MAKING A NAME FOR HERSELF ONE SHOW AT A TIME- A CONVERSATION WITH PAVITRA PUNIA

The name Pavitra Punia was a household name long before the actress’s appearance in Bigg Boss season 14. She started her acting career with the 2010 serial Geet- Hui Sab se Parayi playing the cameo role of Daljeet. She landed her first lead role in the show Love U Zindagi that aired on Star Plus. Her first appearance on TV was actually in the reality show “Splitsvilla 3” in 2009. Since then, she has acted in several serials such as Ritz Jeele Yeh Pal, MTV Making The Cut 2, Hongey Judaa Na Hum, Sawaare Sabke Sapne Preeto and Darr Sabko Lagta Hai. Her most notable roles include portrayal of Niddhi Chabbra in Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, a shape shifting snake Poulomi Roy in Naagin 3. She was last seen as evil Queen Timnasa in the show Baalveer Returns. Pavita Punia spoke to LitGleam Magazineon her life post Bigg Boss, beau Ejaz Khan and her future plans.

Q: We are really excited about the interview but first please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you have been up to?

As everyone is aware, my name is Pavitra Punia  and after Big Boss I have been given a name “sherni”, which is my nickname now. I have been working in the industry for the past few years. In 2009, I started my career with a reality show and then again ended up in the same way on Bigg Boss because of the pandemic. I am very grateful. And it’s a very overwhelming feeling for me every time, whenever I see my journey from where I have come to where I’m standing. I have made myself proud, single handedly. So yeah, it’s a very, very great feeling. 

Q: We saw you for the first time in Splitsvilla, then in Balveer returns, Yeh Hai Mohabattein and now you have done Big Boss. How was the transition after coming out of the Big Boss house? Was it strange or completely normal?

A: There are only a few things I got from Big Boss, to be very honest. The number one thing is that I got my name back, which is a big thing for an actor because people get to know that person or get to know you by your name and not the character name that you portray on screen. So when I started my career, I got my name through Splitsvilla and everyone knew that I am Pavitra Punia. Gradually when I started making progress in television, in daily soaps and everything, I was setting up the benchmarks, doing negative roles. I was losing my name too. People were not aware of my name anymore or aware of who I am; they were more aware of the character that I was portraying on television. So there’s three things that I achieved while in Bigg Boss, it gave me my name back, I found love in Big Boss which has made me extremely happy, and I got a chance to voice out in the house.

Q: Could you elaborate for our readers.

A: I saw people in that house not respecting the sentiments of others, they were deliberately trying to hit others below the belt. They used to go till any extent “ki dusro ko gira sakein” (to put someone down) just so they could get their numbers up. I’m so happy that I came out of the house after 60 days without hurting anyone’s sentiments to that level that I might not be able to show my face again in front of them. Our industry is a strange place. Even if you say bad things about people on their face, you’re still friends. I feel strange about it. So the three things from Big Boss house that I got were- my name back, second, I found love, and third thing that I maintained my sanity in the house. If anyone did wrong to me, I did wrong to them. If they still did wrong to me, I kept mum. I know how to play. People can call me manipulator, or diplomatic but at least I did not hurt their emotions; at least I was not hurting the emotions of my friends. Forget Ejaz, that was a very personal matter. So that’s it, these three things are what I achieved and most importantly, I’m still maintaining my sanity.

Q: So next question. Your original name is actually Neha Singh and Pavitra Punia is a stage name. What prompted you to change your name? Was it you or did someone else suggest?

A: I changed my name of my own volition. I call myself a self made woman, I proudly say that I even changed the name given to me by my parents. So you can imagine what sort of a self made woman I consider myself to be and what sort of blood is running through my veins. I had what it takes to even change my name by going against my family. I love them. But the name is too small. If I want to make something of myself, if I want to see myself reaching somewhere one fine day, I want people saying “Wow, it’s you Pavitra” so I don’t want the smallest thing given to me by anyone be it emotionally or anything else. It should be whole and soul me and I made myself like this. So I changed my name to Pavitra. 

Q: So how did the name Pavitra come by?

