#SerialChillers: Rupali Ganguly: “My tombstone should read—here lies Monisha Sarabhai and Anupamaa”

The second scintillating star in the #SerialChillers series is Rupali Ganguly, the country’s most loved and highest-paid TV actor, who continues to empower, inspire, and make us fall in love with ourselves. 

12 April, 2023
#SerialChillers: Rupali Ganguly: “My tombstone should read—here lies Monisha Sarabhai and Anupamaa”

Rupali Ganguly has charmed her audiences for many years now. First, as the bubbly, quintessentially middle-class Monisha Sarabhai in Sarabhai vs Sarabhai and then as the doting, independent, empowered Anupamaa in the eponymous show, which is inarguably the most-watched show in the country. Ganguly has made her characters relatable and lovable, giving many of us reasons to believe in ourselves, inspiring us to practice self-love, and encouraging us to stand up for ourselves. She has made us laugh, shed tears, and also introspect. We can safely say she has a large fan base of women across the length and breadth of the country and beyond. 

Ganguly is the country’s highest-paid television actor. She is warm, pragmatic and candid. And she is the second star in Cosmopolitan India’s 'Serial Chillers' series. She opens up about being her favourite character, being grounded, her addiction, her love for dogs, and much more. 


Cosmopolitan India: Anupamaa can be considered your comeback. And its resounding success is an example of how taking a step back can help you take a huge leap. 

Rupali Ganguly: I did not strategise or plan this; my life and career have been whimsical, unplanned, and spontaneous. My father wanted me to be a singer, but I realised it takes a lot of effort, practice and discipline. I used to get a kick out of acting, and I made a lot of money, too. Sarabhai vs Sarabhai changed things for me. I wanted to impress my dad, and after watching the show, he told me that making people laugh is the most challenging job. Once I got his stamp of approval, I started working harder. 

When Rudransh was born (2015), I made a conscious decision to be a hands-on mother; it is something I have been sure about doing since childhood. I had not planned to come back until he was 10 or 12 years old. I started acting in plays when he was around six and a half, and realised I had forgotten the art. I realised that ‘riyaz’ (practice) isn’t integral to music but is also required for acting. Your producer and channel appreciate your work and start investing time and effort in building you up; they boost your morale and confidence; and the unit is at your dispense so that you appear in a certain way on screen. You owe it to them to start doing better.

I came back to Mumbai when Rajan Shahi offered Anupamaa to me. Like me, the character was 42; it resonated with me and I took it as a sign from God. I was apprehensive as Rudransh was young, my husband lived out of the country and my mother-in-law was very old, but my husband was supportive. The credit for this success does not go to only me. There are many people behind the scenes—my husband, my child who doesn’t understand why his mother is away, the house help, unit members, the DOP, and the director. If they don’t put in the work, the audience will not like me. I need their guidance. It’s all about the actor connecting with the director. If a producer doesn’t have the vision, the story isn’t good, or if there isn’t a team in place, there is very little I can do as an actor. They put together the story that needs to be told to an audience who wants to hear it. If an actor thinks they have arrived, they must realise that they are but a small piece in a bigger picture. 

CI: Your very first audition was for Rajan Shahi, the producer of Anupamaa, and you walked from Worli to Andheri for it as you did not have money to buy bus tickets. Do instances like these make you want to look back and see how far along you've come? 

RG: I had auditioned before but faced rejections. Those were my initial days of struggle. It was a long, tough walk. But I was glad that I had a roof over my head and that my parents were living with me. It helped me appreciate what I have.

This was the time when I had shot the pilot for Sukanya. I was extremely tired when I reached there. I didn’t know what the role was; I goofed up my lines. I asked them for another chance and after waiting for seven to eight hours, I auditioned for both the characters of the twin pair. I was paid ₹5,000 per episode for six days—it may be pocket money for some kids today, but it was a huge amount back then. 

CI: Anupamaa has taught every woman the importance of self-love. How did you come to accept and love yourself?

RG: When Rajan narrated the script, he told me that Anupamaa does things because she wants to, not because she has to—that’s how she shows love and care for her family. It was a beautiful character and I connected with it because she is homely and doesn’t know English—much to her daughter’s embarrassment. I know how it feels because I’ve been that daughter; my mother couldn’t speak English and I used to mock her for it, without realising it would hurt her. I never did it on purpose, but you never know how they feel. When he narrated the story, I started crying. When you become a mother, you realise the importance of your mother and learn to love the small things in life. 

I didn’t know the journey would be this amazing—for instance, the response to the episode about Anupamaa learning to drive and going out in search of a job was brilliant. I have worked hard to keep it real and it truly came from the heart. I told Rajan I didn’t want to wear extravagant jewellery; moms don’t do that. 

When he approached me for the role, I used to bite my nails and had cracks on my feet. I told him to give me some time to lose weight, go to the parlour, and feel like an actor. He said, “Your imperfections work for me,” as he wanted a mother and not an actor in front of the camera. At 42, he didn’t want someone to say ‘Anupamaa looks too good’; he wanted audiences to see their mother in me. 

CI: The show has changed the mindset about how women are perceived and treated, and you’ve played an instrumental role in making women aspire for a better life.

RG: Recently, a lady on the set hugged me and started crying. We had to pacify her. This happens all the time. People touch your feet and you don’t realise what is happening. This isn’t Rupali Ganguly. It is Rajan’s work and character—I enact his vision, words, and thoughts. I try to enhance what’s already beautiful. I cannot take credit for it. In a way, I do not connect with the euphoria that Anupamaa is. 

