DIVYA SETH SHAH: Actor for a Lifetime!by Aparajita Krishna November 16 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 13 mins, 26 secs
Aparajita Krishna is in this free-wheeling conversation with actor Divya Seth – packing her life, friends, family and career into this precious piece.
Divya Seth’s acting career on Indian Television is kind of historic. As in archived! She featured in Hum Log on Doordarshan (DD) (7th July 1984 to 17th December 1985), which was Indian Television’s first soap opera and Hindi drama series that ran for 154 episodes. Other noteworthy serials on DD, Zee followed in the early and growing-up years of Indian Television. She has acted in films. She is doing a web-series. In the web series Duranga (2022) she played Anupriya Patel and also features in another one, The Married Woman, directed by Sahir Raza.
So, it is 38 years of being an actor! Valuable theatre/stage acting experience preceded all of this. Her mother is the noted thespian Sushma Seth who theatre newbies like me, back in time, looked up to for her immense repute and persona. Divya sent me exclusive photographs, a very impressive catalogue indeed of the personal and professional. We talk about her acts and experiences.
You have a vast experience of all available acting mediums. How does it feel to look back at the journey? Of course, to look ahead also.
It is the nature of the beast to be dissatisfied! And as yet unfulfilled! It is in the DNA of actors to believe with utmost conviction, that their ‘greatest work’ is yet to come. So, it is with me. I am extremely grateful for the spectacular debut and the ensuing opportunities, but I always itch for more. At times with alarming restlessness!
I have witnessed the evolution of the Indian Entertainment Industry and been fortunate enough to be an integral part of it.
Your one particular social media post has really gone viral and has evoked reactions. You shared the clip of the condolence meet scene from the recently released film Goodbye. Therein you suddenly hug Amitabh Bachchan who plays Harish Bhalla, as he is standing with folded hands accepting condolences for his dead wife Gayatri Bhalla, played by Neena Gupta. Along with the video you wrote, “From Posters in My Room…To looking for You in other Actors…To Holi at Your Home…To the vastness of Your Variety…And to You never taking Your success for granted …Forever Mr. Bachchan Forever.” It was your greetings to him on his 80th birthday.
When I posted that shot, little did I realise the tsunami it would cause! But that is the power of Mr. Bachchan. I just had that clip and was longing to show it to the world!
In the present, shooting for web-series must be occupying you. Tell us of the experience of having worked on quite a few. What are the one’s lined up? And any upcoming films?
Fittrat was in 2019. I have just wrapped the third Season of City of Dreams. It was lovely! Nagesh Kukunoor as a director is an actor’s dream! We will begin shooting for the sequel to Duranga soon.
I had the most fantastic experience with Sandwiched Forever. The cast, crew, writer, director, DOP, were all fabulous. We had freshly emerged from a terrifying Lockdown and with all protocols in place, we rehearsed and shot 15 fantastic episodes. It’s been my most favourite experience in the last couple of years.
Hiccoughs and Hookups on Lionsgate was fun and here again, the cast and crew were lovely. Then I have done short films. Delightful Shorts! Won so many short film awards. The Session, Jungle of Love. Yes Papa, is a terrifying film on child-abuse. Feature film Sardar Ka Grandson released in 2021. Then Goodbye just released. I am in the process of finalising a couple of other projects.
Are web-series the new norm? Does the content break the shackles of the TV serial soaps that came to play since the Saas-Bahu saga started with Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani?
Web-series are definitely here to stay. Call it a result of the siege of the Virus or call it evolution. It is important to embrace change and to make it work for you. Economics and scale play a role. As does the sheer situation of the times. Television Soaps will always have their audience. The OTT platforms and their content are for a selected audience. As of yet.
Your FB post says - I’ve been an Actor for a Lifetime Would happily be for Another Bring it on….. Announcing a very exciting phase of my life right here!
Once an actor, always an actor! I don’t want to and can’t be anyone else!
You are an avid animal lover. As an environmentalist you call yourself a tree-protector. You endorse cosmetics that are naturally made. You follow the Yoga regimen. Share what you want to.
I am an Animist (belief in Animism). Someone who believes the Earth belongs to ALL beings and not just Humans. The Human Race has been terribly arrogant and cruel in its pillage of the animal, ocean-world and of the environment. It is of utmost importance that we begin to resurrect and salvage our planet and its inhabitants before it is too late. I am a vegetarian.