A: One fine day I told my parents that the name they have given me is very small, Neha “shuru hote hi khatam ho gaya” (it ends as soon as it begins). Neha is a very common name and I don’t want something which is very common, plus it holds no weightage. My parents asked me what I wanted to do about it. I said I want to experiment, I want to change my name, I want to try changing my career. So initially when I was in Delhi doing my graduation and preparing for UPSC to become an IPS officer. My father is a cop and I wanted to follow in his footprints. I have always loved authority. Since my childhood I have seen guns and bullets, pistols and case files in the house. I enjoy those things. Sometimes I used to see blood on the case files that my father brought home to work through. So I used to get fascinated with the fact that he was working on a murder. At that time, I used to do magazine covers and brand endorsements on a very small level, I used to work part time jobs earning money  and I was very happy. It was a normal life for me. There was this show my mother used to watch a lot, I can’t recall the name, and there was a lady in that show with the name Pavitra; that’s when I first heard the name, I had never heard it before. And I said “this name is tailor made for me. It is me.” The next day, I went to a modeling agency and I said “Hi, my name is Pavitra”. They pointed out that the name on my documents is Neha. So I informed them that though Neha is my official name my family calls me Pavitra. And I have been Pavitra ever since. 

Q: You were a very strong contender in the Bigg Boss house. You always spoke your mind, you were honest and a lot of times things got very toxic. So inside the house where there are no distractions, you can’t just whip up a Netflix TV show and watch it or play with a pet. How did you get out of the negative headspace? How did you go from negativity to positivity?

A: I’m a tarot card reader. And I still remember whenever I used to feel confused, I used to  remember my cards and ask them“what picture or card do you want to show me?” I would shut my eyes, even though they were wide awake. And from the deck of those 78 cards one card would come to my head and that is what I used to follow. I was divinely guided through everything in Big Boss, whatever I was doing, every step was according to that particular card.

Q: Did you feel liberated that you didn’t have to process all those things by yourself?

A: Imagine your friend inside the house, the person whom you know and trust, is hitting you below the belt. The only guidance I was getting was to shut my mouth because that person wasn’t in his or her senses that time. Nothing justifies, no show, or anything, justifies that fact that you are hurting people’s emotions. And that is what I used to do to keep myself in it.

Q: Okay, let’s move on to the next question. You and  Ejaz Khan started developing a relationship and it was a very sweet part of the show and everyone enjoyed, but there is a lot of  speculation that in Big Boss many people just fake a relationship to get votes. Do you think there is a possibility that other contestants do that just for the sake of votes?

A: I am no one to comment on anyone’s relationship. I cannot go and comment on anyone unless I know the truth and I know them personally. People are allowed to do what they want to do.  I speak on the face but if I don’t know someone, I am nobody to comment on their life decisions because no one has given me the permission to. Tomorrow if people call our relationship fake, I will feel bad. So, in the same way I cannot make anyone feel bad by my strong statements. Many people call Ejaz and my relationship fake even today. Though the judgemental attitude has come down a lot but it is not completely gone. There are trolls who don’t have anything else to do, so they comment filthy and ugly. I feel bad when those 10 to 15% percent people think we are fake. “Humara rishta aise platform pe juda hai jahan pahle shayad logo ne rishte fake kiye hai ya phir relationships bane hain but chale nahi hain ghar se bahar.” (Our relationship blossomed on a platform where people might have earlier faked relationships or made relationships that did not last outside the house). And on the basis of that maybe people are commenting the same for me and Ejaz. We are not fake and people should stop commenting on us and stop judging us. It feels so bad when two people are in love and they are announcing to the whole world about it, yet people are not believing them. It feels bad when what we say is not taken into consideration but some notion of what might be is considered as truth. Even now that Big Boss is over, everyone is living their lives, going about making things work, a sufficient time has passed and if it was a fake relationship it would have been revealed by now but we are still together, yet people are still assuming it is fake. By now, I can only say those are the people who have no other work except for thinking about Pavijaz (an amalgamation of names Pavitra and Ejaz). Pavijaz is constantly on their mind, they think about it every moment, they go to sleep thinking about Pavijaz, wake up thinking about Pavijaz, we occupy every moment of their day and I am very happy about that. And you know, if the relationship is fake you don’t gel around with the families and family members. You don’t actually talk to the other person’s family members, get to know them or spend time with them, because it’s strictly professional between both parties. You’re just utilizing and monetizing the name that you made. The difference between fake and real is as simple as that. 

Q: You were in the public eye for 60 days. How do you cope with people hating you or making fun of you? How do you deal with that?

