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Friday, December 8, 2023

Girija Oak-Godbole to Break Stereotypes as Meghna Nikaade in Ladies Special

Girija Oak-Godbole is notable for her performances in Bollywood films like Taare Zameen Par (TZP) and Shor in the City.

We have also seen her in Marathi films/TV shows alike and now, she is set to make her Hindi daily soap debut in season 2 of Ladies Special on Sony TV.

Ladies Special first premiered in 2009 as part of a major revamp on Sony TV. Now, nine-years-later, the show is back covering the life we know today. 

The show is based on the lives of three ladies who happen to meet in the ladies special compartment of a local train in Mumbai.

The focus becomes on how strangers become friends during their regular commute in local trains and how they start sharing their life stories with each other.

In an interview with Filme Shilmy, Girija opens up on Ladies Special, acting and woman empowerment.

You’ve always played strong female characters. In what way is your character Meghna Nikaade formidable?

What I love about Meghna is her never-say-never spirit.

She is not just someone who says things for the sake of it… She is willing to work hard.

Meghna is somebody who has this absolutely quality which is sticking to things she says, not quoting and working hard at it.

That’s why she’s very special for me.

How much of your personality is reflected in Meghna?

With every character you play, your personality always reflects through – which is why performing is interesting.

You can’t really do 100% justice to a character by making it different from yourself. There are elements that make it more human and more interesting.

I feel Meghna has a lot of me in her.

I have that same never-say-never spirit and I’m not someone who would not just trust fate to make things right, I’m somebody who would work hard towards it.

Also, she has an interesting way of dealing with her relationships. The usual representation of Indian television is quite formal.

The character has an extremely friendly and comfortable equation with her husband and she can be quite quirky to certain things she says – she’s like any other common girl.

My husband and I also have a very unconventional relationship and what keeps us together is our sense of humour – Meghna is also like that… She likes to joke sometimes too!

Being a Maharashtrian yourself, how do you feel your role in Ladies Special will break stereotypes?

It disturbs me to a great extent that as soon as someone says a Maharashtrian woman, the first thing that comes to mind is a Kaamwali Bai (domestic helper/maid) – it’s such a popular stereotype in Indian entertainment.

Everywhere there’s this oversexed domestic helper who wears Nauvari saree and has a Marathi accent.

This has been happening for a very long time and it’s not the right representation of Maharashtrians because there are different types of Maharashtrians who represent various classes as well.

If there are domestic helpers, then there also are millionaires.

There is little representation of other Marathi people in Indian cinema.

A rich and affluent Maharashtrian is not something you’ll be able to quickly picture or visualise.

The language, clothing and demeanour have been heavily stereotyped.

It became difficult for me to strike a delicate balance because the role I’m playing she’s from a lower-middle-class family but she’s an educated person who works and represents a progressive class of Maharashtrians – who have the capacity to do something big in life.

But at this point, they’re living a very modest life.

With the language and everything else, I’ve tried to make it sound and look Marathi as much as possible to Pan Indian audience but not playing a stereotypical Maharashtrian woman.

Why do you feel this stereotype has been happening for so long?

The stereotypes start because there is often something typical of a certain kind of people.

It’s just that these traits are emphasised too much that it becomes a stereotype, the problem is the repetition of something like that.

They probably were these typical things which existed, but it’s all become so cosmopolitan like a big ball of soup.

In big cities, particularly, most people can’t speak well in their mother tongue and speak better in English and Hindi.

We belong to the metro culture, that’s what we are, I think.

More than saying I’m a Gujarati, Punjabi or a Marathi, it’s a full metro-city culture… One kind of culture.

In this kind of environment, the stereotypical expressions become very out of place, that’s not how people are anymore.

Given that the #MeToo campaign is ongoing and there is a wave of female empowerment, how do you feel a show like Ladies Special is relevant?

The show is going to be absolutely relevant because our audience mainly is women who working from or working from the office.

Basically, women watch television more than men, hence, the female characters have been better protagonists and therefore, more women-centric shows.

Having said that, there are few shows on Indian television that are not too flattering towards women.

This show is like a breath of fresh air because it will only talk about the great things about women and how they support each other.

With everything happening right now, it’s important to have a show like Ladies Special on TV because women power needs to be underlined – we must stand together for womanhood.

A #MeToo victim doesn’t have to be somebody you know. It’s enough to know that she is a woman and as a woman, one should support her. This is the need of the hour.

Ladies Special emphasises the importance of unity.

We’ve seen you in films like Taare Zameen Par and Shor In The City, in addition to Marathi serials. How has the transition been for you into Hindi Television?

I’ve actually been very scared to come into Hindi Television because of the larger-than-life and unreal portrayals.

I couldn’t relate to that style of television – though it can be fun to watch sometimes because of the drama – I didn’t know if I wanted to be a part of that.

Everything that was offered to me was on the unrealistic lines and I was very scared to commit to that.

I was even offered so-called ‘meaningful’ shows but after a few episodes, it gets stuck into that same rut.

When Ladies Special was offered to me, I felt it was refreshing and I loved the first season… It stuck to what was promised. Hence, why I signed on this second season.

The transition has been smooth. Regardless of the medium, a performance is a performance. One must try and get the best out of themselves.

Of course, the environment of Hindi television is different, but I’m surrounded by warm and very nice people which makes it easier to work.

Here’s wishing Girija all the best for the show!

Special thanks to Optimystix Entertainment, Vipul D Shah, Rakesh Juneja, Hemant Kevani, Barkha Thakur and the entire team of Optimystix for facilitating the interview.

Ladies Special airs on Sony TV every Monday to Friday at 21:30 GST.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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