It has been more than 30 years since Sumeet Raghavan entered the film and television industry. Young Sudama in BR Chopra’s Mahabharat was one of his first roles. The actor has since starred on celebrated shows such as Tu Tu Main, Sanjivani and Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, becoming a household name among TV viewers without ever boarding the saas-bahu bandwagon.
He is still part of shows that are relevant to the audience and have meaning, such as his latest project, a reboot of the 1988 show Wagle Ki Duniya. The sitcom was created by renowned cartoonist RK Laxman, about the problems of the common middle class Indian man. The revived version on SAB TV features Sumeet as Rajesh Wagle, reunited with OG actors Aanjjan Srivastav and Bharati Achrekar to address the problems of the common man in a modern world.
What’s the pressure of rebooting a cult classic at this point when viewing patterns have changed?
Wagle Ki Duniya – Nayi Peedhi, Naye Kissey certainly raised a lot of eyebrows because different people from my generation, or my parents, are eager to let everyone know what we’ve done. We also have Anjjan ji and Bharati ji, the old faces of Wagle Ki Duniya. I feel like we’ve been told reality in a very harsh way all last year, that guys, we need to take a break. You can’t just run around, you have to stop and think. If we try to compare, in the current scenario, where on most platforms there is violence, swear words and nudity, there comes a Wagle Ki Duniya, which will make you think. So I feel now is the right time for this show.
You always manage to be a part of slice-of-life shows that also have a message.
With Wagle Ki Duniya we try to revive the typical values of the middle class and try to bring them back to the surface. Somewhere in today’s world of social media and Netflix and Amazon, we try to incorporate ideas that aren’t ours, but that are alien. We’ve tried to show the touching of the feet, or to ask each other’s health on the way out, those little things that have disappeared somewhere in our lives. We try to remove 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 recognizable faces on television. How did it all start?
I started as a children’s artist in 1983, so this is my 36th year in acting. I played Sudama in the original Mahabharat. I moved on to television, and when Sarabhai vs Sarabhai happened, suddenly things opened up. People started to take me seriously as an actor. And then I worked in the theater and in commercials.
You have a diverse cultural background, but have mainly worked in the Hindi and Marathi industry.
I was born and raised in Mumbai although I have very strong Tamil roots. My father is Tamil and my mother is Kannadiga. These two languages are mainly spoken in my house. And I do Marathi theater and Hindi shows. So yeh Bharat hai just ghar mein.
How did you avoid ‘saas-bahu’ shows despite so many years on television?
I intentionally stayed away from ‘saas-bahu’ or other similarly popular format shows as I find them very regressive. I am not here to serve the public. If the story doesn’t appeal to me, how am I going to act on it? I have to be satisfied, only then will the audience feel happy. I have done less work with more impact, less visibility and more exclusivity is my mantra.