A: I am no longer on Twitter. I have seen people who are so successful and they’re still not on Twitter. They don’t want to be on Twitter or Instagram or any of the social media platforms.The only reason behind that was, this is something they actually said in interviews, the only reason they don’t want to be on social media is because social media is a platform fit to give you mental illness. Honestly speaking, I find Instagram to be much better than Twitter. Twitter is a medium of news too, so is Facebook and Instagram on some level. It is the so-called debates that happen on these social media that give us our perception of the platform. Debating a genuine topic is good. If there’s a debate going on regarding work, or regarding some issue, or regarding spreading awareness then it’s okay because it is beneficial to all. But going on to comment on someone’s personal life, on their personal choices and enjoying by commenting fifth, I cannot allow that. Social media is not important for me, my self respect is. People have given interviews against me on social media. I’m a woman who will never use Instagram or social media, to shame someone, to put some sort of blame on anyone. At the end of the day it is my personal life. I don’t comment on anyone’s life and I don’t think anyone should comment on my life. Especially during this pandemic people are going through so much regarding jobs and food crisis, medical crisis and so on… in such a scenario all one wants is to have some semblance of peace. In a situation where one ought to help the other, instead people are indulging in trolling and commenting filth. There might be people who move ahead of such negativity but I can’t.    

Q: You have been very outspoken. Do you think the television industry is changing a little bit to give more freedom of speech to women? Or do we still have a long way to go? 

A: Television is working according to our real life. Television is not behind or ahead. It is current. So whatever the story we put up, it comes from reality and then gets converted into reel. That’s how we follow things, keep up to date and relate to the characters of a show, because they are inspired by reality.  To be honest, TV shows women empowerment as most of the viewers are young girls, women, or older men and women. According to them, the content that is shown on TV is ok to watch. TV promotes women empowerment for sure but it cannot break stereotypes. The main agenda behind television serials is portraying woman power, so no matter how the TV has evolved in the years, woman empowerment remains a central point. 

Q:  So you’ve done a lot of television. Are there any plans of venturing into the movie industry now? Or are you going to stick with television?

A: I am really not into movies. But yes, there are some Hollywood offers on the plate. But I will not reveal it. Work is work be it small or big and whoever gets work should be grateful for it. Also, I am trying for a web series now. And let’s see how things are going to work. The only problem with me is I’m “extremely choosy” when it comes to my work. Television is like my home. So I don’t see what roles I am getting.  I still have chosen negative roles. I still play strong roles. So television is like my family but I haven’t done a web series yet. It will be the first time. I used to get offers from web series earlier also while doing television. It’s been three to four years that I’ve been getting regular offers from web series. But I’m not getting the work I want.I want to do powerful roles like a strong Lawyer or strong Cop or gangster. I blame my beauty and hotness because I always end up getting the roles of someone’s wife, or nudist roles, something a little revealing. So I’m actually blaming my beauty for not getting the work that I desire to do in the web series. 

Q: From all the roles that you have played, Timnasa, Nagin, Nidhi, which one was your favorite so far?

A:  I love all the characters that I portrayed on screen but the one closest to my heart is Nidhi Chabbra from Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, of course, because that role gave me huge popularity. It was a rebirth for me. I absolutely enjoyed playing the role of a strong advocate. In short, I love authoritative roles. I cannot do mellowed down romantic things. That’s not me at all in reel life. In real life I’m very romantic. I liked doing Timnasa in Balveer as a Strong Evil Queen. The only role I can say that I did not enjoy much was that of Naagin. Because after doing such a strong role in Yeh Hai Mohabbatein I was doing a funny role like comedy Poulomi. So as an actor, I was satisfied with what I was playing on screen. And when it comes to my acting skills, I was doing as much justice as I could to the role. But there was always an itch at the back of my mind as to why the role of Poulomi is not as strong as the other I have done. So, Timnasa and Nidhi Chabra are the two roles that are very close to my heart.

Q: Going back to Big Boss you got out a little early. What do you think could have gone a little better so that you would have stayed a little more or even until the finale. What do you think went wrong in your journey that if you could change you would change now?

A:The only thing that went wrong in my journey is not hitting people below the belt.

Q: Oh… but we loved you for that. You maintained a certain sophistication. 

A: If people would have loved it, I would have not been out of the house. I think I came out of the house because I did not abuse my friends back, when they were disrespecting me. I think I came out of the house because people judged me for wrong things and forgot to see the right things I did. I don’t know if the right things were being shown or not because I still haven’t seen a single episode. And I do not want to ever see a single episode of my Bigg Boss season because if things I have done right have not been shown to the audience, I will feel bad about it and no one has the right to make me feel bad about anything; at least for the work I did, diligently. So the only reason I was out of the house was me not hitting people below the belt, not losing my sanity somewhere and not disrespecting and crumbling the emotions of my own friends who were doing that with me. That’s it else kisi me dum nahi tha ki mujhe bahar nikale (no one had the guts to send me out of the house). I was very happy for my 60 days. I’m not at all guilty.

