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Q n A with Sushma Seth



"During 'Hum Log', people would write to me about their personal problems' 

Sushma Seth likes her exclamation marks. You can not only hear the veteran actor's wonderment through her email but almost visualise her trademark, matriarchal wide eyes as she recounts memories in writing. Perhaps it's this sense of surprise that has sustained the ageless the Delhi-based actor and founder of a theatre group called Yatrik, who shot to national prominence as the throat-cancer-stricken "Daadi" in Doordarshan's iconic 1984-85 series "Hum Log"--a time when she would receive fan mail in sacks.
Among the other well-known characters of Seth, who made her film debut with Shyam Benegal's 'Junoon' (1978), is the Divan family matriarch in the comedy series 'Dekh Bhai Dekh'  and feisty grandmother to Shah Rukh Khan in various hits including 'Kal Ho Naa Ho'.  For this interview, Seth opens her first and only autograph book, which had been presented to her as a gift for her tenth birthday

Do you remember the first autograph you ever sought?

The first signatures are of my father who was an athletics pioneer in Delhi. He drew pin figures doing exercises, with a line 'Keep fit if you do not want to be sick' - affly, R.Dayal !

What's the most prized autograph or piece of signed memorabilia that you own?

There are autographs of Pandit Nehru, Shri Raj Kapoor, actor Shri Motilal, cricket teams from West Indies, Commonwealth and India, visiting dancers, a cartoon made by my first music teacher Shri Vipin Chandra, school teachers, friends from school and a wall of friendship with signatures of the class and more.

What is your earliest memory of giving an autograph?

I acted on the Delhi stage from 1960 to 1975. After the 10th performance of a farce 'Hotel Paradiso', a French gentleman, who came to see every show for my scene, and sought an autograph!!

At the peak of Hum Log, what was your fan mail like? Did you regularly answer fan mail?

It was overwhelming! I received fan mail during Humlog in sacks!!  I read them all - and answered all. For compliments, there were printed sheets which I signed  or sent photographs when requested.  There were many with personal problems which sought my advice/help. Those I replied to by writing  / calling back/ meeting if they arrived at my doorstep!!!

Do you think an autograph can convey much more about a personality than even a photograph?

 Yes, if the autograph is preceded by a message.

Do you remember any conversations or interactions with ardent autograph seekers?

I can recall when a young girl came to my doorstep, bag and baggage, she had left her home, and sought advice and shelter ! I spoke to her family and resolved their issues.

How do you generally sign autographs? Did you work on your signature?

I sign my full name without working on my signature. Sometimes only S. Seth

Are you particular about what you say in your autograph?

Blessings for fulfillment of their aspirations.

Your take on selfies? Any strange/recent selfie requests?

When the selfie-taker stands to close / tries to put arm around shoulder !

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