In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, Manjiri spoke candidly about her experience with Gaslight co-stars Sara Ali Khan, Vikrant Massey and Chitrangda Singh. She spoke about how her family has supported her career, and her tryst with shooting intimate scenes. Read on…
Your role of a blind psychic in Gaslight has been well received by the audience. Tell us how did you bag the role.
I think director Pawan Kriplani had watched Betaal and he had enjoyed my performance of Puniya. They approached me for this role and I had a few questions with Mukesh Chhabra’s team. They told me, ‘We would rather like to have the director’s narration to the entire process.’ That’s how Pawan narrated me the whole story. I absolutely loved this character. I wouldn’t have imagined myself doing something like this. It was all his vision to be honest.
You made the audience believe in your performance. What was your approach?
I’m born and brought up in Mumbai, so I’m a totally city girl. For me this was almost as good as an imaginary character. I’ve never really played a blind character. So we tried different kind of lenses and different approaches. Also Rupesh Tillu was our acting coach. Pawan and Rupesh came together during the workshop and they really helped me a lot in terms of the body language. They had clear idea of how to make the character look creepy and scary. Also I think I love picking up accents and I love studying different languages.
How was your experience of working with Sara Ali Khan, Vikrant Massey and Chitrangda Singh? Would you like to share some anecdotes from the sets?
Working with Sara was really interesting because she is so hungry, curious, interested to learn and she really respects her co-actor’s space.
Vikrant is an amazing co-actor. He is a dream to work with because he gives you so much while doing any scene. It was amazing to do the ping pong action reaction zone with him because I belong to that kind of schooling. I remember in one of the scenes where Chitrangda ma’am walks in and wants to kick this woman out of her room, Sara is protesting and Vikrant was supposed to pull me out of the room. Suddenly my lens broke and the crew had to give me a fully blind lens. I couldn’t see anything. Because it was with Vikrant, I could blindly trust him to pull me out the door.
I have been a huge fan of Chitrangda ma’am’s work, too. It was great to be sharing screen with someone who I always looked up to as a kid.
Tell us about your journey as an actor.
I started my journey as a theater actor and worked in Marathi theater for the longest time. After doing about 1000 shows of a play, I realised that I would like to explore experimental theater. So I approached Prithvi theater and I got to work with really amazing directors like Manav Kaul, Sunil Shanbhag, Rajat Kapoor and Gemini Pathak who directed my first ever English play.
It’s been almost 10 years in this field and I am in love with theater and I still do it. I was never really keen to work in front of the camera. When my father passed away in 2013, something changed within me. This idea of being mature and responsible kicked in, even when there was no need. That was the moment where I decided that I need to look at this field in a commercial way also. Then for the first time I said yes to a television project.
Marathi television is actually in a great space where you have some amazing theater actors who are going through the same theater process. I have met some amazing co-actors, most of them being women, be it Harshada Khanvilkar, Mrunal Kulkarni, Mrunal Deshpande, Pallavi Joshi. They supported me through it all.
Then I turned towards film acting with a short film, Aamir, which was made under Zoya Akhtar‘s supervision, directed by Amira Bhargava. It was one of the short films as part of this entire compilation called Shor Se Shuruaat. That was the first time I got to work on a project with Excel Entertainment. Then a couple of Marathi films came my way. After that, Betaal happened and Puniya’s character showed up. I’m so thankful that it was received so well.
Who has been your biggest supporter in your family? Did your parents support your career choice?
My mother and my sister have been my biggest support. I can talk to my sister about anything and everything. I feel really blessed to have such a strong personality in my family. She is my backbone. My mother has also been very supportive of my career despite the uncertainties that come with it. We are literally friends.
My father was an art director in films. So he had kind of seen and gone through this entire evolution process of the film industry. He was a protective father, obviously. He was really anxious and a bit uncomfortable about this decision in my life. Sadly, he passed away before seeing any of my work. That one regret I have in my heart. He left us too soon. He always had that insecurity in his head, whether I’ll make it in this industry or not. He knew the challenges and the vulnerabilities.
Have you ever had to work with a difficult co-actor? How did you handle it?
I don’t think I have ever had to work with any difficult co-actor. Sometimes it’s really difficult for me to stop laughing when someone just starts overacting. That’s the only challenge.
It is said that you started crying when a director asked you to perform a kissing scene in your first Marathi film ‘Party’. Are you uncomfortable shooting intimate scenes?
I was about to cry because I was really nervous. I don’t know why my team did that to me. But suddenly out of the blue after one of the scenes, my director told me that they were changing it to a kissing scene. I was really shocked because neither in the rehearsals, workshops, readings or even the contract of the film it was mentioned that I have to perform any intimate scene. I was really not ready for it. They caught me off guard. I remember I was just trying to understand how I was supposed to perform something like that because it was my first ever film. Suddenly my actors also supported the idea and the entire crew made me believe that it was not some prank and I would really have to do it. I was very, very conscious. I am a private person and for me it just became a huge deal.
Now things have changed and I have grown as an artist. I am performing an intimate scene in The Heart and it was really fortunate that I got to work with a female director like Ruchika Oberoi. I had someone who understood my insecurities and I have kind of learnt through that experience to trust the team, your co-actors and then jumping into it. It’s literally like choreography, based on so many technicalities. Before shooting that intimate scene, I spoke to many of my actor friends who had actually performed intense intimate scenes. They had told me that it’s quite beautiful and liberating when you do it. And it did happen to me in a way when I shot for this one.
I think our industry has opened up to intimacy coaches and intimacy coordinators which makes it extremely comfortable to jump into a sequence like that.
How do you handle challenges and tough time in life?
I was going through a rough patch and a friend had suggested to me this book called The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. I would suggest it for every single soul, even if they are not an artist. I think that book is magic. That book really helped me delve into the deeper aspects of life. Just give yourself some time, pamper yourself, gift yourself something and just spend some time with yourself. That resolves so much because I feel all the answers that we’re looking outside are literally within.
Tell us about your dream director or actor who you really want to work with.
I would dream of working with the Daniels, directors of Everything Everywhere All At Once. My dream co-actor would be Meryl Streep. I worship that lady. I would love to work withSriram Raghavan, Anurag Kashyap and dream of working with Mr Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah saab.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’m looking forward to the release of The Heart in India. It was received really well at Berlin Hill by the international audience. The cast is amazing including Sonakshi Sinha, Vijay Verma, Gulshan Devaiah. I’ve been a fan of Reema’s work, her writing all this while. That was my first opportunity to work with her. Another show is Sheher Lakhot, directed by Navdeep Singh and written by Navdeep and Devika Bhagat. That show has my heart. Right now, I am also shooting for a feature film with Excel Entertainment.