Q: So the elimination, did it come as a shock to you or were you expecting it?

A: I was expecting it for a week because I was emotionally hurt and I was mentally disturbed. I have no idea what happened and how it happened. I didn’t even have the courage to find out why it happened to even see what happened in that last week. When it comes to episodes, I didn’t even see that. I will not even ask my friends why I came out and what did they show? but I was expecting it because of my emotional and mental turmoil, which no one understood. It was a shock to see what others were doing that I didn’t do and they were still there. I do not have any guilt, no regrets, and no hard feelings towards anyone.  It’s life and life is beautiful. 

Q: So eliminations, rejections are very difficult sometimes to cope with as an actor, you must have faced a few rejections as well along your journey. How do you deal with rejections whenever it happens?

A: It’s quite simple actually. I mean what do you expect from me? I am a girl who followed the guidance of her tarot cards even in the Bigg Boss house before taking any action. So when rejection comes to me I think it is not in my destiny so why to cry and crib over it. If it was meant to, it would have come to me. But because there are human expectations I feel bad and it disturbs me for sometime and then the thought comes that there must be something better in my destiny.

Q: So right now you’re enjoying the bliss of a romantic relationship with Mr Ejaz. What is your favorite thing about him? 

A: I love his rudeness. I like strong men, to be very honest. And I think I found that quality that I look for in a man, in him. He’s very caring. He’s a very strong minded person and has faced so much in his life and has learned so much from his life. He is elder to me and the way he makes  me aware and understand about life is commendable. I am a woman and this is how society is that the man is meant to take care of the woman. It is a tradition even if you are equals. Even after you get married the lady takes the name of the man, the man doesn’t take the name of the woman he marries just like Kareena Kapoor Khan, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, like that. Keeping that in mind, and speaking in generalized terms, I believe a woman subconsciously always finds a man who is elder to her because he has lived the way of the world more than her. Ejaz guides me through life, he even gives me relationship advice at times, politely letting me know what he feels which I love. I think I am very lucky. He is very positive. One word for Ejaz is positivity.  He is the most positive thing in my life. He is always teaching me, telling me, guiding me, controlling me also in so many things, which I love and I think is normal in a relationship. So I got a complete package. I got a package basically overall, It’s a trophy for me.(laughs adorably)

Q: Our next question would be for you to imagine you are told you could do one thing in life without worrying about any consequences, zero repercussions? What would you do? 

A: I want to rule this world behind the scenes. I do not want to come in front of the picture. I don’t want to come in front of people. I don’t want to be in the picture. It’s like I want to be the kingmaker of the world from the backstage. I want to create a new world in which there is balance and love. That’s it.

RAPID FIRE

Q: One favorite co-star from Big Boss house?(except for Ejaz)

A: Shardul Pandit and Jaan Kumar Sanu

Q: Least favorite job so far, doesn’t have to be in the entertainment industry .

A:  Flying with Kingfisher.

Q: One role you would like to steal from anyone in any TV series or movie web series.

A: I would like to steal the role of Sushmita Sen from Arya. I want to steal the role of Akhandanand Tripathi from Mirzapur.

Q: The best compliment you have ever received?

A: Yeh koi poochne wali baat hai kya. (Is this something to ask?) I’m hot! This is the best compliment. Even in suits and salwars, I look hot. Other than that there’s one compliment that I received which is the closest to my heart even today- one person told me you are going to rule the world one fine day in this living life. Compliments are when people see who you are, what you are made of and your aura, not how good your makeup is and how you appear. If I remove my makeup, no one is going to tell me that I’m hot. 

Q: What message would you like to share with our readers and fans? 

A: There is a lot left that I need to  achieve in my life. The way you all have stood by me in all my fights and wars, I want you all to stand by me and be by my side when I am going to rule this world. 

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Focusing on Literature and Lifestyle of the Urban Youth of the Country, LitGleam is a monthly magazine, an intrinsic part of BlueRose Publishers.

Within its pages, our readers find provocative essays on literature and lifestyle, guidance for getting published and pursuing writing careers, in-depth profiles of poets, fiction writers, and writers of creative nonfiction, and conversations among fellow professionals.