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People now feel that I can pull off any role

After being the driving force of the character Kabir Singh, and several big-banner projects up for release, Kiara Advani talks to Bhakti Mehta about how life has changed after starring in the highest grossing film of 2019, her balancing act with films and the web and what drives her to pick the right scripts

How does it feel to be part of Kabir Singh, the highest grossing film of the year?

The love that this film has gotten and the way the audience has rooted for this film makes me feel so happy. People have gone to watch it two or three times in the theatre. We have not seen that happening in the recent past. After a long time, a film had that kind of an impact. Kabir Singh has terrific repeat value. Wherever I go, people come up to me and tell me how much they love the film. When people tell me that they have watched it multiple times in theatres, that’s just so overwhelming! It is just sinking in. The film is still running successfully in theatres.

We knew that Kabir Singh had a strong storyline and it is the remake of a hit film, Arjun Reddy. But did you expect this kind of a roaring success?

We knew that the film is special and it is going to do well. We had that inkling. I messaged Shahid and he had said that the film will earn about `200 crore. When the film got an ‘A’ certificate, I showed him the message. That time he said that the film will garner around `100 crore. I was happy thinking that even `100 crore is huge. Forget `100 crore or even `200 crore, the film earned so much more! We both were shocked. The film had fought against all odds. We did not get a holiday release. The World Cup was going on. It was raining. It was an adult film. Despite all of this, it did what it did. Even though we knew that it would do well, we did not expect Kabir Singh to become a cult film. This success spells something else!

The last time when we had met, you had said that your life had changed post Lust Stories. How different is life now after Kabir Singh?

It is a progressive change. Lust Stories opened several doors for me. After that, everybody started seeing the performer in me. Kabir Singh is the first film for me where almost every single person in the industry messaged and appreciated me, I did not even expect some of them to. It took a lot of time to sink in. I was like, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening?’ It makes a difference to your films when the numbers are like that. The love of the audience feels very new and different. It is a small thing. Earlier when I used to walk outside my house or at the airport, people used to recognise me. But now they recognise me for a film that they have loved and they loved me in it. That is a different kind of a feeling. It makes me feel very special. I keep telling myself to calm down and not let all this go to my head. Honestly, I just want to give the love back. Now when I am reading scripts, I still have the same approach and the same thought process that I have always had. Now the projects that are coming to me are more interesting. So many people have told me that they want to work with me and they want to give me something very good. It is so exciting that someone is saying something like that to me. Earlier people used to come to me with smaller roles. But now they say that they do not want me to do small roles. The entire perception that they have had about me has changed. They feel like I can pull off any role and bring something substantial to the table. They want to give me better opportunities.

Considering what you just said, has your strategy or the thought process through which you choose films changed?

Not really. I have always been very instinctive with my choices. I am very clear with what I like and what I want to do. I always look at it from the audience’s point of view. I have that clarity about the films that I want to be part of or someone I want to work with. I am not someone who is very calculative. I think from the heart. I am a very emotional person like that. Even when I am choosing scripts, I do that if they strike a chord in my heart. I am not someone who can strategise or calculate.

Tell us about how your family and friends have reacted to this massive success.

My parents and my relatives, including my uncle and aunt who have watched the film, have become celebrities now. Everyone has been messaging them. They have been receiving more messages than me (Laughs). I find that very funny. As far as my friends are concerned, they have seen me grow up loving films and were well-acquainted with this filmy side to me. They knew that I wanted to act all my life. So they are very proud of me.

You are one of the few mainstream actors dabbling in both films and the web. Why do you think it is important to strike that balance?

It is important to be relevant and go with the times. I feel very lucky that Lust Stories and my next digital project Guilty that I am doing for Netflix have been exciting and female-driven and I am playing strong roles in both of them. It so happened that the script really fascinated me and then they happened to come on a platform like Netflix because of which they could reach out to so many countries. Being able to balance it all is something that I have not given much thought to. It just happened. Even Guilty is made like a feature film. It is Dharmatic’s first film for Netflix. It is based on a very relevant and topical subject, which got me excited to be part of the film. As I said, it is very important to go with the times. Today everybody is hooked to the digital platforms watching series and films. For me, it is not about being on the digital medium or appearing in films. I just want to do great content irrespective of the medium and expand my audience base.

