Ridhima Pandit: "One should always be grateful"

She is one of the toughest on television, from my perspective. Her portfolio is selective, yet varied. From Bahu Hamari Rajni Kant to Dance Champions and Khatron Ke Khiladi, Ridhima Pandit has tried her hand at experiences that may not have been the safe and comfortable choice, but ones that helped her leave her mark. As I got on the phone with her to chat, I realized midway through the conversation that I’d lost track of who I was speaking with because she was so easy to talk to…here’s our chat:

Television is still such a powerful medium. A lot of people tune into watch television; Indians outside of India have started to take notice as well of many Indian television projects. What led you to the path of television? 

Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to act. As a kid, there was a beautiful show called Hasratein, then there was a show called Astitva, then Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki…Those shows really influenced me and you, Television has always been a powerful medium. I think that divide of a television actor and a film actor has also gone away. 

A lot of Bollywood celebrities are resorting to coming to television and promoting their movies. So you can imagine the power and the reach that television has. I always say, as controversial as it may sound, if I walk into a mall and an actress who has done a medium-budget one or two films, the popularity that I would have would definitely be more than somebody like that.

I personally think that television has an immeasurable reach, more than anything, even web, because web is fairly new for us right now. I personally love the content on web as well and love to be a part of that. I’ve only done one television serial Bahu Hamari Rajni Kant, in which I play a super human robot. But I’ve kept my hands tight, in that I do not want to pick up something I do not want to do. I just want to take up roles which are different, which are remembered years after I’ve done them. 

With television series like yours, Bahu Hamari Rajni Kant, which in and of itself was a path-breaking show, there has been some progression, from my perspective. We’ve had some shows in the past, for example, Amaanat, a story about a father with seven daughters, which was progressive but traditional.

Also, thank you for saying that Bahu Hamari Rajni Kant was a path-breaking show. 

Yes, Amaanat was a beautiful show. Even Niki Walia in Astitva falling in love with a younger man, it was so beautiful. It was a path-breaking role at that point in time. These stories are the ones that are important. 

And those shows did exist, they were progressive. But we still have those shows in which people are married five times, they die five times, they come back to life five times. Has there been a progression from your perspective? I mean, we are seeing some fantastic stuff from Ekta Kapoor, even digitally speaking.

I want to talk about this magnificent lady named Ekta Kapoor, whom I have worked with on numerous occasions, and whom I have got to know personally. I think I could write a paragraph just praising her because I have seen how dedicated she is for every single concept that she comes up with. 

When I did a web series for her app, ALT Balaji, she watched every single episode. You cannot imagine someone else, who has herself in films, web, and movies, you name it she’s there – she is taking out time to take care of the minute details herself. 

She is very clear about one thing – that there is an audience for everything. There is an audience for Naagin, for reality. I always say “never say never”. I would not want to do anything regressive, though – but there is an audience for that too. I don’t mind being a part of something that starts off on a regressive note but goes on to be progressive.

Anything that gives out a wrong message though, I don’t think that is necessarily being made anymore, but I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. I think that is why everyone is coming back to watch television because there is good, progressive content.

Usually, when you see a television actor, you see many shows, guest appearances, and projects listed under their names as cameo appearances. You have been selective yet diverse in your approach. What gives you the confidence to do only selected projects and how do you select them to begin with?

That’s the thing. I have seen many of my colleagues taking up roles which are guest roles or cameos. There’s no harm in it. I just personally feel that I want to be exclusive as much as possible. I’m not saying that the ones doing it are not exclusive but I think there is a time for everything.

Right now, it is the time to work extremely hard. I wish to work every day and television actors have a really tough life. We usually have an 18 to 20 hour day, with travel. So, it is my time to do that and not just do the cameos or do a track that is important. I think I can do that later on in life, when I want to relax. Right now, I want to make a name for myself. I want people to turn their heads when I walk. I want to work hard for that. 

But interestingly, and surprisingly, this year, I got a lot of calls for a negative lead also. And my sister has started to joke that “now they have begun to see the inner you now”. Because, when we fight, I make these really weird expressions that my sister hates and she always says, you look like a vamp.

Dance Champions was the first time I had seen you on television because I love watching the dance reality shows and then I traced your journey back. But on the show, there was a very natural confidence in you, especially coming into a camp that was well established – I mean, Raghav, Punit, all of them already have a set chemistry. 