I have an unforgivable Sweet tooth! I have been taught that our bodies are our home and must be treated with love and respect. As an actor it is also ‘My Tool’. I must keep it healthy and malleable for my craft. Hence the undying love for all forms of exercise. Yoga, fitness, walking being the topmost.
Divya, I loved your clothes ensemble on your Facebook page. You sure have a heart and eye for clothes and fashion. Fashion as in aesthetics. Tell us more.
Oh! Thank you. I love clothes and jewellery! And I enjoy putting it together. Never cowed or bowed to trends or labels. I wear what I like and what I think looks good on Me.
You are married to Siddhartha Shah since 1999 and have a daughter, Mihika Seth. Family life must be gratifying. Tell us a bit about both of them.
Family is forever. Siddharth and Mihika both, like my parents and siblings have always encouraged and enabled my path. My husband is my sounding board for roles and performance. I live in Pune and commute to Mumbai to shoot etc.
Now to the beginnings, a rewind, and thereafter. You are Delhi born and have lived in Mumbai since 1993. For the last 14 years you have been living in Pune. You did your schooling at Delhi’s Convent of Jesus and Mary and your B.A. Honours from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, in English Literature. Right?
I had the best childhood ever! Delhi with its magnificence and art and music! I did my schooling from Convent of Jesus & Mary and then Bachelor of Arts from the legendary St. Stephens College. Herein is a photo of one of my first plays on stage with my mother's Children's Creative Theatre. Then also of the play Godspell, which I did in my school Convent of Jesus & Mary.
I was part of the Shakespeare Society at St. Stephen’s College. I made some lifelong friends and did amateur theatre with almost every theatre company in Delhi. They were the most fantastic years ever! Kamani Auditorium was our mainstay during the theatre years.
The first play I did in Bombay, Small Family Business, was with Pearl Padamsee and Raell Padamsee. It was in the year 1993 when I moved from Delhi to Bombay. The year of the bomb blasts. The play had Cyrus Broacha, Kunal Vijaykar, Bugs Bhargava. Such amazing people.
Your parents Sushma Seth (veteran actor) and Dhruv Seth (businessman) would have been very forward-looking, cultured persons of artistic bent. You got born to an actor-mother. Did that define your life and choices?
Being born to parents like mine is an incomparable gift. They are loving, honest and totally progressive. My mother of course was my first teacher and role-model. My father was an incredible gentleman! He loved us fiercely and yet gave us all the freedom to become who we wanted.
In your 2022 interview with Dinesh Raheja for Hindustan Times you have said that the major influences on you were your mother and naani. Books, theatre, films, colleagues also shaped you. And that, ‘I wore my heart on my sleeve.’ I suppose your individuality, womanhood got defined by the influences.
I was being cautious and diplomatic when I said that. I didn’t want to take names. Freedom of choice for young people is very liberating and a huge responsibility. As a woman I had very strong role-models who followed their path and achieved formidable reputations. I was always stubbornly honest and forthright. I believed that herein lay my personality.
Sushmaji started her acting career in theatre in the 1950s and was one of the founding members of the Delhi based theatre group Yatrik. Her first film was Junoon (1978). In the 1970s she founded the Children’s Creative Theatre. She played Dadi in Hum Log. Thereafter so many roles in films. She is 86 years old. For her time and all times, she would be a very forward-looking and progressive woman. One who did her schooling from Convent of Jesus & Mary (Delhi), college from Lady Irwin College, Science diploma from Briarcliff College (New York), Bachelor of Fine Arts (Pittsburg, U.S). Since the 2000s she has been working with an NGO, Arpana. She has directed plays and dance dramas. She has also written a play Sitaron Ke Paas inspired by the life of astronaut Kalpana Chawla.
How do you assess her journey as an actor, director?
Yes, accurate. Mum is not just an actor. She writes, directs and performs. Her energy is infectious and she is always planning and executing!
Your siblings are Kavi Seth (brother) and Priya Seth (sister). Tell us what you would want to share.
My siblings are my lifelines. My family along with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and four girls is most important in my scheme of things. My siblings and I speak every day. We tell each other our secrets and even when we travel, we literally tell each other when we have boarded and landed!!!
As a youngster you did theatre with Barry John in Delhi. How do you look back?
He is an amazing teacher! What a force to reckon with in grooming generations of performers! We did two plays each year, performed them in Delhi and then travelled to festivals etc. It was the best learning ground ever! And so much fun!
You cannot escape a Question on Shah Rukh Khan (smiling emoji). He was your co-student in Delhi theatre and a friend. You two even worked together in Lekh Tandon’s serial Dil Darya (1988). A tweet of SRK says, 'My bestest friend Divya, who taught me acting. Don’t hold the bad ones I do, only the good inspired by her teachings.’ What then set him apart from others so as to reach where he has reached.
