Actress Vedika Pinto — who burst into the entertainment scene as a cheerful bride in viral music video ‘Liggi’ (168 million YouTube views) and the engaging Netflix thriller ‘Operation Romeo’ — claims it’s unfair to tarnish Bollywood as nepotistic.
Over the last few years, the Hindi entertainment industry — which churns out dazzling song-dance musicals — has been accused of being clannish and hostile to talents with no industry connect or acting dynastic links.
But Pinto, who is now working on a new film with Bollywood dreamboat Aditya Roy Kapoor, is a portrait of making it on her own steam. The 20-something star, who grew up in Mumbai, is a rank outsider and her experience — even though limited — has taught her that merit speaks volumes.
“There’s good and bad in every industry, right? Over the past couple of years, this whole nepotism racket and debate has become such a big thing. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Pinto in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
Like most actor hopefuls, Pinto got her first acting project in a Bollywood production, backed by the likes of top producer/director Neeraj Pandey, after rigorous rounds of audition.
Pinto, who wasn’t born to an acting dynasty but to parents who belong to the media and advertising world, points out that favouritism exists in every industry, but it’s the audience who finally make or break a star.
“The truth is that you have to sustain yourself and that depends entirely on you and your craft. Success is arbitrary but the people who survive in this industry are those who are allowed to survive by the audiences. The real measure is how many people follow and like you. At the end of the day, it’s the audience who decides whether to watch them or not,” said Pinto.
In her film debut ‘Operation Romeo’ — a romantic thriller about moral policing — Pinto played Neha, a young woman who’s hopelessly in love but one of her dates with her boyfriend goes horribly wrong forcing her to make some tough calls.
Directed by Shashant Shah, ‘Operation Romeo’ — an official remake of the 2019 Malayalam hit ‘Ishq: Not A Love Story’ — explored themes like consent, sexism, masculinity, and women with agency in a slow-burn narrative style. The film explores how a young couple get violated and harassed by a pair of men who catch them in their private space inside their car. While the film released in India last April, the thriller grabbed eyeballs when it released on Netflix a few months later.
“You are aware of the current climate in the Indian film industry post COVID … Films with Shah Rukh or Salman [Khan] will drive people into the cinemas … Or a film has to be marketed really well, but ‘Operation Romeo’ doesn’t make the cut for any of those … But the response that I got after it released on Netflix was overwhelming,” said Pinto. Even today, she gets messages on social media about her performance and her character — which pulls out a neat twist towards the climax.
“What stood out for me was that this film had a woman who had the last say and it’s rare in films in our industry. And that was empowering … I come from a privileged background where I know I always have a choice and live life on my own terms, but there are many women who face sexism and inequality and feel they don’t have a choice,” said Pinto.
The film saw her play a young woman who decides to walk away from the boyfriend who showed traces of sexist and misogynist behaviour in the most passive-aggressive manner.
“There are many women who don’t realise that they have a choice to leave it behind … With ‘Operation Romeo’ I became the voice of several young women who didn’t know they always have a choice in life … My character Neha was sweet, simple, and shy – but she tells you clearly that you can’t take her for a ride,” said Pinto. The ending of ‘Operation Romeo’, which saw the loved-up couple break up, evoked polarising reactions.
“A lot of women who messaged me on Instagram loved the ending, but 40 per cent of the messages I received were from men telling me that the movie was really good, but the ending was really bad. Some didn’t even understand the ending,” said Pinto.
In Bollywood romances, the couple who fall in love usually walk into the sunset holding hands and singing a melody. ‘Operation Romeo’ stayed far from the conventional narrative.
“I even got into an argument with a viewer who felt that how could I leave him when he [her on-screen boyfriend] had done so much for me. And, that sheds light on the mentality of a lot of people,” said Pinto. But she knew that this film would be a provocative one.
“My director even warned me during the shoot that there will be men who won’t like or appreciate the ending,” said Pinto.
‘Operation Romeo’ is emblematic of films that don’t follow the established narratives of what an ideal courtship and relationship should be like.
“If a film of mine sparks a conversation and debate, then we have done something right … In this film, we have shown human beings as they are instead of building characters … This film will remind you that people are not what they seem or what you expect them to be,” reminded Pinto. Before bagging this acting project, Pinto — who graduated from a college in United Kingdom and is armed with a degree in International Relations and Literature — had faced at least 100 audition trials. So how difficult is it to get work in Bollywood?
“When you are starting in this industry without anyone’s backing, then you have to have faith and patience. There are months when I don’t have any work and that can be taxing, but being an actor has been my dream since I was a kid … I was the happiest in my life when I was shooting ‘Operation Romeo’ and my new film with Aditya,” said Pinto.
While she’s willing to work hard and serve time, Pinto — who has always been backed by supportive parents — has met with her share of casting directors who push her towards beauty enhancements. But she has rejected those subtle overtures by reminding herself that her self-worth isn’t pegged merely to her physical attributes. She jokes that growing up as a gawky teenager with a uni-brow and swatting harmless bullies at school has made her emotionally strong and confident.
“At the end of the day, this profession requires you to constantly put yourself out there every day. When you get rejected, it can take a toll on you and make you feel insecure and small … But the main struggle is to learn how to separate yourself from somebody else’s opinion of you. You have to remember that rejection is not personal … But after ‘Operation Romeo’, I have been offered role and the key is to make the right call,” said Pinto.
Did you know?
Vedika Pinto considers Alia Bhatt as her biggest inspiration:
“I feel so inspired by her … Watching Alia’s growth has been the most the most fascinating thing to me. It’s such a motivation to watch her progress from her role in ‘Student Of The Year’ to ‘Gangubhai Kathiawadi’,” said Pinto.
Deepika Padukone figures in her list of perfect people:
“We go to the same gym … Regular folks look worse after their work-out, but not Deepika Padukone. She walks in looking perfect and looks graceful even after a workout. It’s unreal,” Pinto said.
Don’t miss it!
‘Operation Romeo’ is streaming on Netflix now.