That’s right. You’re absolutely right. It was a very close-knit camp. Raghav himself belongs to the dance community and that community has my highest respect because they are thick together. They are so uplifting for each other. I don’t always see that. Here, talent is killing talent, most of the time. But the dance community here is not like that. They are so close-knit. 

So when I walked in, I was a bit nervous. I had thoughts about how I would fit in there. But the makers were very confident about me. See, everything surrounded Raghav, to tell you honestly. They told I just had to figure this out around Raghav. 

By the time I met Raghav, I was nervous because everybody had made such a hype about him. Trust me, it is difficult to hold your ground around Raghav because he is so enigmatic. He’s so easy and he just does what comes to his mind and he never sticks to the script. 

He just seems to go off and start ad-libbing. 

That is exactly what happened! Raghav and I never spent any time off set but the stage was so good for us, like we just kept playing. He would take my case, then Terence sir used to be nice to me. These guys were all so warm and welcoming. At one point, I jokingly complained that the audience was only clapping when Raghav joked, and from then on, they started clapping when I joked around too. It was very nice, that whole experience. I did feel like a child in school, in a new class, trying to figure things out.

Khatron Ke Khiladi – it takes a certain kind of heart to do that show. You are one of the contestants who left in mark with her journey in Argentina. What made you consider doing that show? What was your headspace? 

(Chuckles). I don’t know…there were multiple times, while I was a part of the show, and I sat there saying, “what was I thinking?” (chuckles). You know, I used to joke around with the makers, that this place, this game show, is a rehab for actors who are badly behaved. See, over there, it was so strict. We used to wake up every morning at 5 am, quickly have our breakfast, be on a bus for two hours, and if you’re unlucky, you could end up doing three stunts in the same day. And then, you could go home at the end of the night. And the weather was so harsh. There was no pampering. There are no assistants, helping us with getting our foods and drinks. Like, over there, we would say, “okay guys, it is time for lunch,” and honestly, we would just sit anywhere. 

I think to get into a show like this, you need to be headstrong, which I was not. You have to be determined, which I was not. I think I went in as a fan, and very blank. I was really happy to go home. I did not go in with the intention of winning.

But I had a really cute incident with my sister before I left – she told my mother that even when I am hurt just a little bit, I start crying, so I won’t last more than six or seven episodes. And I fought with her. I said, don’t say that. I said, I should at least last ten episodes. And then, when I lasted twenty episodes in Khatron, the joke was on both of us, and we were like how did I just manage this. 

But what happened over there, a lot of people started saying that Ridhima was very lucky. I would end up in the elimination stunt most of the time and by that time, your morale is so down and you are just dealing with the harsh weather. But I don’t know what used to come over me and I just used to go all out and give my best. They all started saying, jokingly, that I was lucky. And I always say that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” 

And, my God, I used to be so petrified of snakes. When they used to come on television, I used to turn the television off. I used to think I’ll get lucky and I will never get a snake stunt. But the worst were the cockroaches – they bit me all over and I had to take injections. The game is a business. There is no partiality. It is all hard work – you can win and lose by one second. And I take immense pride in being the only girl to reach the top three platform among such tough competitors.

What’s the biggest take away that you had from that show? That you carried home with you, which has maybe changed you?

It has changed me, for sure. Since I was little, I have had a habit of being harsh to myself. I am that kid who will study for two hours and score well in exams; but after scoring well, I will think back and say, what if I had studied harder, I would have done better. So, I’m that person who is never really content. I beat myself up and I’m my own biggest critic. 

But this is one place where I had decided I would not be that critical – initially, I was beating myself up because I have this part in me that hates losing. But I gained a lot of respect for myself. I saw all of the episodes and even my biggest fears, I have overcome them without any drama. I was very controlled. People react differently and I do think that I was strong in how I dealt with everything.

What would you like the future to look like for you?

When I used to be an artist manager, my boss had asked me this question – but how can you predict? You can have goals but a five-year plan is bizarre. But each day at a time is also too loose. I am somewhere in the middle. I want to get back into fiction – I want to do a character that will leave a mark. The webspace is something I really want to explore. And even films – that is a dream. 

I cannot look away from work that is good – anything that comes my way, into my heart. People don’t always get the work they want so one should always be grateful. 

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