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Warrior Princess

Ankita Lokhande, who is all set to make her big-screen debut with the historical film Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi, talks to Team Box Office India about her role of Jhalkari Bai, the challenges she faced, working with Kangana Ranaut and more

You are one of the few film debutants who is already a star. You are a well-known personality even before the release of your first film. Does that put any pressure on you?

I am not really sure whether or not I am a star and I don’t feel any pressure as I am very chilled-out. I am very content, I guess. I would rather focus on my work than worry about other things. I just want to do my best in whatever I do, whether with the scripts I choose or the roles I select. I don’t feel any pressure.

Why did you choose the character of Jhalkari Bai and the film Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi to make your debut? It is a rather unconventional choice for a first film.

When I was approached for the role of Jhalkari Bai, I decided to do some research on her. When I Googled her, I realised there wasn’t much material available. That was reason enough for me to take up this character as I wanted to tell people how strong this lady was. She was a warrior, she was a fighter and she fought for our country.

I thought it would be a dream for any actor to play such a character and to debut with such a film. And the fact that I had been given the opportunity, there was no reason to not do it. I also thought that I could relate to her as a woman. We women are inherently warriors and fighters in our personal lives. And I was getting a chance to play such a strong character on screen. So I grabbed it with both hands.

Like you already said, not much is known about Jhalkari Bai. And when it comes to historical characters, there are very few reference points. So, in the course of the film, what did you find out about her and how did you go about preparing for this character?

Jhalkari Bai and Rani Laxmi Bai looked very similar. So she used to sometimes disguise herself as the queen and meet the British. She was Rani Laxmi Bai’s right hand and part of every war and strategic decision she made. She headed the queen’s all-woman army.

When I started working on the character, I met the director, Krish (Radha Krishna Jagaralamudi) and Mr Kamal Jain. The whole story of Jhalkari Bai and Rani Laxmi Bai, jo Manikarnika ki story thi… it was narrated to me. Not much is known about Jhalkari Bai. There are a few pictures and some references here and there, but not enough to help me prepare for the character. So based on the narration I got from Krish, I thought let me use my own inputs.

I asked myself what a woman who belonged to that era would be like. How would she feel for her country? I decided to put myself in her shoes and take it from there. I decided to create my own character. I thought Jhalkari should be like me. How would she react to situations? What would her character be like? She also has a love story in the film. How would she have been with her boyfriend or her husband?

So I put myself in her shoes and tried to think and react like she would. Since there isn’t much reference on Jhalkari Bai, I decided to take on her character and perform. So, somewhere, there is a part of me in Jhalkari Bai. I added a part of me to the character and made her my own.

You have a very distinct look in the film. How did you arrive at that particular look for Jhalkari Bai?

Jhalkari Bai was from the Dalit community. Neeta (Lulla) ma’am and I discussed what we could do for her look. The women in this community wear a lot of jewellery and have a lot of tattoos. They also wear several small braids. I just thought this look would be different from the others. Rani Laxmi Bai has a distinct look, after all, she is a queen. I thought my character should stand out too, so that people could tell that this was Jhalkari Bai. That is how the look was finalised. I worked on my character and Neeta ma’am on the overall look of Jhalkari Bai.

How did you feel when you saw yourself on screen for the first time?

While working on the sets, I never saw myself. I never saw my scenes after I shot for them either. This was not what I wanted to see. I wanted to see myself on the big screen. It is a dream for any actor to see themselves for the first time on celluloid.

Of course, I saw a few of scenes when I was dubbing. And I have to admit, the feeling was something else. I cannot explain what I felt. I have seen myself when I was doing Pavitra Rishta on television. I have seen myself for six years. But when I saw the trailer for the first time on the big screen, that feeling was unparalleled. I was in tears as this has been my dream since childhood. Most actresses who come into this field say this was not something they had planned and that they stumbled into acting. But I always knew I wanted to be an actress. So when I saw myself on the big screen, it was a feeling I will never forget.

Many TV actors who make the transition to films say they always thought of TV as the first step towards cinema. What about you?

The medium never makes a difference to me. I worked in TV as hard as I worked on my film. I never thought that TV was my first step and then I would do films. It is just growth, I guess, the transition from TV to films. I have done TV for six years and after that I wanted to do films. It was not that I was preparing for films.

I did what I needed to do at the time, and now I’ve got this. I don’t prepare for anything. When I got Pavitra Rishta, I took it. Then I got Manikarnika and I did it. I don’t know what I am going to do next.

How was it working with Kangana Ranaut, the actor, and Kangana Ranaut, the director? What was the vibe like on the sets of the film?

It is always great to work with such talented actors. Not just Kangana, I got to work with Danny (Denzongpa) sir and Kulbhushan Kharabanda sir. I have worked with Atul Kulkarni sir. You get to learn so many new things. During the shoot, I used to sit on the sets and watch them because there is so much you can learn by just looking at them work.

And when I used to sit with Danny sir, I used to ask him so many questions about films. He has done so many movies and I have been watching them since childhood. I wanted to know everything. When he used to tell me about his experiences while working in films, I used to listen to him in awe, just like a small child listening to fairy tales. Everyone was very down-to-earth, especially Danny sir.

Kangana is very professional. Everyone is, but there is sincerity in the way she works. She gives 100 per cent to everything she does. When she started directing my scenes, she was completely into it. When she was acting, she was in the actor’s zone and when she started directing, she was in the director’s zone. She used to explain the scenes, look into every detail including the clothes I was wearing for a particular scene. She took the initiative in everything. I think she is a very secure actor, which we don’t get to see nowadays. Today, everyone is competing with everyone else.

The film has had its share of ups and downs. Were you affected by the issues around the film? How did you handle it?

I have always been the kind of girl who is focussed on just one thing. I cannot be all over the place. When I started shooting for Manikarnika, I heard rumours but I wasn’t distracted by them. I firmly believed that this was my first film and nothing would go wrong with it. I have a deep faith in God and I was sure this was my debut film and everything would be perfect. I just kept that faith. And, as you can see, everything has worked out well.

What kind of roles do you want to do in the future?

I want to explore proper commercial roles, where I am dancing, performing and doing masti. I have done only serious roles, but I love to have fun. I want to do a character that is more like me. This is also me but it is a different side of me. Mujhe masti karni hai, dance karna hai, romance karna hai.

The film is ready for release. With January 25 round the corner, are you nervous?

I wouldn’t say nervous; I am very excited. I can’t wait to see myself on the big screen. I want to connect all the dots, experience what it was like when I was shooting a particular scene. I want to remember those times. I am not nervous, but I am super-excited. I know that the film will do well. It is a film about Rani Laxmi Bai and people should definitely watch this film, especially this generation.

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