It’s been over 30 years since Sumeet Raghavan entered the films and television industry. Young Sudama in BR Chopra’s Mahabharat was one of his earliest roles. The actor has since starred in celebrated shows like Tu Tu Main Main, Sanjivani and Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, becoming a household name among TV watchers without ever boarding the saas-bahu bandwagon.
He continues to be part of shows that are relevant to the audience, and hold some meaning, like his latest project, a reboot of the 1988 show Wagle Ki Duniya. The sitcom was created by noted cartoonist RK Laxman, about the issues of common middle-class Indian man. The revived version on SAB TV shows Sumeet as Rajesh Wagle, reuniting with OG actors Aanjjan Srivastav and Bharati Achrekar to tackle common man’s issues in a modern world.
What are the pressures of rebooting a cult classic at this point when viewership patterns have changed?
Wagle Ki Duniya – Nayi Peedhi, Naye Kissey surely has raised a lot of eyebrows because different people from my generation, or my parents, everybody is very keen to know what we have done. We also have Anjjan ji and Bharati ji, the old faces of Wagle Ki Duniya. I feel that we, in the entire last year, have been told the reality in a very harsh way, that guys, we need to take a break. You cannot just run around, you have to pause and reflect. If we try to compare, in the current scenario, where there is violence, cuss words and nudity on most platforms, there comes a Wagle Ki Duniya, which will make you stop and ponder. So I feel this is the right moment for this show.
You always manage to be part of slice-of-life shows that also have a message.
With Wagle Ki Duniya, we are trying to revive the typical middle class values, trying to bring those back to the surface. Somewhere in today’s world of social media and Netflix and Amazon we are trying to imbibe ideas which are not ours, which are alien. We have tried to show the touching of the feet, or asking each other’s health on your way out, those small things that have gone missing from our lives somewhere down the line. We are trying to brush off the dust from those gestures and traditions of care and respect.
It’s been over 30 years for you in the industry as one of the most recognisable faces on television. How did it all begin?
I started off as a child artist in 1983, so this is my 36th year in acting. I played Sudama in the original Mahabharat. I continued with television, and when Sarabhai vs Sarabhai happened, suddenly things opened up. People started taking me seriously as an actor. And then I have dabbled in the theater and in ad films.
You come from a diverse cultural background, but have worked mostly in Hindi and Marathi industries.
I’ve been born and brought up in Mumbai, though I have very strong Tamil roots. My father is Tamilian and my mother is a Kannadiga. These two languages are spoken predominantly in my house. And I do Marathi theatre and Hindi shows. So yeh Bharat hai mere ghar mein.
Despite so many years in television, how have you avoided ‘saas-bahu’ shows?
I have deliberately stayed away from ‘saas-bahu’ or other such popular format shows, because I find them very regressive. I am not here to cater to the audience. If the story doesn’t appeal to me, how will I act in it? I need to be satisfied, only then will the audience feel happy. I have done lesser work with more impact, lesser visibility and more exclusivity is my mantra.