It’s been over a year since the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, but some of his most memorable roles, like that of ‘Manav’ in the television series Pavitra Rishta, remain evergreen. Sushant played Manav for two years, prior to his big break in the Hindi film industry with Kai Po Che in 2013.
His on-screen counterpart in Pavitra Rishta, Archana (played by Ankita Lokhande), also struck a chord with viewers and the Manav-Archana jodi (pair) went on to become an endearing television couple, winning hearts for their on-screen chemistry in the series.
Because fans overwhelmingly associate Manav-Archana with Sushant and Ankita, there was bound to be some backlash when a new and rebooted Pavitra Rishta was announced, especially in the wake of Sushant’s untimely demise at the age of 34.
But actress Ankita Lokhande, who shared a special personal bond with Sushant apart from being his co-star in the series, believes Pavitra Rishta… It’s Never Too Late, from the ZEE5 Global brand, is just a way of keeping him alive in the minds and hearts of fans.
Ankita revealed in a Zoom conversation with City Times that it was she who approached producer Ekta Kapoor for a reboot of Pavitra Rishta.
“It has been in my mind for the last three years that I wish Pavitra Rishta starts again. And when I got the opportunity to tell Ekta ma’am, I just said it. She immediately said yes and she spoke to people — and it just happened, it was very quick.
"I love Pavitra Rishta so much; I’m very much connected to the series because I always feel this is the show that has made me what I am today. And I am very grateful to Ekta ma’am. Pavitra Rishta is like, in me somewhere, you know? So I just grabbed it and I was like, I will do it."
Pavitra Rishta… It’s Never Too Late is also tagged as a tribute to Sushant Singh Rajput who in a short period of time established himself as a versatile star in Bollywood with films like Byomkesh Bakshy and Sonchirya.
However Ankita hesitates to call the show a tribute. “I wouldn’t say it’s a tribute. It’s just a way to keep him alive. I don’t like this word ‘tribute’. I want that people should not forget him, that’s the whole point.
"I always feel that he was a very brilliant actor; he gave his heart and soul to Pavitra Rishta. This is the only way I have, you know, to just make people think that he is there - as Manav, or as whatever they feel. Because there are people out there who love him so much, and this is just my way to keep him alive.”
A new Manav
Actor Shaheer Sheikh, popular as Dev in the series Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi, plays Manav in the new 8-part series which will stream from September 15 onwards on ZEE5.
Ankita who was working with Shaheer for the first time says one shouldn’t expect the same chemistry on screen as the original Manav-Archana shared because different actors bring different things to the table. On recreating the popular reel pair’s chemistry, she says, “What I created with Sushant was a different chemistry altogether. I don’t think you create the same magic with two people. I will definitely have a very good, magical chemistry with Shaheer but you can’t expect ki jaise Sushant ke saath thi, vaise iske saath hai. You work with different actors. I can’t keep doing the same thing as what I did with Sushant in my first show. You will definitely go for something else because two people share a different bond.
“I had a very different bond with Sushant and I have a very different bond with Shaheer. So I think when people see Pavitra Rishta… It’s Never Too Late, they will understand what chemistry we (Shaheer and myself) share. And as an actor, if you don’t have the quality to create magic with anyone then you are not an actor. You have to do that. I have to have that belief that when I look at Shaheer’s eyes, I see Manav in them.”
Did working on this new series make her nostalgic about the old one? Did it bring back a lot of memories?
“Of course! I would say that I never came out of the Pavitra Rishta zone,” she says, adding that though she hadn’t watched the series in a while, fans kind of inspired her to take on the role again when they kept sending her videos and reminding her of Archana, even when the show went off the air after a five-year run.
‘Sushant used to teach me a lot’
For someone who had such a close association with her co-star, memories of shooting the original Pavitra Rishta were obviously inextricably linked with Sushant. When we asked her what her favourite memories were of shooting with him she replies a tad emotionally, “With Sushant, I have only memories, you know? There are so many memories.”
After a poignant pause she shares how he was “a very good actor” and recalls an incident from the set of Pavitra Rishta.
“There was this scene where Archana comes to Manav’s place for the first time after marriage. And there was this OTS (over the shoulder) shot happening; Sushant used to teach me a lot because I really wasn’t a good actor. He used to hold my hand, and pinch me. And he used to say ‘Aankhen neeche karon’.
"And as he presses my hand I have to look up. So you know that I am doing a great job… actually I was so nervous throughout the scenes! And I was really nervous of working with Sushant because he was really into his character. He was a very serious actor. He will tell you what is right and what is wrong. So I think Archana ko banane mein uska bahut bada haath hai. That’s what I feel.”
Actors often put a lot of themselves into the roles they play, especially over a long period of time, Ankita admits being really close to her character Archana from Pavitra Rishta. “I think I have made Archana. She was somewhere in me. Because I am very much like her. I am a family-oriented girl. I believe in love. I believe in loyalty. And the kind of love Archana and Manav have for each other, I am actually somewhere that romantic. Because we have created that. So I don’t think I have anything to learn from Archana but I’m sure she has so many things to learn from me!”
The new series
On what fans can expect from Pavitra Rishta… It’s Never Too Late, Ankita shares, “I can just tell you it’s a love story. Everybody wants to be loved, everybody wants to feel loved, and love is always beautiful! So I hope that people this time you know, love the chemistry between me and Manav (the new Manav). And I’m sure as actors we have given our best to each and every thing.”
She admits the show brings nostalgia. “Because you can’t disconnect from the past, you have to have that feeling of Archana and Manav. That’s how it started - how do they meet, how do they grow, how do they get into this thing. So I think people will definitely love it because if I see the digital market right now, there is no ‘love story’ as such. You you only see crime shows, and murder mysteries… so it’s very important to have a cute little love story also!”
A long-time dream
Ankita’s desire to become an actress dates back, she says, to when she was in the third grade.
“I actually wrote a diary. I told my mother that I wanted to go to Bombay and become a heroine. And my mom and dad were like ‘paagal hai’, like you know, she’s a kid, we’ll see… But the family support was much needed. I would have not been able to do anything if my family had not been there.”
She goes on to speak about how she picks herself up when she’s low. “Family and love. Because I can only work for love. I am fond of love, I vibrate on love! You give me love, and I will be there for you. I always feel that we are nothing but just the light of God. There were times where I was very low but I’ve been fortunate that I have people around me who support me so well, and I have been loved. So they motivate me to do good for myself. I do meditation sometimes. And I dance if I am feeling low! I love to dance - it’s something that boosts me.”
‘Family stays with you forever’
She has a few words for advice for aspiring actresses in this regard. “Success can come and go - people can come and go! Always be grounded, do what you really feel. And be truthful to yourself and be honest with yourself. Always keep your thoughts positive because yes, the whole world is full of struggles but if you want to achieve something, be with your family. Family stays with you forever.”
The Manikarnika and Baaghi 3 star looks back on her career with no regrets. “I think you should always do what people want to see. People have loved me as Archana in Pavitra Rishta, and that’s why I am here. I am doing a few nice projects and I don’t think I have explored much as an actor. If given a chance, you will see me in a different avatar!”
Giving a shout out to fans in the UAE, Ankita concludes our chat with, “I just want to tell everyone - thank you so much for loving me as Archana! Pavitra Rishta is coming back on September 15 on ZEE5 - do not forget to watch… and keep loving us!”