We’ve always been friends and did so many plays together. He was always sure he would be successful. And he continues to work hard at it. (For SRK devotees/enthusiasts there is a photo herein of young Divya and SRK in a play and one of hers taken by SRK outside Kamani Auditorium in Delhi 😊)
You started your professional acting career with TV serial Hum Log. It was shot as a multi-camera setup. You played Majhli/Rupwanti who aspires to be an actress. Manoj Pahwa’s Tony elopes with Majhli. The story of an Indian middle-class family of the 1980s resonated with the audience and how! It is said that I&B minister Mr Vasant Sathe saw the Mexican TV series Ven Conmigo (1975) during his Mexican trip in 1982 and helped plug the Indian Hum Log as a soap. Manohar Shyam Joshi was the best person to have written the serial. Mr P. Kumar Vasudev directed it. Ashok Kumar appearing at the end of each episode to discuss the on-going story and characters was a masterstroke. Do share something as an insider.
What an epic opportunity! What an iconic show! My mother was already cast as Dadi. She told me to go meet Manohar Shyam Joshi and P Kumar Vasudev. I walked in and they looked at each other and said, ‘Found her’. At that time little did I realise the impact it would have on the nation.
Divya’s major work in television serials, through the years since 1988, have been Dil Dariya (1988), Adhikaar (1988), Dekh Bhai Dekh (1993), Tehkikaat (1994), Daraar (1994), Banegi Apni Baat (1995), Sparsh (1998), Abhimaan (1999), Sarkarr: Rishton Ki Anokhi Kahani (2005), Ek Nayi Umeed -Roshni (2015),
She also featured as a host in Purush-Kshetra (talk-show) in the 1990s, which was director Imtiaz Ali’s early works on television. She also recalls, “I did so many shows opposite Irrfan Khan.”
In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989) was a very individualistic film and over time has become quite a cult film for cineastes. You acted in it. It was written by Arundhati Roy and Arjun Raina, directed by Pradeep Krishen and produced by Bobby Bedi. For popular connection, our readers would know or like to know that it featured a very young Shah Rukh Khan in a small role of a character named Senior.
We never realized it would be cult!! It was a great learning experience with a massive ensemble cast! Arjun Raina, Rituraj Singh, Roshan Seth, Divya Seth, Himani Shivpuri, Manoj Bajpayee, Raghuvir Yadav, Sitaram Panchal.
Films happened later. In Jab We Met (2007) you played Shahid Kapoor’s mother. It got noted. Then there was English Vinglish (2012), Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), Patel Ki Punjabi Shaadi (2017), Sir (2018). You played the mother roles in most of these. Was it an easy transition?
I’ve never planned. Never set an agenda. I just want to be an actor and I chose out of the work offered to me.
In The Accidental Prime Minister (2019) you played Gursharan Kaur, wife of former PM Manmohan Singh. Your co-actor was Anupam Kher in the title role. The film was based on Sanjaya Baru’s controversial book on Manmohan Singh. Do share your preparation and execution of the role.
The directorial team was convinced I was right for the Part. I wasn’t. Until I saw the look-test! I slowed down my speech and bent my body to add age. And the eyes, which needed to be slightly tired and gentle. It was a wonderful experience and quite surreal.
In the film Sardar Ka Grandson (2021) you played Sardar’s younger daughter-in-law and then came Goodbye (2022). Share what you would want to.
Both sets were super fun. Kaashvie Nair (director-co-writer of Sardar Ka Grandson) was fabulous and knew what she wanted from her actors. Shooting in freezing Patiala was amazing!!
I learn from the social media that Anita Kaul Basu, Sagarika Ghosh are your best friends.
Ahhhh! Life is perfect with besties. Them and a few others make up my mad girl gang!!! We tell each other all and revel in the successes we have achieved.
I am quoting your FB quotes: “Where have All the Good Men Gone? It should be Raining Men… Kind, Wonderful, Happy Men… We Empowered Our Girls But Hey! Who is preparing men for these empowered women?”/// “Strength is not just inherent, It is a Legacy, Of that I am Sure.” Do take it further, as in throw light on these thoughts.
I was always a vociferous advocate for Equality. Now more so. I am shell shocked at the scale and extent of disparity between the genders. From forever, it is now time to restructure the workplace and relationships.
And on that Note this one ends in solidarity.