People have loved me for what I am, my real persona, which has been a great blessing.”

On facing sexism and discrimination 

Strangely, I have never felt that men and women were treated differently in our industry. But of late, I have been feeling that there is a difference between women and men in the workplace. All those years when I was struggling to make a name, I never felt it, possibly, because I was so determined and so fierce that people were like, 'Don't take panga with this woman'. I think I had to be fierce because I was battling with the sexism that exists in the industry and in every workplace. I am not blind to it but I am going to fight it, not in an aggressive way but very firmly and will not accept it. I am not going to make a hue and cry about it, I am just not going to take it. All women need to know that if you are quietly persistent in what you want, if not today, someday you are going to make a difference to all the male bosses who are making that slight scud treatment of you. They have to step back. Today, I am successful in so many degrees, so I don't get that but I have a lot of sympathy for the average women who are struggling to make their place. I am not saying that take onto a platform and burn the bras but do it quietly, and be persistent. I tell this to all the young girls around me including my son's girlfriend. I tell her that you are not going to take any nonsense from him no matter what it is.

Out-surviving men in the industry

There's discrimination in the industry where my counterparts are paid more than me because they are men. But I have also beaten many men to the bank. I have broken a lot of barriers. There are many contemporaries who have sat next to me and who have been paid far less than what I have and that is one thing that television does. The women are very powerful on TV. But in my job as a judge and jury, the men are paid more. But in my case, I have out-survived many men and beaten them in their own game. I have survived very happily and I would say that it's not everywhere that discrimination works, sometimes, when you stand your ground, you realise that you are paid far more than the men.

On reinventing herself in an ageist industry

When I was 25, I played the role of the mother of a 25-year-old actor. That time I was doing Wah, Kya Scene Hai. They told me not to do that. But I wanted to explore, I didn't care, I wanted to have wrinkles on my face. I wanted to play the character. Till today I feel the same. Ageism exists in our industry and eventually, I will also be a victim to that. But I have survived for almost 40 years in the industry so it takes a little longer to get ready in the vanity van to beat those wrinkles but that's fun. I reinvent myself with different looks. I love defeating people in the game with the rules that they set out. I love to break their rules. I have been defeated many times, pushed down, laughed at and whatnot. When I came to this industry, someone told me, with your face, you are not going to make it here. I remember that guy, I don't know where he is, but I would really want to ask him if you still think I am not going to make it and should change my face. I have many such comments like 'You are not going to make it', 'your face is not going to work', and 'you can't dance', but I knew that I would make my own place in the industry.

On enduring challenges and pains

I am what I am because of many years of enduring pains, life's vicissitudes, and struggles. When we say, women of substance, she becomes because she has been through so much. Most of us are women of substance because we are fighting so many unseen battles. We all had to rise to a certain level which we were not allowed to. I have endured what millions of women are enduring every day. Discrimination, rejections, sexism, and personal losses, but that all has only made me very determined to succeed and I have said this so many times that I am not going to take no for an answer and not going to take defeat. It hasn't been easy but I have an amazingly supportive husband and parents. Out of all the pain I have endured comes great comedy, because you have the power to observe human beings and yourself at the lowest and then to be able to look at it humorously, that's your biggest victory.

On taking insults from Kapil Sharma 

“Sometimes, survival depends on your survival, and I want to look at life humorously, which is why I am able to take insult comedy and all the remarks about my appearance. Nothing phases me anymore, I also look beyond the mere words and intent with what the people are talking to me. So, when Kapil Sharma and Krishna say anything about me, I know they love me and I love them.”

On husband Parmeet Sethi

“We are two old buddies who love to watch TV at night. When we got married, we decided that we would not be that regular husband and wife. We will always treat each other like a girlfriend and boyfriend. I think we have been able to do a pretty good job at it. A lot of credit goes to my husband. He is more romantic and I am not. I will forget birthdays and anniversaries but he remembers everything. He puts a lot of energy into the relationship.”

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