Mandira Bedi became a household name with her 1994 super hit show Shanti – Ek Aurat Ki Kahani. One of the first daily soaps on Indian television, the show was about a journalist, Shanti, who meets Kamesh Mahadevan and Raj GJ Singh with a proposal to write their biographies.
The story had many mysterious characters, including Kamesh, Raj and Shanti, who wanted to wreak vengeance on Kamesh and Raj for raping her mother.
Talking about being cast on the show, Mandira says, “I was working with Prahlad Kakkar (ad-man) when the director-writer of Shanti, Adi Pocha, saw me scrubbing the floors on a shoot.” Mandira wanted to be in the advertising field. She either wanted to be a director or a copywriter. Adi asked Mandira to audition in a trouser and jacket, but she went in a T- shirt and jeans, and then a salwar kameez in the next round of audition. “That’s how much I cared about getting the role. Adi felt I was Shanti. I don’t know what he saw in me,” says the actor, who didn’t have any background in acting.
Mandira was also offered a job by ad-man Piyush Pandey. She had written to him saying she wanted to try acting, but also that she didn’t think it would last long. “The show initially was meant to be for a year. So, I wrote I would be back working with his company, as writing was my first love. Now, 20 years later, he still reminds me about that letter.”
The show was a challenge for her, but she took it up. “When I got this opportunity, I took it as I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t. Maybe, I would have failed, but I would’ve not forgiven myself if I hadn’t tried,” she says.
Preparation for the role was a challenge for Mandira who felt acting was “just saying the dialogues”. She had to work hard to ‘react’ to the other actors. Adi did some exercises with her that helped. She adds, “He told me to talk to a guy at a bus stop and go to a sari shop, and browse through stuff, but not buy anything. Such interactions helped. As my primary language was English, I had to work on my Hindi. I wasn’t so comfortable with it.”
She would work on her dialogues a day prior to her shoot. The show lasted for almost four years, and they shot for 25 days a month. “They (the makers) were so well-prepared that we would finish our work on time. Later, I turned savvy and gave them fewer days, and got more money,” she says, laughing.
Usually an actor’s personality rubs off on the characters they play, but as Mandira was at an impressionable age when she did the show, she in turn imbibed many traits from her character. “Shanti was a strong woman who stood for many things. I would find myself standing up for the rest of the unit when the food served was bad. Shanti made me a stronger person,” she says.