V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
Juhi Parmar, who was popular as the face of the Hindi serial Kumkum - Ek Pyara Sa Bandhan which ran for seven years, is back on television screens with Hamari Wali Good News.
The Zee TV show, which premiered on Wednesday, is a progressive take on the Indian mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship.
Usually in traditional Indian households, after marriage, barely a year passes before pressure starts building on the daughter-in-law to deliver "good news".
If due to any reason, she is unable to deliver a baby, all hell breaks loose.
In Hamari Wali Good News, the Tiwari family deals with the situation in a unique way.
Instead of finding fault with Navya, the daughter-in-law (played by Srishti Jain), Renuka, the mother-in-law, offers to conceive a child with her husband and hand it over to Navya to raise without caring for what people will say.
Juhi, who plays the mother-in-law, admits that it is a bold concept. But she is sure the theme will be accepted by Indian television audiences.
"Anything that is different will catch audiences' interest," Juhi, the winner of the super-hit Indian reality television game show Bigg Boss in 2011, told tabla! "Even if the audience is not ready, we can influence them by making such progressive shows.
"I am not saying every household needs a mother-in-law to bear a child for her daughter-in-law, but the thought is liberating.
"Every day, a mother-in-law gets several chances to choose whether she wants to support her daughter-in-law or attack her. Why can't the mother-in-law treat the daughter-in-law as a daughter? The concept itself has a positive message.
"The show is setting an example of how the relation should be between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law so that the daughter-in-law feels as safe and protected at her in-laws' place as she is at her parents'."
Juhi, who last featured in the supernatural show Tantra a year ago, spent five Covid-19 lockdown months in India with her daugter Samairra, engaging the seven-year-old with games, school lessons, creating masks together and talking about the importance of sanitisation.
"My lockdown was a homeschooling period and a mini-vacation with my daughter," said Juhi. "I had no time to get bored. I was reading to her, playing with her, cooking for her, feeding her… our bond has become stronger due to the time we spent together."
The actress was married to businessman and actor Sachin Shroff for eight years. But they divorced in 2017 and the custody of their daughter Samairra was given to Juhi.
The 39-year-old, who was also a hit in serials such as Rishtey and Shani, is known for her versatile roles and doing quality work.
"I have always been an actor who prefers quality over quantity," she said. "That's the reason my body of work is so diverse and creditable. I believe in making right choices at the right time."
Juhi has been very selective while taking up new projects because she is also a single mum and has to balance her life between acting and taking care of her daughter.
"I am always up for challenges and when Renuka's role was offered to me, I felt that this would be very different," she said. "The makers have given the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship a dynamic twist and redefined the equation.
"Renuka has various shades, making her a very interesting woman and one who is relatable and yet so different. I love that she is so vocal, funny at times and yet so caring and can truly go to any extent for her family."
Is television now coming out with bold themes because it is facing competition from web platforms?
"It will be unfair to take the credit away from television," said Juhi. "There were some brilliant shows made in the past also when the web did not exist.
"Back then, we did a show like Kumkum where a young woman becomes a widow and her own brother-in-law marries her. It was shown so convincingly that not only did the audience accept them but they became the most loved couple on television who are remembered even 11 years after the show ended. That was also bold back then.
"The makers of Hamari Wali Good News have done something different because they wanted to, not because they were challenged."
It has been "totally different" for Juhi to be back on the sets amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The makers are doing everything possible to keep us safe - our temperatures and oxygen levels are checked daily," she said.
"But the atmosphere is totally different. I am used to working with a unit that has fun together, especially in the evenings when we have tea and snacks. But that is not happening.
"Everybody is confined in his own space. If a scene requires us to get close to a colleague, we have to do it. There is no other option.
"But it is difficult to work when there is so little interaction. But we all know that this is the need of the hour."
"The makers have given the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship a dynamic twist and redefined the equation." - Actress Juhi Parmar