Indian actress Aditi Rao Hydari, who has worked with provocative directors such as Mani Ratnam and Rakeysh OmPrakash Mehra, is perplexed about Bollywood getting a bad rap.
“It’s not some drug-fuelled, orgy place! What do you think we do? We all work so hard and where is the time to be this group of people that you think are … But I can only speak for myself,” said Hydari in a Zoom video call to discuss her latest project ‘V’, a Telugu crime thriller streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Ever since Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death on June 14, Bollywood and the film industry at large has come under the scanner and is being positioned as a decadent playground for high-functioning addicts and depraved people who thrive on a toxic working culture.
But Hydari, whose credits include stirring films such as the romance ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ and Malayalam hit ‘Sufiyum Sujathayum’, doesn’t buy into that popular theory.
“I feel bad when people lash out at my Indian film industry. At the end of the day, we are flawed and we are human beings too. I would also like to believe that we are artists and we are full of love and we want to create beautiful things. Sometimes, we make mistakes but there’s so little we can do about it.”
She’s also not a fan of those who go about vilifying a certain set of people.
“I really admire them for maintaining a dignified silence … I don’t want to add to this noise and give any kind of credibility or legitimise their claims. But I’s such a mess out there,” the actress said.
Hydari, who worked her way up in the industry through films that didn’t focus on her entirely, feels disillusioned following the hate that’s swirling around her peers.
“I do have a great sense of justice and what’s right or wrong. What is happening affects me. How can I ignore that so many contemporaries or friends of mine whom I respect are being dragged through this mess. How can I ignore that? But I am also trying to work and maintain my sanity.”
The poster girl for anti-nepotism is now focusing all her energies on her new thriller ‘V’, also starring Nani. She plays a significant role as Saheba.
“Saheba is such an intriguing character. She doesn’t slap, kick or punch but her courage to given up everything including her own unborn child to save an unknown girl is amazing.”
Here’s her take on films, favouritism and more ...
On ‘V’ releasing on a streaming platform directly:
“While I feel grateful, I was honestly looking forward to a theatrical release for ‘V’. But sometimes, these things are blessings in disguise. Social media users have been so incredibly enthusiastic about it.”
On resuming shooting during the COVID-19 pandemic:
“I have not resumed shooting fully because I am being careful. But two weeks ago, I shot with John Abraham in Mumbai and I travelled from Hyderabad for it. But when you say shooting, it often means that you are moving from one set to the other and that has not happened yet. The first month of my lockdown was distressing and I was dismayed at what was happening around me. But things have settled down now. I have shot two covers on my own and had two releases during this lockdown … I am privileged and I have very little to complain about.”
On COVID-19 being the biggest leveller:
“COVID-19 was not about countries or regions, it was about people. The virus was democratic and has attacked everybody. It’s made all of us realise that we need to connect as human beings. Nothing else matters. It has taught us to wake up every day and count our blessings for being alive.”
On breaking into Bollywood as an outsider:
“I moved to Bombay around 2010-2011 and I wanted to be a part of cinema because I found it magical. I did not get that movie launch where I showcased every single talent of mine. When I appeared in ‘Delhi 6’, nobody really knew what I could do or couldn’t do. It has always been one step at a time for me. Without sounding immodest or arrogant, I have done what I wanted to do and I have done it in the way that I wanted to do it.
Dignity and the way I work and the people I work with are very important … I set out to be a Pan-Indian face and I have achieved that on my own terms. For me, it has always been quality over quantity and dignity and credibility over instant success or fame. I want to create timeless cinema and characters that stay with you for long … I have worked with directors who challenged and nurtured me.”
On her first role as Sonam Kapoor’s unmarried aunt in ‘Delhi 6’:
“When I did that film, I wasn’t an actor… I was studying and dancing, but I knew I wanted to be a heroine. But I didn’t know how. Even on the sets of ‘Delhi 6’, I was so lost and I stepped in for an actor who backed out at the last minute.
All the actors were like: ‘she doesn’t even suit the part’, because I was playing someone in my late 20s and I was a lot younger. A few senior actors even questioned why I was there and how I would pull off that part. But another actor on the sets said: ‘you will get your due if it is meant to be’.
I didn’t even know what was happening and I just felt that I should just film and go home. With that first part, I could have so easily been slotted but I didn’t get slotted. After two months of moving to Bombay, I got offered ‘Yeh Saali Zindagi’ and ‘London Paris New York’ and those films were truly the start of my career.
I was fumbling, falling, scraping my knee and never knew what I was doing. But I knew the kind of people I wanted to work with and the direction I wanted to go. The result of the film is not in your hands, but that journey and what you learn is in your hands. You have to be fearless.”
Her journey in cinema as an outsider:
“I feel happy when people say that they are proud of me or that they are proud of the way that I have worked so far. Those words matter to me a lot because there’s a lot of talented artists out there, but it’s also your attitude and ultimately the choices that you make which defines the artist that you are. I don’t think of being an outsider a lot. I have that yearning to work on something new. I remember a flight attendant who came up to me and said: ‘I am sure everyone tells you that you are beautiful or that you are a lovely actress, but I have to tell you that you are so well brought up and it has been a pleasure serving you.’
Her words meant a lot and made me feel so grateful. As an artist everyone contributes to how people love and perceive you. I don’t want to be someone who stabs somebody in the back to get the next big role. I never want to be that person.
Her take on the insider-outsider debate:
“Today, the conversation about outsiders vs insiders is hectic and chaotic. I don’t like using those words because it creates that divide among us. Ultimately, we are all artists. Yes, some may come from a place of privilege and the opportunities I get may be fewer. They might have cushioning when they fall, while I might scrape my knee. But we all have that collective passion to work because we love our craft and therefore, we all get up and start running again. We work hard, but our struggles are different.”
On auditioning for roles even after nearly a decade in films:
“I auditioned for director Vikramaditya Motwane recently. He asked me if I were open to auditions and I said: ‘yes’. I have no ego about these things. Yes, I have worked in films for 9 years, but so what? But let me tell you that I am terrible with auditions. You can put me on a set with an actor and I can act out my scenes effortlessly because I have this instant connect with the actor … But auditions are a different beast altogether, because I am nervous.
On filtering hate and trolls as a public figure:
“We all have mechanisms to survive. I don’t wallow in negativity. As a child, I was sensitive. A puppy on the side of the road would cause me anguish and I couldn’t see a kid being bullied in school. Even as I entered films, everyone warned me that I need to grow a thick skin to survive in Bollywood. But I feel my vulnerability and sensitivity are my biggest strengths. Plus, my fans are my army … If someone is mean and nasty, it’s their issue and not mine. I just send them hugs.”
“He makes me believe that dreams come true … I became an actor because of him,” said Aditi Rao Hydari on working with director Mani Ratnam.
Don’t miss it!
Telugu film ‘V’, starring Nani and Hydari, is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.