Dipika Chikhlia is better known as Sita Maiyya in Ramanand Sagar’s stupendously influential serial Ramayan which has made an unexpected comeback in our lives. In an interview with Subhash K Jha, Dipika talks about the importance of being Sita in this era of ghor kalyug.
Did you ever expect your serial would return after 33 years?
No, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this return and this kind of response to Ramayan in this age. When I heard the Ramayan was coming back I knew the older generation from the 40-50 age bracket would take to it instantly. But I wasn’t sure of the kids, the younger audience since their tastes are so different. To my surprise, 12-13 years olds are watching it avidly and understanding and loving it. Mujhe bahot zyada khushi ho rahi hai. I am very happy it has come at a time when people are able to watch it carefully.
Does the idea of the Ramayan going forward please you?
I love the idea of new generations watching it. I always had people telling me, ‘Meri Saas aapki fan hain. Mere Dadaji aapka show dekhte hain.’ I never had young people telling me they watched Ramayan. But the millennials have changed the audience-profile for Ramayan. They are sitting with their parents watching and enjoying it. But you know what I really appreciate about the audiences’ response this time?
What tell me?
That I am being acknowledged as a good actress. I was always praised for my looks when the Ramayan was first telecast. I wasn’t acknowledged as a good actress. That is changing this time, thanks to the newer generation.
Playing Sita limited your chances as an actress?
Oh yes. Everyone knows how difficult it has been for me and the other actors from Ramayan to come out of the characters we played in the serial. People did not want to see us in any other role other than what we played in Ramayan. Comparatively I had it easy since I wasn’t in so much costume especially after Sita Maiyya’s Banwaas. I could still be accepted by the audience in a lovely saree and bindi on my forehead. But the other actors from Ramayan were in heavy costumes all the time. The newer generations are far more progressive. They understand that we were only playing characters from the Ramayan. It’s not so difficult to play other roles now.
Did you address the role as social responsibility?
I do see playing Sita Maiyya as a responsibility. I have shouldered that responsibility quite well so far, I intend to go on doing it. I’d love to do more roles. But I’d only accept parts keeping in mind my image as Sita Maiyya. I never tried to break the image of Sita Maiyya because that would’ve backfired. People saw me as Sita Maiyya. And it would not have been gracious on my part to play with Indian sentiments. We have grown up on the Ramayan and the Mahabharat and they are the basis of our religious beliefs. Why would I fight such powerful forces?I was happy being accepted as Sita Maiyya.
How relevant is the Ramayan today?
The teachings of the Ramayan will always remain relevant. It is a wonderful story. I always kept urging the younger generations to watch Ramayan long before the current re-telecast. I told them they won’t have access to the original Ramayan written by Tulsidas and Valmiki. There’s a lot to learn about life, humanism, and compassion in the serial. And the current generation is getting the point.
What do your children have to say about you and the serial?
Initially, my children didn’t have much to say about me and Ramayan except that I looked pretty. But now they are going with the flow of the story. They are enjoying the serial and luckily for me, they don’t think of me as Sita Maiyya when they are watching Ramayan. That’s a relief.
After you who can play Sita?
Whom would I like to see as Sita in my place? Nobody else!! I see only myself as Sita. When people call out ‘Sita Maiyya’ I still turn around reflexively. So yes, I am the eternal Sita.
How do you see your future?
You know, the other day I was speaking to the Sagars( the family behind the Ramayan serial) and they agreed that the one good thing that will come out of this re-telecast is that people will see us actors from the serial for parts in future projects. We are all fabulous actors and we’ve all done a good job in the Ramayan. Space can be created for us now in the film industry.