90s’ darling Ayesha Jhulka - who is playing a pivotal role in new Amazon Prime Video series Happy Family *Conditions Apply - indulges in a freewheeling chat with OTTplay
Ayesha Jhulka is seen as Pallavi Dholakia in the new comical Gujarati family drama series on Amazon Prime Video; (image credit: Ayesha Jhulka's Instagram page)
Last Updated: 01.30 AM, Mar 12, 2023
With memorable roles in films like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Khiladi, Sangram and Masoom to her credit, it would probably not be wrong to say that Ayesha Jhulka was a 90s’ darling. In 2022, the actress made her OTT debut with Tanuja Chandra’s drama series Hush Hush, appearing alongside an all-woman ensemble cast. Happy Family *Conditions Apply is Ayesha’s latest OTT outing. Recently released on Amazon Prime Video, the comical Gujarati family drama series - centred on the Dholakia household - is created by Jamnadas Majethia and Aatish Kapadia. It features seasoned artistes, together with a host of young talents.
Ayesha is particularly upbeat about her character (Pallavi Dholakia) in this series, as it also happens to be a humorous role - a trait that she enjoys in her personal life too. In a freewheeling conversation with OTTplay, the actress spoke about her experience of working on the series, Bollywood’s patriarchal past, her take on the female gaze in narratives and more. Excerpts:
Q. From Ratna Pathak Shah and Raj Babbar to Atul Kulkarni and Atul Kumar, Happy Family *Conditions Apply features a seasoned cast, along with younger actors. Tell us about your experience of being part of the project…
A. My experience of working with this particular team has been phenomenal. It has been truly wonderful. And I’m not saying that just because I have to say it. I feel it from the bottom of my heart. It’s a light show, and the scenes as well as the emotions behind them have been very nicely handled. There have been so many hilarious moments on the set, on and off the camera. We had a lot of fun. Of course, the credit for that goes to the makers - Aatish Kapadia and Jamnadas Majethia. By being the constant pillars and holding the reins, they kept all of us together. Throughout the series, all the actors have had a great chemistry with each other. And the fact that there have been so many experienced actors on the set, you always learn the small, little bits from each other. I think even if there was somebody who was completely new to the cast, you would still get to learn certain things from them. So, yes, it has been a pleasure working with this team. It has been a phenomenal experience, more so because I had really missed being on set. In fact, I’m eagerly waiting for the next season of the series.
Q. Considering that you enjoy humour in your real life too, what was it that you particularly liked about your character in the series?
A. I am a very light person, even in real life. I like things on a lighter note, and prefer not taking too much stress. I’m sure everybody loves a bit of laughter and smile around them. I try to add a bit more in my real life by cracking jokes and trying to be entertaining. I don’t make a deliberate effort for that, but that’s there inherently in me. After a very long time, I have got the chance to do something on screen that I felt is close to my own character. I wouldn’t call it comical or pure comedy. It has drama and emotions. Families, I think, look a little different for every group. But the unexplainable sense of well-being is that a supportive family can constantly bring you in and out, and they would not let you go. In the series, the Dholakias are one such family, which is dysfunctional but are there for each other. It’s a joint family, with different generations living together. The underlying messages that this family is giving to the audience without spelling them out are beautiful, particularly in today’s times, when there’s so much stress around us to keep the joy intact. That’s what the Dholakias do. So, it is a happy family with certain conditions that apply.
Q. OTT has brought in a lot of diversity and inclusivity in films and television. We are also getting to see more female-focused narratives. So, do you think the notion that Bollywood is a man’s world is changing now?
