Archana Puran Singh has been a prominent face in Bollywood.
For years, she has made us laugh in various avatars… Be it Miss Braganza from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Preeto from Mohabbatein or even Zohra in Bol Bachchan.
Even in negative roles, especially in films like Raja Hindustani, Archana’s presence is always felt.
Speaking of presence, India’s Laughter Queen returns to her throne as a judge on the highly successful comic show, Comedy Circus.
In a very candid tete-a-tete, Archana discusses what it feels like to be back on the show, her career and much more.
What persuaded you to return to the judge’s seat of Comedy Circus after four years?
I’ve always been looking forward to being back on the show.
I couldn’t believe it when it was being discontinued so when Vipul D Shah (the producer) called me up, I was in New York at the time.
He said that he can wait for me to come back and then break the news but I insisted on him telling me.
When he informed me that the show is coming back I was so excited.
My duration on coming back to India was 15 hours and I couldn’t even sit, that’s how excited I was on coming back on the judge’s seat on Comedy Circus.
It is something that I’ve loved doing for so many years and it’s laughing all the way to the bank.
Sohail (Khan) and I have always discussed this that there is no better job in the world where you get paid to laugh and to be entertained.
In an act, what tickles your funny bone and impresses you the most?
In some acts, it is the sheer physical comedy of it all.
When a Sidharth Sagar or Gaurav Dubey does physical comedy so brilliantly, they can completely take over the stage through their presence, energy and timing.
Especially with how well they use their body language to convey a comic line on stage.
Everyone can pretty much do a bit of everything so sometimes it is the power of an artist’s power of observation where they can mimic somebody so well that you see them come alive on stage in a second.
One wonders how do these kids mimic the actors and consecutively they keep changing. They’re so good at it.
Very often that completely leaves me gobsmacked and at other times it is the writing where the lines’ brilliance is conveyed through the words and leaves the viewer amazed at the talent.
Sometimes it is the combination of good writing, timing and punchlines delivered well.
The common factor is that the acts are done by people who are very dedicated to their craft and job.
Comedy Circus has led to your title of a ‘Laughter Queen’. How does it feel to have this tag?
Earlier on television, decades ago, I was known as the ‘laughter queen’ because I used to create that laughter on screen through my performances.
This was during television was in its nascent stage and there were no female actors and standups.
My show Wah, Kya Scene Hai was amongst the few initial standup comedy shows in India, where I used to do the standup.
This was actually the first time standup was virtually seen, which was 25-years-ago.
At that time they called ‘laughter queen’ because I said the jokes. Now, I have that title because (I guess) I’m appreciating the jokes.
So, that definition of the crown has shifted and changed, but I’m very grateful that I am associated with laughter in whatever form or shape.
Let’s talk a bit about your background. What motivated you to pursue a career in the entertainment field?
It was a dual need. Firstly, I wanted to make a career/earn money by doing something which (in my mind at the time) which will not require much effort.
At that time I thought that acting was a breeze and felt like I would be able to do it because I used to entertain my family by dancing or trying-enacting scenes from w film as a kid.
The second major reason why I pursued this career is that I wanted to get away from my small hometown Dehradun and discover the big world out there.
I thought that I’d come to Mumbai would give me the opportunity to discover how one lives in the adult world.
Of course, I also thought that I would get rich and famous through being an actor.
That was almost 30-35 years ago and I reflect back thinking, “oh my god, I had the guts of the nation to do it?!”
When you’re young, you have guts, inexperience which leads to having so much courage because you don’t know how tough it’s going to be.
Nonetheless, I was so positive, hopeful and determined to make it. That’s what helped me through the tough times.
I decided that I would not just be a small-town-girl and make a name for myself so I stayed in Mumbai and kept getting small jobs, kept convincing myself that it will be big one day.
The one thing I didn’t do was give up, even if it took me half a year between jobs I never thought let me pack up and go back to Dehradun.
Besides Jalwa, many of your notable roles were supporting characters or even negative roles.
Why do you feel you were offered such roles and how did you deal with that phase?
At that time, it was a very insulated industry. It was very difficult for outsiders to breakthrough into the industry.
There was no structured way where one could audition for roles. There were no platforms of casting agencies, nothing.
It was just about meeting producers, I was from a small town and I had no idea how to meet a producer. I knew nobody in Mumbai.
So even after I got a role in Jalwa, I didn’t know how to cash in on my success.
I just thought I proved myself by doing a film with Naseeruddin Shah, hoping that I would receive offers afterwards.
Later on, I came to know that an actor still has to knock on doors and go to producers.
I also didn’t have a godfather here in the industry, so I had to support myself. Thus, I couldn’t wait forever for a leading role to come through.
So when a producer was happy in giving me a supporting role, I took it on board as a job.