The first look of Guilty looked quite intriguing.

It is very different; there is not a single part of this character that resembles me. Hence, I found it very interesting. This is the first project which I prepped for so much. We did such extensive workshops on getting the look right and also the characterisation. That is what my director wanted. She wanted to take me and put me in a space that nobody would expect me to be in. Though I do not know the release date yet, I am so excited to share the film with my audience. It is very, very close to my heart.

It is interesting what you just said. You had earlier told that Preeti in Kabir Singh was also very different from how you are in real life. Do characters that are completely different from you attract you even more?

It is very interesting when you are dealing with a different head space and personality. It is so exciting to explore that and be someone throughout that duration when I am shooting for it. It is challenging because there are so many different people in this world. I always say that people’s perception of right and wrong are very different. When I think of Preeti, I think that there are so many things that she did that I would not do. Playing a character with conviction is important. Being and thinking like someone whom you are playing is exciting. A director who has written my character so passionately and who understands it so well and is very clear about it makes things simpler. As an artiste, you have to have that chameleon-like feature where you can slip into different roles. It is boring to always be yourself. Today with social media, people know who you really are. If you play that same person onscreen, people will get bored. If you want to shock, excite, entertain and surprise the audience, you should be able to show different sides of yourself to them. In order to do that, you need to play exciting characters. I am very fortunate that I have not been put into a bracket. The roles that I have done so far and the ones that I will do with my next five films are all very different. Now is the time for the true test. People loved me in Kabir Singh. I received a lot of appreciation for MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. It is challenging when you are doing different things, you want to give your best and hope for people to accept you. But that’s a thrill.

So you do enjoy the pressure?

It is fun and exciting. As an actor, I look forward to going on set and trying something different.

Success also brings with it a huge sense of responsibility. Does that come into consideration or pressurise you when you choose a film?

It does not pressurise me when I am choosing roles. After Kabir Singh, it makes me realise the magnitude of accountability and the reach that one has in this field. Your voice is now heard more than ever and people look up to you. It is a privilege to be in a position where you can influence people. If you are doing something that you are passionate about and you feel strongly for, you should do something about it. People do charity or involve themselves in different causes but, of course, it is very personal. If I do something, then I will do it personally and not go around talking about it. Today, when I realise that I am in a position where people are listening to what I am saying, maybe I can share with them my thoughts, my experiences or something that I have say about a cause we would like to support. It is a great feeling that I have this opportunity and privilege to reach out and help in certain situations. I see a lot of my contemporaries who are also doing work like that, which is great. You can make the best use of these platforms and I would like to do that. I still haven’t completely gone down that road but I know that if and when there is something I want to do, I will do it the right way.

When you see yourself on the big screen, can you be objective to figure out your strengths and weaknesses?

Of course! All the time! Firstly, I am never satisfied and when I look at it, I think that I wish I did this and I wish I did that. (Smiles). But that is a good feeling. As an actor you should have the drive to be there and achieve that. I am someone who intellectualises things a lot. I am well-aware of my strengths and weaknesses, what I can or cannot do, what should I work on and I look at it all constructively. I have learnt that with the experience that I have had here over the last 4-5 years.

Tell us something about the characters you are playing in some of your upcoming films.

(Laughs). It is very early to talk about some of these films because they are not close to releasing yet. But Good News comes out first. It will release in December this year. It’s such a topical subject and it is relevant and it is done in a beautiful way. It is a dramedy, which has been presented beautifully but it is a lot of fun as well. I don’t know if I am allowed to speak much on these films because as I said, it is really very early to talk about them. I surely will when I can.

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