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Q n A with Actor Divya Seth




"I would get marriage proposals, rakhi requests and death threats in my mail"

Divya Seth does not suffer from nostalgia. She'd much rather worry about the future of 20-somethings such as her daughter and nieces than romanticize the past. Yet, nostalgia is often what many fans seek in the gifted actor who played the feisty middle child, Rupvanti aka Majhli, in the landmark Doordarshan series 'Hum Log'.
Like her mother Sushma Seth, who played 'daadi' in that show, Divya too would be inundated with heaps of letters that spanned the gamut from love confessions to death threats in those days. Today, the actor--who has elegantly etched herself in public memory in various motherly roles via films such as 'Jab We Met' and 'English Vinglish'--makes a case for moving on from the era of signatures to the age of visuals

Do you remember the first autograph you ever sought?

It was Mr Amitabh Bachchan's autograph in the early 1980s when my mom was shooting for Junoon and I hadppened to be on set. I have four autograph books--one for school friends, one for famil, one for actors and greats such as the legendary singer MS Subbulakshmi.

What's the most prized autograph that you own?

The most precious one has to be that of my Nanaji, Rameshwar who was part of the first Indian Olympic contingent. I was very small then yet he was so sure that I would become an actress. His augotaph said: "To my actress daughter, Divya. Love Nanaji." Another autograph book--which was signed by all my school friends while passing out--had the autograph of actress Jessica Lall, who was murdered. We were good friends and she used to scribble all over the books.

Your earliest memory of giving an autograph?

While doing plays with my mom's theatre group, kids would ask for my autograph.

How do you generally sign autographs?

(laughs) I would put a heart instead of a dot on the I in Divya. When people scoffed at it, I started making a circle or a star on the I. I now sign as Divya Seth Shah.

Is the culture dying?
I never understood why people gave or asked for autographs. Even now when people ask fr mine, I ask them: "What are you going to do with an autograph?" Now, it's become visual. You have to have a picture. Like acting and dancing, visual medium ensures longevity. I think pictures are keepsakes and we should not cling to things of a certain era. Like jaaps which have been revamped by musicians so that you can even exercise to them. But people are very scared of change. I love change.

Any strange requests for autographs?
Once during the Hum Log days, I was having coffee with a friend at the Taj when a man came up to me and dropped a wad of notes on the table and said: "Sign it." I asked him to pick it up and leave. While the older people like my mother were treated with respect, there was a lot of aggression and sexism in the way people dealt with us. Now, it has taken the form of trolling which is an unseen monster. But you can block the trolls. In those days, the aggression was vulgar and in your face.

At the peak of Hum Log, what was your fan mail like?

I would receive fan mail in sacks at our Doordarshan office in Himachal Bhawan. Gurgaon used to be a jungle then. Since I could not possibly read boris full of letters, my mum hired someone to read them. We were advised by Doordarshan to autograph prints of our photos which were then sent to fans. For India, 'Hum Log' was the first connection to a family that looked like them.

Any strange letters?

I remember the cutest letter which said soemthing like: "I hope you are walking in the garden of happiness". But mostly, given the arc of my character Majhli, I would get everything from marriage proposals to rakhi requests. Bahu, behen or biwi.


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