These days, Alok Nath is juggling a bunch of TV and web-based shows whilst navigating a path between two wildly different worlds.
On Star Plus’ popular Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, an as-safe-as-it-gets show about a young couple finding their feet in obnoxiously extended families, he was seen playing the family's Dadaji. On the other hand, there’s the web-only show he’s hosting on Viacom's online streaming platform Voot, titled Sinskaari, whose first episode goes live this week.
The idea behind the show is to cash in on Nath’s Twitter-propelled sanskaari image, and then subvert it: from doting dadaji to 'dirty' grandpa.
The show involves the veteran actor talking about sex, a relatively taboo topic on Indian television, to youngsters, egging them about their kinks and other controversial elements from their private lives.
By his own admission, it’s a bold step that has a fair chance of backfiring. But what’s really at stake? “I’m on the last leg of my career. Why not experiment and retire knowing that I tried everything? What is the harm? Ki log kya kahenge? (That people will say something?). There will be bouquets and brickbats, but I am sure I will gain a lot of following among the younger crowd,” says the actor, in a telephonic interview with HuffPost India.
He’s referring to the same crowd that turned him into a homegrown Internet icon overnight, more than two years ago . Despite an illustrious career, Nath didn’t have any digital currency until a Twitter trend that sprang up seemingly from nowhere, on the overly traditional ways of his sanskaari characters (mostly in Sooraj Barjatya films), turned him into a pop cultural figure.
“I played along those Twitter memes and figured that I actually like these people, enjoy their humor. Sinskaari is a diametrically opposite extension of the same thing – there’s a lot of talk about sex and sometimes it goes in the below-the-belt, full-blown adult territory which may shock people who aren’t used to seeing me like this,” the 60-year-old actor says of the show, which is being produced by Raghu and Rajeev of Roadies fame.
But what pushed him in doing something so radically different from his established image, especially at a time when he could do without, and still be remembered for his films? Does this attempt not stand the risk of alienating the audience he's cultivated in a career spanning 30 years?
"Yaar, I have played the regular dadaji for decades now. As an actor, you get trapped, and I am the best example of that. My image deprived me of a certain kind of character. But with the internet, the medium itself is different and brings along a new audience. There aren't any censor laws (so far) and so there's room to get a little quirky, give people what they aren't expecting."
Nath's sanskaari image took a major hit in June last year, ironically on the very social network that created it.
The actor hit out at Kavita Krishnan, a well-known champion of women’s rights, by tweeting a comment about that was seen as misogynistic by many. Krishnan was criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Beti Bachao campaign, part of which entailed Indians clicking a selfie with their daughters.
She sent out this tweet, hinting at a 2003 scandal where Modi and BJP President Amit Shah allegedly used their clout to spy on a woman.
In response to this remark, Nath, who wasn’t involved thus far, tweeted, “jail the bitch”, leading to massive online outrage.
He deleted the tweet later, but not before several screenshots had been taken.
In hindsight, Nath says he doesn’t regret the outburst per se but admits it could’ve been handled in a better manner. “I took it very personally. What she said about the campaign was far more disgraceful than the word I used against her. I won’t apologise for that, neither do I regret the incident.”
People in this country are frustrated and Twitter is the right outlet. It’s a different domain altogether where everybody is defensive about their values, beliefs and more importantly, their faiths
He adds that Krishnan’s comment was in ‘terrible taste’ and his response was ‘in the heat of the moment’. “She’s a lady and I admit my choice of word wasn’t correct. But that’s what Twitter does to you. I was shocked to see the online hate for me when I woke up the next day.”
Nath believes that the digital space, especially Twitter, is a highly political, heavily polarised space — an online ecosystem where India is constantly at war.
“It’s a war between the Right and the Left,” he says. “Rarely do people take a middle ground. But I think it’s fair game.” Nath's political allegiance lies with the far Right, as can be observed from his Twitter timeline.
He says, “People in this country are frustrated and Twitter is the right outlet. It’s a different domain altogether where everybody is defensive about their values, beliefs and more importantly, their faiths. And that’s not a bad thing really. If you need to vent, you need to have a public platform that allows you to channel that anger.”
Was the Kavita Krishnan episode a result of the frustrations of a Right-leaning father who succumbed to the temptation of speaking what was on his mind?
“It probably was.”
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