With stardust in their eyes...

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Thank god for small screen’s busy stars who have enough tantrums and no dates to offer. Their bulging date diaries and starry attitude have offered soapmakers a more viable alternative: opting for fresh faces in big ticket productions. Once again, Ekta Kapoor, the much maligned soap sultana, can safely claim to have started off the trend of using mint-fresh girls next door in her top line productions and organised city-trotting talent hunts to find out the perfect star. Today every family soap on general entertainment channels almost automatically rope in debutantes in lead roles without a blink. Sample this: Pallavi Subhash (Karam Apna Apna, Star Plus), Mouni Roy (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Star Plus), Rajshree Thakur (Saat Phere, Zee), Prachi Desai (Kasamh Se, Zee), Divyanka Tripathi (Dulhann, Zee), Twinkle Bajpai (Ghar Ki Laxmi Betiyan.., Zee), Saumya Tandon (Aisa Des Hai Mera, Sony), Daljeet (Kulvaddhu, Sony), Parakh Madan (Saathi Re, Star One), Gauri Nigudkar (Betiyaan Apna Ya Paraya Dhan, Star One), Gunjan Walia (Kuch Apne Kuch Paraye, Sahara One), Akangksha Rawat (Sollah Singarr, Sahara One)— used to be raw, untrained middle-class girls with stardust in their eyes until they achieved prime time glory.

Pune school girl Prachi Desai for example, all of 18, admits that she auditioned for Kasamh Se “out of curiosity and was surprised to have been selected.” Working gruelling hours hasn’t deterred television’s new bahu who’s often compared to Smriti Irani: “I am glad I am getting noticed.” Fellow bahu on Zee’s Saat Phere, dusky Rajshree Thakur, an LLB who’s dabbled in theatre, ads and been a newsreader on AIR playing Saloni was a “challenge. I had two screen tests for the role and was selected from other big names who were also auditioning for the same role. Luckily, I have found instant connect with the audience,” says Thakur. In fact Zee’s new stars reshaped their TVRs and put Star Plus in a revamp mode as far as the 9-10 pm slot is concerned.

Pallavi Subhash’s big break came with Balaji’s Karam Apna Apna: “When Ekta saw me, she instantly felt that she had found her Gauri. I was immediately asked to get ready to fly to Kolkata. I didn’t even have to visit the Balaji studios for the mandatory auditions.” Delhi girl Mouni Roy, a mass communication student from Jamia Millia Islamia University who plays Krishna Tulsi in Kyunki Saas.. even chucked up college for acting. For someone who never watched Kyunki.. landing a plum role in the show was a surprise but after shooting, Roy admits she has “realised the hard work everyone puts in. I’ve stopped criticising the soaps.”

Pretty youngster Gunjan Walia slips effortlessly into her role as another traditional bahu in Sahara One’s Kuch Apne Kuch Paraye. Walia, a former crew member with Jet Airways a bit role in Balaji’s Kartika led to Kuch Apne Kuch Paraye.

For Mumbai marketing graduate, Akangsha Rawat, a casual audition was a rewarding experience: “They (Sahara) had stored my tape and when Sollah Singarr was planned, I was called to play Meera.

Sometimes beauty queens also find a starry route to prime time TV. Like Miss Bhopal 2005 Divyanka Tripathi who claims to have no filmi inclinations, was one of the finalists of Zee Cinestars Ki Khoj and landed the lead in Banoo Main Tera Dulhann, a show that “will change” her life. Army girl and a runners-up at the Miss Navy 2005, Miss Maharashtra 2005 and a finalist at Miss Mumbai 2005, Daljit Kaur, also a commerce graduate always wanted to “act” and after a stint on Sony’s CID is playing the lead in Kulvaddhu, Sony’s new offering.

Newcomer Parakh Madan who would pose for hours in front of the camera as a kid, graduated from NIFT, did a stint at modelling before bagging Saathi Re. Playing a docile girl in the show is a plus, says Madan: “People have seen me wearing sexy outfits before and now, they see me in a traditional getup. I’ll have a variety to offer to producers.” Gauri Nigudkar who plays the lead in Betiyaan Ya... “wouldn’t mind doing a saas-bahu serial. What matters to me is the role.”

Signing up new girls is not always about cutting costs claims Shailja Kejriwal, creative head, Star India: “Newcomers have no image, are more dedicated and can be moulded into any role. So far most of them have done well and it makes more sense to work with them than bigger stars.” Agrees Sony’s Sandiip Sikcand: “The audience likes fresh faces with no image tag.”

As long as debutants deliver high prime time TVRs, fresh faces will continue to sought after.

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