Bollywood cinema has been going through dramatic changes in the last two years, including weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, but there has been one cultural constant who has thrived during these uncertain times.
Actress Kiara Advani, 29, is one of the few blazing talents in Bollywood who has been on a proverbial roll.
As hyperbolic as it may sound, Advani is fast becoming that lady with the legendary Midas touch, enjoying halcyon days despite industry titans and studios around her feeling rattled after the disruption triggered by the contagion. She’s now the bonafide Bollywood sweetheart enjoying a bullish run at the box-office.
Let’s face it: Blockbusters were few and far between in Hindi cinema in the last two years, but Advani has featured in at least three of them.
Her lean-but-sturdy career catalogue boasts back-to-back blockbusters including ‘Shershaah’, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’, and more recently, the glossy romantic comedy ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’, which has just entered the revered Rs1 billion box-office club this week in India.
If the stirring war drama ‘Shershaah’ saw her play the subdued but spirited Dimple Cheema, the fiancée of Kargil martyr Captain Vikram Batra who continues to remain staunchly single after her braveheart’s sacrificial death, then her pleasing turn in the hit horror-comedy ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ was no less effective.
But it was her third hit, ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’ which saw her flex her acting muscles with impressive alacrity. In the romantic comedy, which is out in UAE cinemas now, Advani plays Nainaa Sharma who’s on the cusp of divorcing her childhood sweetheart Kukoo Saini because life and its daily grind come in the way.
When it comes to picking the right projects and money-spinners, Advani seems to have figured it all out. So what does she look for in a film before she plunges headlong into a project?
“A very fresh perspective and the film has to very relatable. I truly feel when you watch my film, you should be rooting for the characters that you see,” said Advani in a Zoom interview with Gulf News.
For instance in her latest film ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’, she was impressed with how director Raj Mehta took a stinging subject like divorce and spun it on its head without weighing it down with a morose narrative.
“I don’t think I have ever seen it being done in an out-and-out commercial film which is a keen exploration of a love story. Raj brings such a fresh perspective … Even if you are not married or you have been in a relationship, you will be able to identify with Kukoo and Nainaa,” said Advani.
She seems to have a nose for new narratives, even if it goes against the popular grain. Her 2019 polarising hit ‘Kabir Singh’ was slammed for being blatantly misogynistic and sexist. This Shahid Kapur-led blockbuster was the remake of 2015 Telugu hit ‘Arjun Reddy’, which also faced similar criticisms like glorifying a toxic and narcissistic relationship.
Advani played the winsome and subdued Preeti Sikka who falls in love with her alpha male senior (Kapur) while studying medicine. Their relationship hits a rough patch when Preeti’s conservative Sikh family resists their union. But despite evoking brutal reviews, it was one of the highest grossing films of 2019. But interesting takes on love stories have always rocked her boat, even if you are not rooting for the broken lovers.
She counts her standout scenes in ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’ as the one where Kukoo and Nainaa have a visceral meltdown. Like any worthy married couple, they lash out at each other’s perceived flaws and stumbles. Such emotionally-charged scenes may be draining, but the actor in her has always reveled at playing out such conflicts on the big screen.
If playing Preeti Sikka in ‘Kabir Singh’ required her to be passive and a woman with no overt agency, her turn as Nainaa Sharma in ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’ required her to be a firebrand.
“Why does Nainaa want to divorce Kukoo? After all, they both were high school sweethearts who fall in love, get married … But what goes wrong between them is what interested me. In most relationships there are lots of pent up issues, feelings, and unresolved arguments that are left unfinished. There’s that communication gap that breaks down their bond … Will they be able to find a middle ground and resolve things between them interested me as an actor tremendously,” said Advani.
Advani hasn’t always been on top of her game though. When she made her Bollywood debut with ‘Fugly’ in 2014, it wasn’t a runaway hit nor did it acting as any epic breakthrough for this raw talent. But she clawed her way back with Neeraj Pandey’s sporting biopic ‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’.
The film was undoubtedly the late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s acting showcase, but Advani managed to make her mark with a relatively miniscule role where she played the partner and wife to the titular character. She was on call to appear impossibly pretty and charming, and Advani hit it out of the park on that front.
Her appeal rested on her being incredibly accessible as this winsome girl-next-door. But she isn’t some benign Bollywood airhead. She has proudly served her time in an industry that’s known to be harsh to every talent, even if they have Bollywood dynastic connections.
Advani has a few famous relatives such as the late actor Ashok Kumar was her great grand uncle and model Shaheed Jaffrey is her aunt. Her mother Genevieve Advani’s step-mother is Bharti Ganguly, the daughter of Ashok Kumar. It’s a tenuous link, but Advani has become a name to reckon with based on her solid body of work.
In Karan Johar’s Netflix anthology ‘Lust Stories’, Advani had an absolutely wicked role towards the end. Her comic timing and her effortless command to steer witty scenes in this film made her an instant favourites.
Her modus operandi is painfully simple but potent.
“Films have always been reflective of society and the times we live in … India is a diverse country filled with people who speak different languages and cultures. So the big question is how do you tell a story that’s universal and speaks to a wide audience?” asked Advani.
She doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she seems to have cracked the Bollywood success code with one good film at a time. Her colleague Varun Dhawan, who was a part of this joint interview, also believes that as actors they are always on a quest to ‘push the envelope’ and his peer Advani is on that same track.
“What is interesting and fun for me is to hear two perspectives in a film without stigmatising the matter. Give me unique stories that are relatable and I am game for them all,” said Advani.
And, going by her blistering reign it’s clear that Advani is in Bollywood for the long haul and we are not complaining.
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‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’ is out in UAE cinemas now