HT Brunch Cover Story: Confessions of a bright young star

From as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be anything but an actor. The thought of being an actor terrified me because it always seemed so risky, so unstable. With my mother and grandfather in the business, I’ve seen how high the highs can be and how low the lows can be. And on seeing how volatile and unpredictable a career in the film industry can be, I decided I didn’t want any part of it. I wanted something stable and structured; a profession where I could make confident and secure long-term plans. So much so, that at one point I even convinced myself I wanted to become a lawyer because I thought arguing with my mother and successfully extending my curfew by 30 minutes meant I would effectively be able to handle high-profile criminal cases. It wasn’t logical, but still seemed more practical to me than being an actor. 

Help! it’s a new world!

I was at New York University doing a four-year undergraduate degree in filmmaking, when I was put into a class where I had to act. I will never forget the moment I began acting; it’s hard to describe what I felt in that moment, but it was as though all the resistance that I had felt towards acting had suddenly turned into a very intense attraction. All the logical thoughts and plans I had planted in my head began uprooting themselves and falling out. And just like that, all my plans had changed. I suddenly had none. As terrifying as that was, it was exhilarating. 

I had suddenly entered a new world that I had so deeply rejected for such a long time. I was challenging so many of my beliefs and notions. I used to be practical, and logical, I was never a superstitious person; back in my school days I remember all my friends would get so worked up if anyone stepped over their legs because it’s supposed to “stunt your height.” On the other hand, the rebellious non-believer in me would encourage people to step over me because superstitions seemed so silly.

Even though the superstition Gods won on that one and it totally backfired on me, deciding to be part of a profession that I believed relied so heavily on not just talent but also on luck made me one of the most superstitious people you’d meet. I’ve now consulted numerologists and changed the spelling of my name three times, I’ve read every astrological report there is, I pray for success every single time the clock strikes 11:11, I won’t sign contracts on certain days and I aggressively knock on my head at least 50 times a day because “touch wood” everything is going well.

The old me would have laughed at this version of me, but suddenly being in a profession that is so uncertain, and so volatile, I found myself constantly living in limbo between the joy and fear that “luck” brought me.

The ‘at the moment’ factor

Amidst all these new concepts and ideas that had suddenly invaded my mental space, I scoured through my thoughts to find some logic. And so logically I made an 11:11 wish and asked for something concrete to hold onto and keep me sane. As I opened my eyes, I saw my friend’s cook making a TikTok (video) to an old Hindi song while he cut vegetables in the kitchen. Out of curiosity, I found his profile and to my surprise, he had a solid 10k followers and some of his videos had significant views.

Initially, I felt a mixture of amusement and shock but when I thought about it a little deeper, I realised it made perfect sense. In today’s world, it’s so damn easy to be famous. Thanks to social media, one viral video and suddenly you’re a recognisable face in every home, 10 pretty photos and you’re an Instagram model, one controversy and you’re the infamous person everyone’s enjoying hating at the moment.

I realised that today, the definition of being a famous actor is ever-changing and so fleeting. Earlier, there was a very clear format for what a hero, heroine and villain were supposed to be like. Both on and off screen. Today, all the lines are blurred. Actors are so accessible and so visible, that they’re no longer elusive. You know what actors look like coming out of the gym, you know what’s in their bag, you know the thoughts they put out on their Instagram. They’re almost relatable, and audiences have begun enjoying that on screen too. Yes, a larger- than-life flick is appreciated and enjoyed every now and then, but relatable, heartland, fresh stories are all the rage. Actors in mainstream cinema are all foraying into unconventional roles, unconventional film actors are foraying into mainstream films.

Read an exclusive interview with Alaya F

As relatable as cinema and actors are getting, they’re also becoming rejectable. There’s such a huge onslaught of movies and talent, all of which is now so accessible, that everyone and everything is replaceable. 

Luck by hard work

I believe that if you want to stay relevant today, you have to keep reinventing yourself and not get complacent and the only way to do that is to hone your craft. This understanding took me to my ultimate superstition: Hard work. Believing in hard work brought me the logical, practical, structured peace of mind I was seeking. I convinced myself that if I worked hard and relentlessly, no matter what, at the end of the day, I would succeed. I wouldn’t ever give up, I would just get better, and when I’d need to reinvent myself again, I’d work hard yet again. 

I was an incredibly weak dancer; anyone who saw me dance could testify to the fact that I had two left feet. So I did hip-hop, contemporary, classical and Bollywood dance for hours and hours a day, every day, and I saw myself grow and become strong and confident in my dance. Today, people take a look at my dance videos on Instagram, and they call me a dancer. That to me, is magic.

I had a strong American accent, I had forgotten all my Hindi and I could only act in English thanks to the years I spent studying abroad. So, I worked relentlessly on my diction and acting and the day I successfully did a daunting scene from Udta Punjab (2016) in my acting class and my teacher beamed with joy, that to me, was magic.

When I was on set for the first time in my life and I pulled off a six-minute one shot without a single hiccup as my first scene for Jawaani Jaaneman (2020) I went back to my room and cried happy tears, that to me, was magic.

When I read wonderful reviews after the release of my first film and my friends and family hugged me and told me how proud they were of me, that to me, was magic. 

All this was magic I could get behind, because it was magic that happened not thanks to me believing in luck, but luck brought on by hard work and a whole lot of support from the teachers, friends, family and team I am so lucky to have.

You can’t control fame or luck. You can just do your best every single day and hope that is enough, and if god forbid it isn’t enough, at least you’ll know you did your best. Touch wood.

From HT Brunch, October 18, 2020

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