A. I recently heard someone say that OTT is like the new sun in the galaxy of media. According to me, the digital medium has provided actors the opportunity to prove their ability. And it’s such a welcome change. There is no longer the ‘hero’ thing; that he’s the hero or she’s the heroine or these are the main characters. Today, everybody is important in a film or series. And I think that has happened because of OTT. There are so many brilliant actors who have emerged and so many other people who have got some great work to do now. The talents that were hidden for years together and were not getting the opportunity are finally thriving. So, I really feel that there has been a huge positive impact on the media industry because of OTT. Back then in the 90s, there were only films, then came the television, and then came OTT. Somehow, these platforms have really taken over everything.
Q. What’s your take on film stars’ presence on social media today? How different do you think the life of an actor is from the 90s era?
A. I would like to first say that I firmly believe that when we opt to get into the public domain as actors, I don’t think it’s right to crib over social media about the press or the media getting into your homes or whatever they keep talking about. I just feel that when we actually get into a profession which is completely in the public domain, we cannot be complaining about it. We are alive because of the audiences out there and the media or anyone, we are alive. And I firmly, strongly believe in it. And so I do not like this cribbing that social media is taking people into their homes. When you are a star, people want to know about you. So, in a way we are lucky. We are among those lucky people, about whom people want to know. Yes, I do agree that we should not be crossing the line. I genuinely feel that it is our duty to associate with the audiences as much as possible.
The times have changed. Now, social media has come in and it’s another form of media. Back then, we had so many people coming to the film set - some from the press and even others. Even when we would shoot at some local place, there was no cribbing happening. So, why this cripping now? These are good times, and I think it’s absolutely wonderful. People like us are still learning how social media functions. We have to catch up with the times. And I think it’s a welcome change. I’m enjoying this change right now.
Q. Do you think the female gaze in narratives is helping to churn out stronger women onscreen?
A. I think the female gaze is basically a feminist theory, in terms of giving female characters more importance. And why not? People from all genders can create films. Women are so much more progressive now. I think a woman is really more powerful than a man, because she manages her home as well as her office. I think it’s a great time in the world of arts now. There are so many opportunities and female characters are doing so well, compared with earlier times. People are talking about these onscreen characters.
The way female characters are portrayed through the eyes of another woman is also more impactful. For instance, look at how filmmaker Tanuja [Chandra] directed an all-woman ensemble cast in Hush Hush. I think it’s a very nice time for actresses. I shouldn’t be sounding feminist, but I’m proud to be a feminist. I really don’t feel that there’s anything wrong in it, though. It’s a good break from all the male-domainated films.
It’s not that female-focussed films were not made earlier, but now OTT has completely taken us all by storm, and has given us the opportunity to enhance the woman within us that was taking a backseat for I don’t know what reason. Women are brilliant actors. I’m not saying that they can feel emotions better than men, but yes, they should be given the opportunity to be there equally. I think it’s absolutely fabulous to be given an opportunity like this. There were times when we would just be kept waiting. We wouldn’t know clearly what our role would be in the film or how long would be the screen time. Because, anyway it’s the hero of the movie who would come and save all the people in the end. So, the stories were all pretty much in the same formula, but now it’s not. Now, you see there are so many shows that are completely women-oriented. So yes, I think the female gaze is much required.
Q. Legendary actresses like Shamila Tagore and Zeenat Aman are making a comeback? Do you think OTT is helping Bollywood to finally counter ageism?
A. Yes, and that is the reason why I said that OTT is such a brilliant change in our lives. It’s an introduction to our own identities again. After so many years when you almost decide not to work anymore, there are people who are telling you, “Oh, ma’am, we want to see you on screen again”. The OTT space has given us the opportunity to connect back with the audiences, our fans and people who really want to see us on screen again. And I think that’s the reason so many actresses, who have not been working for years, were not there to be seen, have started coming on screen and connecting with the audiences. The best part is that people are accepting it, and which is why I think it’s an absolutely fabulous time for us.
Q. Anything that you enjoyed watching on OTT recently?
A. There have been amazing series that I’ve been watching. For instance, I really liked watching Guilty Minds. Paatal Lok was another very interesting series. Then, I loved watching Mirzapur.