Rama Vij, an actress who needs no introduction, an artist who is one powerhouse performer that had done remarkable work not only in Hindi and Punjabi films, but was also part of the golden period of Hindi television. We talked to the talented actress about her acting journey and here's all that we could get for you from the lady herself:
Rama grew up in Delhi where she did her schooling. She even completed her college education from there itself. Her father was a government servant who later ventured into the business of electronics goods.
"My mother was a housewife but before marriage, she used to teach at school. She wanted me to opt for a career in education too but my brother would suggest me to go for IAS.”
“I was not serious about an acting career. I just came across a form of FTII (Film & Television Institute of India, Pune) and filled it. I went on to give a screen test (held in Delhi) for FTII. I also applied for NSD (National School of Drama, Delhi). To my surprise, I was selected by both FTII & NSD. Being a Delhi girl, NSD was more convenient, but FTII had given many talented and popular actors to the film Industry so I opted for the latter. My parents strongly objected to it. I was selected among thousands of girls and did not want to lose the opportunity. As I was not allowed to go, I was afraid that my seat will be given to someone else. So I kept sending telegrams to Mr.Roshan Taneja (Then worked as acting head at FTII) and assured him that I will soon join it. Back home I kept convincing my parents to allow me to go there, and finally, I succeeded."
“Initially I did short films which were produced by FTII itself. I got to work with Film Director Jahnu Barua (National Award Winning Director of Assamese Cinema). I also did a few Commercial ads.”
“I was waiting for acting assignments, but there were no exciting offers coming my way so I headed back to Delhi. In Bombay, Mr. B R Ishara (popular film director) was enquiring about me. Soon, I was doing his film Pal Do Pal Ka Saath opposite Shekhar Kapoor. The film was not a big success, but it was a great feeling to see myself on the film posters."
Rama was later seen in films like Aarambh, Taxi Taxi, and more.
Her first Punjabi film appearance was a cameo in the movie titled Giddha. Technically her debut film as a leading lady was the classic 'Chann Pardesi'.
"Giddha was just a one day job. I was told it’s a small guest appearance."
Rama shared some exclusive insights about Chann Pardesi with us.
"When the story was being narrated to me, I was a little apprehensive about playing a mother’s part too early in my career, but then I started seeing it as a character and accepted the offer.
Initially, the film was to be made in Hindi, but later it was planned in Punjabi. My parents and grandparents would talk in Punjabi, so I could speak the language. But getting that rural dialect was difficult and then I was given the script right before the shoot.
I complained to them about not giving me enough time to prepare for the role. In fact, Mr. Mehar Mittal was doubtful stating eh kudi eh role kar skdegi?
But Mr. Baldev Gill (writer of Chann Pardesi) was helpful and everything went smoothly. Chann Pardesi had a team of new and young talent and everyone gave their best."
Appreciation & Awards
Rama won the Best Actress Punjab State Film Award for Chann Pardesi. More than awards the biggest reward was getting praised by the bigwigs of the Industry.
"Raj Kapoor Saab told me that he watched Chann Pardesi six times, I was flattered. Ramanand Sagar, BR Chopra, Ravi Chopra, Randhir Kapoor, and many more artists were all praises for me and the film. I gave the VHS of Chann Pardesi to Sunil Dutt Saab on his request. He compared my performance with his own wife Nargis Ji’s Mother India Performance. It was a big compliment for me.”
She was also nominated for the National Award for Chann Pardesi, but it was Rekha who won it for Umrao Jaan that year. Rama also got the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award nomination for Prem Qaidi. In recent times, she won the Best Supporting Actress Award for her performance in Punjabi Film Khushian at Punjabi Film Awards.
In the 80s, when mainstream Hindi Cinema was primarily about violence, heroes were shown as crook and heroines were presented as an object or item. Majority of the films were trashy products. That's when Doordarshan emerged as a major source of family entertainment. In that period, Rama became part of Indian families with her act as the Teacher Ji in Nukkad.
“I played versatile characters on TV. There were Nukkad, Sanjha Chulha, Chunni, Manoranjan, Vikram Aur Betaal, Circus, Intezar, Junoon, Karambhoomi & many more. I also did an English series titled 'The Far Pavilions'.
She has worked with talented filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, BR Chopra, Aziz Mirza, Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah and more.
Rama Vij can rightly be termed as the Queen of the 80s-90s Hindi tele-world. What’s her take on the ongoing trend of tv serials?
"I rarely watch TV. In the present scenario, serials might be overstretched and aggressive but looking at other aspects, many artists are getting work through this medium. There is an audience out there who loves watching it, so let’s look at it positively."
“I was active in sports and have played hockey on the national level. I have also won gold medals.I wanted to continue with sports,but there was not much scope in sports back then. After getting into the acting field, I tried to involve myself in sports too but there was no time for it."
But the sportsperson in her found a way to connect back with sports through a newfound passion for car rallies.
At one point in time, Rama became a car rally freak. How and why let's ask her.
“I had a car accident and was bedridden for three months. After recovery I could not push myself to drive a car again. I came across an advertisement of a car rally and thought that it would be a good idea to get back to driving all over again. During that period (1986) there was a strike in the Film Industry and all film and TV work had stalled. I was free so went for my first car rally which was from Delhi to Agra.Then I continued with many more car rallies throughout India and won many trophies for the same.”
