Film critic Rajeev Masand and Festival Director, MAMI, Anupama Chopra catch up with bollywood’s next gen – Ananya Panday, Avinash Tiwary, Janhvi Kapoor, Mrunal Thakur, and Radhika Madan at the Jio MAMI Movie Mela with Star, 2019. They answer with aplomb questions about their first brush with fame, auditioning for roles, rejection, the road ahead and experiences that have shaped them. Here is a snapshot of how their confidence, candour and disarming charm won over the audience.
What is it that you love most about acting?
Radhika: I love the thrill of that brief period between the words “rolling” and “action”. It’s so full of possibilities.
Ananya: I just feel very comfortable doing what I do. I love that I’m able to be myself.
Mrunal: I enjoy playing different characters; bringing something special to each of them. It takes me away from the real world, from reality.
Avinash: Acting lets me explore the crazy side of me; it lets me experience situations and emotions that I wouldn’t be able to, otherwise.
Janhvi: It makes me happy just to be in front of a camera. I love the travel and the experiences that come with the job.
What was your first experience of performing in front of people?
Janhvi: It was in school, when I performed to the song ‘Piya Piya O Piya Piya’. My mom choreographed my dance steps.
Avinash: It was when I performed at Prithvi Theatre in 2003, in a play called “Dilli Uncha Sunti Hai”.
Mrunal: I had participated in an elocution competition in school. I walked onto the stage and I froze. I was very shy of talking or performing in front of people until about the first year of college.
Ananya: I used to perform the “Dhoom Macha Le” dance at many of my friends’ birthday parties.
Radhika: I had enrolled for a jazz dance class but used to stand at the back of the class. Then, one day, the instructor suggested that I try dancing in front of a mirror. Somehow, watching myself dance gave me the confidence to perform in front of people.
What’s the feeling like, when you don’t get a role you had hoped for?
Ananya: I believe that what’s meant to be yours will come to you. So what if I didn’t get a role; a better person got it. I don’t let it get me down; I move on.
Mrunal: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast” – that’s my mantra. I had auditioned for a role for three months and then trained for it for another six months. Still, in the end, the role went to someone else. That hurt, but then “Love Sonia” happened and my life took a different turn.
Avinash: If I knew the reason why I get work, I would probably know the reason when I don’t. I did 21 tests for Laila Majnu and then told that film was shelved. Fortunately for me, it started again after a while.
Janhvi: There are bound to be occasions when you try for something and don’t get it. But you’ve got to respect the director’s vision.
Radhika: I think it’s a mix of destiny and your efforts. You need to keep trying, keep asking for opportunities. If, despite your best efforts, you still don’t get the role, it’s okay. At least you know you gave it your best shot.
Whose feed do you envy on social media?
Mrunal: Kareena Kapoor doesn’t have a social media handle, but I wish she did. I follow her through her fans and fan pages.
Radhika: I envy the kind of following that Ranbir Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor enjoy. I, too, like Mrunal, follow Kareen through her fan pages.
Ananya: I envy Varun Dhawan’s social media feed. He’s so funny; he just posts anything he likes. I don’t think he worries about being judged.
Avinash: I am not very active on social media nor do I follow many. The account I envy is my own. [smiles]
Janhvi: I am not very social-media-crazy either, although my team is always urging me to be more active. But I do love “The Avocado Show” on social media; they put up a lot of very interesting stuff.
What’s the strangest place where you have been spotted and recognized by fans?
Radhika [laughing]: The loo.
Janhvi: While climbing the stairs to the temple at Tirupati. It’s very flattering to be asked for a photograph, but I was exhausted from the climb, so I’m not sure it was the best moment.
Avinash: I was recognized by a couple of guys while I was trekking in Bhutan. They recognized me from the TV series Yudh, where I had acted alongside Amitabh Bachchan.
Mrunal: I was travelling, and this Korean girl kept passing me frequently in the aisle on the flight. After a while, she came up to me and asked if I was Sonia from the movie. I was pleased, of course, to be remembered from my movie, and a bit relieved – to be honest – because her frequent appearances were starting to creep me out.
Ananya: Many places – in the bathroom, in the middle of traffic, in the middle of a shot. Once, while I was shooting, this guy with a camera started running behind me, and the shot that was captured had both of us in the frame. [laughing]
What’s the best practical advice you’ve got about acting?
Mrunal: I feel it’s very important to perform “in the moment”. Relate the moment with your personal life and let your eyes and your body express most of what you have to say. Also, Manoj Bajpai told me to constantly look at my co-actors and react to their expressions, their feelings, as if in real life.
Avinash: Raise the stakes in every scene. When you do that, it becomes personal, and you give it all you have.
Janhvi: You just need to be alive, present, and receptive in the moment. The best acting often happens by mistake or in a spontaneous, unguarded moment. On a different note, I personally believe that we, as actors, bear the responsibility of delivering on the efforts of every single person on the set – right from the director to the spot boy. We owe it to them to give every scene our best.
Radhika: Step outside of yourself when you perform. While you’re acting, try to watch yourself from an outsider’s point of view. Don’t get so lost yourself in the moment that you forget what your character is supposed, or not supposed, to do.
Ananya: I find it very hard to cry on screen. I used to try and imagine someone I know dying, but it didn’t really help. Shahrukh Khan then advised me to not imagine someone’s death, but to imagine my life without that person. And that made a big difference. It worked.
What’s the last film you saw which made you cry?
Radhika: The Sky Is Pink
Ananya: Student Of The Year 2. I cried when I watched it the first time.
Mrunal: I cry easily. I cried when I watched Jersey, recently. And, of course, when I watch Forrest Gump.
Avinash: I had watched an independent film that made me cry on one of my recent flights; I don’t remember the name.
Janhvi: I’ve cried watching almost every movie I’ve ever seen. The latest would be: Joker, The Sky Is Pink, and The Wife.
What’s the role that you envy – that you’d love to play yourself?
Radhika: A female version of the Joker.
Ananya: Alia Bhatt’s role in Gully Boy. I really wished I were a part of that film.
Mrunal: Iron Man. I envy Robert Downey Jr. for that role, for being able to wear the Iron Man suit.
Avinash: Gully Boy
Janhvi: The Joker. I would love to play a female character that’s just as uninhibited as the Joker.
What’s the one thing you would like to change about our film industry?
Avinash: I think we need to create a space where more cinematic voices can be heard. There are so many good films that do not get the visibility they deserve or do not even see the light of the day. We need to increase the number of exhibition centres, for one.
Janhvi: Times are changing, but I still I think we need to have a little less “sanitized” role for women. The best such role I can think of, in the Indian context, is the one played by Nutan in Bandini. There should be more roles that portray the uninhibited side of the female – roles such as the female versions of Kabir Singh or the Joker.
Mrunal: I think many actors/actresses do not get the kind of recognition or the kind of roles they deserve. We need to look beyond commercial considerations; look beyond star power. Good actors should get good roles; it shouldn’t be a function of their box office pull.
Ananya: We need to stop imitating the West or looking there for inspiration. We have so many great stories to tell and such great talent who can tell it!
Radhika: Even today, there’s far too much emphasis on who the “hero” of the film is. Even I give a great performance, it means nothing unless the movie is a commercial success. That’s sad. I think this needs to change.
The session concluded with a round of Q&A for the fans curious to know more about the five stars.