Actress Soni Razdan is back with 'Call My Agent'

Once a staple of new wave Hindi cinema in the 1980s, the versatile actor has some high-profile roles coming up.


By Kaveree Bamzai

Published: Thu 4 Nov 2021, 11:28 AM

Last updated: Thu 4 Nov 2021, 11:38 AM

Soni Razdan been an usherette at the Old Vic Theatre in London, waited tables at a restaurant in Selfridges, and worked as an auxiliary nurse at a hospital emptying bedpans and cleaning toilets. She's been a low-profile star mom. But now at 65, the actor, trained at London's prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama, is readying for her own close-up.

As a veteran agent Treasa in Netflix's Call My Agent: Bollywood, who swans through the office with her dog Pankaj on a leash, she is a classic, a throwback to a more regal era when women exuded power by a mere twist of the pearls at their throat, and when an air of mystery was cultivated and celebrated.

Her character knows exactly who slept with whom, who was supposed to work with whom, and why someone had a nervous breakdown. "I saw her as someone who had been editor of something like Cine Blitz back in the day so she knows everyone and is like a mother figure to these young hungry agents," says Razdan, who is delighted with the show and a fan of the original in French.

"The only character not rushing around in the show is me. I am just gushing over my dog," she adds.

Her director Shaad Ali is thrilled with her.
She was a dream to work with, he says. "Such a good human being and doesn't come with any baggage on the set." And what sets she's been on, beginning with Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth when she was still at Guildhall, going on to bit parts in BBC2's Padosi and then packing her bags, coming to India and becoming part of the Hindi new wave cinema.

'We were all struggling'

From the aggressive sex worker in Shyam Benegal's Mandi (1983), where she shared a room with co-actor Neena Gupta and became lifelong friends, to being in Saaransh (1984) and falling in love with its director Mahesh Bhatt to being in the iconic TV series Buniyaad (1987), she has been part of some great work. "We were all struggling, trying to get the next job. It was a period of immense frustration because there were such few platforms,'' she recalls.

"We’d get so excited when our films would come out and then they would vanish. Actors have it much easier now, their work has such a shelf life. Most of us were unfit for the kind of movies being made and the roles being written for women. We had months and months of no work," she adds.

She worked on and off while raising her daughters — author Shaheen and actor Alia — till she had to take care of her younger daughter when she began her film career with Karan Johar's Student of the Year. "I travelled with her for a year when she went into the business, she was so young, only 17," recalls Razdan. There was so much to do. "She would do things like sprain her ankle. We would have to supervise her food, look after her diet," she says.

The family watchman

She calls herself the family watchman, calling it a big responsibility. She has also had to deal with the aftermath of her elder daughter's depression, and says she wonders sometimes if there was a turning point where things could have gone another way. "But you never know. Shaheen has always been a strong-willed young lady, and I have never been able to impose my will on my children. Eventually everyone has to find their own way through the jungle called life. You have to learn how to do things yourself," she says.

Razdan comes from a family with resilience ingrained in their DNA. Her mother Trudy (Gertrude Hoelzer, now 92) left Germany as a six-year-old and fled to Czechoslovakia with her mother from Berlin because her father ran an underground paper against the Nazis.

They finally settled in Birmingham where Trudy met Razdan's father, a Kashmiri Pandit who grew up in Shimla. They came to India three months after Soni was born and have been living in Mumbai since. "I'm British only because I was born there. I didn't have to subscribe to any religion or doctrine. What I've embraced is the diversity of the country and that is what my strength is," she says.

Look at early pictures of Razdan and it's hard to tell her apart from Alia.
 Does Razdan regret not having a career more equal to her talent? She seems satisfied with what she has. As her longtime friend, former Colors TV chief executive officer (CEO) Raj Nayak says, "what you are is what you get. She is forthright, real, trustworthy and a reliable friend whom we wouldn't hesitate to call in the middle of the night if there is an emergency. She is also super fun and we have spent many evenings and vacations being entertained by her sense of humour."

Razdan with co-stars in 'Call My Agent: Bollywood'
Razdan with co-stars in 'Call My Agent: Bollywood'

She is working in the direction of directing again, she says, after Nazar (2005). But for now, she’s been busy as an actor, with movies such as Raazi ((2018) and Yours Truly (2018). "Work as an actor has come like a waterfall in the last two years. When the river is in spate, you go where it takes you,' she says, as she reflects on life during the lockdown.

"It taught us how to live with each other," she says, of her husband and her. "We've got to know more about our partners and find the perfect balance," she signs off.

The author is a senior journalist and author, most recently of The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India

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