Apart from Chann Pardesi, Rama has done some remarkable work in many other Punjabi films.
“I know none of my other Punjabi films could surpass Chann Pardesi, but there have been some beautiful and well-made films in my career span. I was part of another National Award Winning Film Kachehri. It was both a commercial and critical success. I had a very challenging role in it.
I also liked working in Punjabi-Haryanvi bilingual Gabbroo Punjab Da/Chora Haryane Ka. There was another film called Veera, in which I played a blind girl. I got the opportunity to work under the direction of Dara Singh in Ankheeli Mutiyar. The film was also received well. I enjoyed working in another film titled Khushiyan, in which my role was beautifully written."
Guddo, Dhee Rani, Door Nahi Nankana, to name a few, have been some of Rama Vij's other Punjabi films.
She further talked about Hindi and Regional Films
“I had a powerful role in Prem Qaidi and was overwhelmed to see the response. Zakhmi Aurat was a bold subject in which I had a very good role.”
Rama has also been part of a Braj Bhasha Film titled Maati Balidaan Ki.
“Only a few films have been made in this language and Maati Balidaan Ki was a big success. Similarly, Mai Ka Aanchra-a Bhojpuri film of mine was received well."
During Chann Pardesi she was not convinced about a scene and pointed it to the makers. But it was not taken seriously. Later on, team had a discussion over the same scene. They realized that Rama was right. So it was not surprising when she ventured into Production.
“I worked with some great talent and there were times when some Directors were clueless about what they are making. I would give my suggestions, but it totally depended on the director to take it or not. As an actress I just wanted to give my best."
She produced three serials
“I made two serials Misaal and Sab Ko Pata Hai for Doordarshan and Beeji Ke PG for Zee. But after a while, I felt production was a hectic job. Besides that, I wanted to work (making serials) my way and did not want to work under pressure of TV Heads and TRP.”
Doesn't she miss companionship or motherhood?
“No, I don’t...It depends upon person to person. Some people like to be a loner. I do have family and friends. I am a strong and sensitive person and don’t pity myself. Same way, I don’t want people to be sympathetic towards me for being alone. Cmon I want to live my life the way I want to!"
Memories from Punjab, Co-Stars, Stage Shows & Singing?
The period of the 80s was the darkest phase of Punjab. She shares some incidents about those times.
“Once, after shooting for the whole day, we stopped at a roadside Dhaba for dinner. Dhaba owner sensed something wrong and put the shutter down. After some time we moved back to our den. After a day or two, I got to know a few people were killed outside the same Dhaba!
Then there was another incident when I went to the Red Cross Society Program. Organizers told me that there were extremists sitting in the audience. But later I got to know they were there to watch the program and left after some time.”
Veerendra who was known as the showman of Punjabi Films was killed in those times. Did they ever work together?
“I have some very good memories of Veerendra Ji and his wife Pammi Ji. I had one of the tastiest breakfasts of my life at their home. They were such warm people. I was doing a film with him and had even shot for a song sequence. But then this tragic incident happened. Veerendra Ji was directing that film.
All my co-stars from Punjabi films, from Mehar Mittal Saab to Gurdas Maan, have been really very wonderful.”
Till today, Rama is requested to speak endnote dialogues from her film Chann Pardesi on most of her stage appearances.
“I lost count on how many occasions I spoke that dialogue. I was never trained in singing, but abroad the audience would enjoy watching us singing. I used to sing songs of Surinder Kaur Ji and Ranjit Kaur Ji. On world tours, I used to do crossdress dance with Daljit Kaur on classic Hindi songs like Kajra Mohabbat Wala.
Once I asked Indirjit Hasanpuri Ji to write something exclusive for me to sing. It was an emotional Punjabi song and there was pin-drop silence when I finished it.”
Considering the Punjabi entertainment industry is known for being singer oriented, she should have continued singing professionally. She laughs and says, "It’s never too late."
Her take on today’s Punjabi Cinema?
“When Chann Pardesi had released and got appreciation from all over the world, we thought that the Punjabi Cinema had arrived. but it just did not happen. Today, after all these years, there is big growth in it. It was long overdue and should have happened long back. But finally, things are going very well. Among recent Punjabi films, I have seen Ardaas Karaan and it was beautiful."
Rama's niece Geeta Vij is also an actress. She has done cross over films like Chehre with Jackie Shroff, Manisha Koirala, Marigold with Salman Khan, to name a few.
“She is a multitalented person.”
Rama Vij’s last major work in Punjabi was in Khushiaan, But we have not seen her in any other Punjabi film. Why is she not acting anymore? What keeps her busy?
“I will not accept just about anything to keep myself busy. There are of lot of things for me to do. I don’t regret things, but few films were like mistakes and I don’t want to repeat them. There was a time when my mother had health issues and I was busy with acting assignments, but I decided to take a break to be with my mother in Delhi. So I feel I have done enough work and I won’t take up any random offer to be in the public eye. I mean I never did it back then, why will I do it now?"
Last we heard Chann Pardesi will be re-released? Your take?
“Yes, I heard about it too. It’s good to know if there is something like this happening. But let the makers talk about it."
So do we see her in any Punjabi films any soon??
“Get me a good role, I will love to be back on film sets,” she signs off with a smile.