There was no real guidance, like how there are agents and managers. There is a whole paraphernalia that supports rising actors.
Even today, people remember you as Miss Braganza. Does this at least give you a sense of satisfaction as an actor?
Oh yes! It gives me a sense of amazement that when I did the film I had no idea that it would become iconic.
At the time, I just did it as a job offered to me. I did it with the normal dedication that I brought to every role.
God has rewarded us for our work and efforts in such a huge and enduring way.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai has endured over so many years of my career and has endured 2/3 generations.
My mum’s generation has seen and loved it, so has mine and my children’s generations.
The credit goes to the entire team, especially Karan Johar, who conceived and conceptualised the character.
He said, “I wrote the role especially for Archana” and things like that.
It’s with great gratitude that I look back at that film and say these things don’t happen by design.
They happen by a very happy accident of a bunch of very dedicated, talented and very lucky actors who get together and then god just decides the rest.
TV has played a major role in your life. Do you believe this has been a saving grace for you?
Absolutely. If I had just relied on films I wouldn’t be having the luxuries that I have today.
My stint on television, in every role, has helped me to make my bucks.
Television gave me the luxury to refuse some films which I would’ve otherwise had to do if I had to survive on films.
Over time, I started choosing the average and below-average films and then I would stick to television which gave me great roles that were written especially for me.
Fremantle even approached me for the Indian version of Here’s Lucy.
But on seeing the writing I refused because I would never be able to forgive myself if I did not play the role well.
People now say that I should’ve done it, however in retrospect, one feels that you may or may not have done.
I’ve had great innings on television and TV has been a boon not just to me, but to millions of industry people. Plus, it’s a different ball game.
If your children express a wish to work in the entertainment industry, what advice would you give to them?
Both of my kids have learnt acting through the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute In New York.
My younger one is currently in New York doing his conservative course whilst my older has already finished.
Both have already expressed their desire.
Strasberg really revolutionised my perspective of acting because I was never trained, but for them, it was a great place of learning.
Both have explored their latent talent. We just have to wait and see how it turns out as far as the film industry is concerned.
Both my children have loved it. They have blossomed and become confident.
Of little that I’ve seen of them, from snippets they sent me in New York, both are turning out to be good actors.
Even though they’re trained, I’m giving them the freedom to still choose to their career path.
My eldest child has come back and he’s been here for six months now.
He’s been going to the gym, doing martial arts and learnt dance but I’m not pushing him to look for work because I want it to be organic.
Coming back to Comedy Circus, you’re often the punching bag for jokes and gags. How do you maintain a thick skin each time?
I don’t think it’s a question of thick skin because I genuinely find it funny when they make a joke at me.
In real life, I’m a very confident person. I know that nobody has the courage to actually say something rude to my face because I would give a befitting reply!
When you look at a two-year-old saying “I’m going to smack you so hard momma, you’ll fall down” you know they’re not going to do anything of that sort and it’s too cute/funny.
In a similar manner, they (the artists) are like little kids who are put out there who are just saying “I’m gonna be funny now, you watch” and then they insult you.
It’s praiseworthy to see that they’ve got guts to do so and it genuinely is funny.
Otherwise, the artists are so respectful but then they go on stage and then they become like these kids who develop some great guts so from there stems a humour because I know they don’t mean it.
That self-deprecatory and insult humour are different genres of comedy.
Which if you are a judge of a comedy show how can one just laugh when they are making fun of the whole world, but when it comes to them, that humour is not funny at all?
For me, that doesn’t work.
Listen to our conversation with Archana Puran Singh right here!
The humour is like a roast?
It is a form of a roast that we gave to our Indian entertainment industry that wasn’t there earlier.
The judges were meant to be above any jokes cracked on them.
In fact, some of my co-judges told me: “Oh my god they’re cracking jokes at us when we’re the judges, it’s not right.”
However, I just said:
“It’s so funny that they’re making jokes at us and despite us being the judges, they have guts to do it… It’s hilarious!”
They (co-judges) were appalled and the more they resisted, the more the writers wrote such punches.
The writers saw that Archana really laughs at the jokes we crack at her. So, then they started using me as a target.
The more they targeted me, it was increasingly funny – subsequently becoming a cycle.
The bigger butt of the joke I became, the more I laugh and vice-versa.
Consequently, the humour on Comedy Circus became so different from anything that the Indian audiences had ever seen.
This is why our show became iconic.
Filme Shilmy wishes Archana Puran Singh all the very best for the future and it is always wonderful to see her as a judge on Comedy Circus.
Special thanks to Optimystix Entertainment, Vipul D Shah, Rakesh Juneja, Nikul Desai, Barkha Thakur and the entire team of Optimystix for facilitating the interview.
Comedy Circus airs on Sony TV every Saturday and Sunday at 21:30 GST in India and the UK.