Though a lot of stuff you see on the show is all me. For instance, using a large tote, taking care of animals, and not wasting food; there are a lot of messages given on the show, and Rajan’s vision is the same. I will bargain at a Croma outlet but not at a local store. Rajan’s vision is exactly the same. 

I often ask myself, “How long will this stardom last? How many days will we be remembered for?“ We are all craving relevance. Today I’m relevant, tomorrow I’ll be a nobody; so why get used to things that I probably won’t have tomorrow? If I can do without them today, it’ll be the same the next day. I don’t get used to things. 


CI: How has Anupamaa, the character, made you fall in love with Rupali, the person? Or is the opposite true? 

RG: Anupamaa’s grounded nature is very Rupali. I am outspoken and blunt. In the moment, I will make it apparent that I am angry, but I will forget about after half an hour and not hold on to it. My character is the same. The only way to make her real is to have some not so good qualities too, as no one’s perfect. I realised that she’s an independent and resilient person, who always looks forward, forgives, and doesn’t keep grudges. A lot of our qualities are similar. Earlier, I would only connect to Monisha, while Anupamaa was only my performance. Now I connect a lot with Anupamaa. 

CI: Why should someone start watching Anupamaa

RG: I recommend people to watch the first few episodes, because they speak about the journey of a woman they would have known at some point in their life. I connected it to my mother. Not every mother goes to the gym, has the perfect body, marriage, and children. Everyone has problems. I think, in addition to women, every man should watch this show so they start respecting the women in their life. 

CI: How do you spend quality time with your son and family?

RG: You have to make time to spend with your kid. Going for walks and ice cream is ‘out time’. I’d be lying if I say I’m managing my professional and personal lives fantastically. I’m not. I’m failing miserably on the personal front. I don’t give much time at home. I have a wonderful support system in my husband; he is hands-on with Rudransh. The important thing is that Rudransh needs a parent, not a mother. I was with him for six and a half years, now it’s my husband’s turn. 

But my production house is very sweet. For instance, if Rudransh has something or I want to go somewhere with my family, I let them know and they accommodate me, despite it being a seven-day schedule. 

For me, my biggest way to unwind and de-stress is spending time with my pet dogs. I have 15 on set. We have a dog named Coffee who’s always there. He’s a unit member. I would take 20-30 kgs of food for them during the lockdown, and even today, I ensure they’re fed chicken and rice every alternate day. That’s my life’s mission these days. I keep telling my fans that the biggest gift for me is if they feed the stray animals in their area, or gift their mother something. 

CI: You said the limelight is there one day, and gone the next. All that people will remember is your hard work, the Monisha, the Dr Simran, Pinky, and more. What keeps you going?

RG: My obituary. I’m telling you the truth, believe me. What do you work for? My father told me one gets a true understanding of what they’ve earned in life when they pass away. The number of people attending your funeral determines the person you were, the number of lives you touched, and that keeps me going. The epitaph on my tombstone should read: Here lies Monisha Sarabhai and Anupamaa.  


CI: Putting make-up everyday is harmful for the skin, how do you ensure that your beauty regime doesn’t get compromised?

RG: I don’t have a beauty regime. My hair and skin gets spoilt, but I don’t have the time to take care of it. That said, it isn’t too much of a problem, there are creams and sunscreen that do the job.

CI: What are your most favourite and not-so-favourite dish?

RG: I love poha and mithai, so much so that they call me ‘Poha Queen’ on the set. I’m obsessed with poha

I love food, but I’ve cut down on bread these days. 

CI: What does your travel bucket list look like?

RG: I take short breaks. I have travelled around the world, but I love Mumbai—its traffic, the mess, and the chaos. My husband is an American kid and asked me to move to Chicago. And I argued, there won’t be a cow on the road, you won’t find birds there. I love Versova. I experience peace amidst the chaos in Mumbai. 

CI: You’ve proved that people can reach the pinnacle of success with dedication and hard work, what’s your advice for television budding actors? 

RG: I’m a workaholic who loves improving. I watch my episodes and observe what I’ve done wrong and make notes to not repeat the mistakes. My advice is, TV is a cruel industry, but a wonderful place. You’re in everyone’s homes. Even film stars come to TV to promote their shows; I don’t think there is a medium bigger than TV. It has given me so much. Work hard and make the most of the opportunities that come your way. 


CI: Seven days a week, 365 days a year, does this grind only get the better out of you and is a major reason for the success of the show?

RG: It does. Every morning, even after two-and-a-half years, I wake up excited about the new things that I’ll do. There is some magic in the show. I feel it’s my father’s blessings from above; I feel he’s watching when I’m on set. And then my dogs are there, too. Every day, I go as a new student and there really is so much to learn.  

CI: What does hearing that you’re the best, the highest paid, make you feel? 

RG: I have never asked for a raise. I don’t think about the numbers. You’re #1 somewhere, #3 somewhere else. There are so many lists, you won’t be on top everywhere. 

CI: Tell us about your love for dogs.

RG: I have Kishmish, Barfi, Noodle, and Masti at home. It’s my dream to open an animal shelter. I’m looking for a land, and do as much as I can for them. 

CI: What’s next for Rupali Ganguly? 

RG: Just keep working. I’ve never think of what I’m going to do. I’m not a planner and that’s how it’s always going to be. 

Cosmopolitan India's series 'Serial Chillers' shines the spotlight on six spectacular TV actors who, with each passing day and every exciting episode, prove they are indeed a force to reckon with.

Also read: #SerialChillers: Nakuul Mehta: "I don’t want to limit myself to being just the biggest TV star there is right now"