With Dabangg, which hit the marquee in 2010, Salman Khan launched veteran actor Shatrughan Sinha’s daughter Sonakshi Sinha in Bollywood. Nine years after the release of the cop-drama, the superstar is set to provide a grand launchpad to yet another star-kid, Saiee Manjrekar, in the third instalment of the Dabangg franchise.
18-year-old Saiee is the daughter of actors-filmmakers Mahesh Manjrekar and Medha Manjrekar. She says she always wanted to be an actress but had never thought her dream would come true so early. As Dabangg 3 races towards its worldwide release on 20th December, Eastern Eye catches up with Saiee at Mehboob Studio in Mumbai for a freewheeling conversation. In this interview, the debutante opens up about working with Salman Khan, career advices she received from her parents, and the pressure she is feeling ahead of the film’s release. Excerpts…
I hope so. I do believe in destiny a lot. So, I think this is what destiny wanted for me and this is where I am today. I always wanted to be an actor from a very young age. I had decided that this was what I wanted do, because I have seen my parents do it. So more than destiny, I also think it was my wish to become an actor.
How did your father react when he heard that you were doing Dabangg 3?
He was obviously very excited. He said, ‘I was in Dabangg and you are in Dabangg 3 (smiles).’
Who got to know about it first?
My mom got to know about it first. So, my mom was sitting next to me when she got a call saying that it was confirmed that I was doing the film. They had done the screen test before. The conformation call came to her saying I was doing the film. I was sitting a little away from her and then I got to know. My dad was sitting a little more away in the room and then he got to know it too.
How did he react in that particular moment?
He was very, very happy for me. He only told me that now I had to work hard. ‘This has come to you and you have to prove yourself worthy,’ he said.
When you told your father about your decision of pursuing acting as a career, did he ever say that he would not put a word for you in the industry?
No, he never said that. He was always fully supportive of whatever I wanted to do. My mom and dad both were supportive. My mom always used to tell me, from a young age, ‘Whatever you do, be the best at it, give your best at it. Even if you are a cobbler, be the best cobbler.’ This is something that has always stuck with me and which is why I believe in hard work.
But did he ever say that he will never recommend you anywhere and that you will have to do it on your own?
We did not get that chance only. I remember telling my dad and mom at the end of 11th grade, which is this year, that after my 12th grade, I want to take a gap year and try acting. So, both of them said, ‘Okay, you have to work hard. You are going to see a few scripts and see what is happening.’ So, he was seeing a few scripts, which is in March. In April, I got a call from Salman Khan saying that he was considering me for Dabangg 3. He said, ‘You have to start working out, working on your acting. You have to do a screen test.’ I think that is all how it came together.
How was your experience when you shared the screen with Salman Khan for the first time?
I thought I would be intimidated because he is such a big star. He has that whole magnetic aura about him but again Salman Khan on one to one basis is the sweetest person and you can completely be yourself with him. But I think I was very comfortable working with him. I was at ease working with him.
How did Dabangg 3 happen?
So, basically, the character Khushi that I am playing is sweet. I think when they were writing the character, they had me in mind. Whenever they wrote Dabangg 3, I was much younger. But when they finally decided to go on board with it, they thought that since they had written the character keeping me in mind, let’s see how she is looking, how she is doing. They thought I did well, so I am here.
How do you feel about the fact that you are going to start your career with a franchise that is so popular among the audience?
I am very happy that I got to debut on such a big platform and also with such experienced people who I have got so much to learn from. Everyone has given me something to take back home. This whole film obviously is great because it is my debut but it is also great learning experience for me.
Your father has been working for such a long time and knows the industry better than you. Did he warn you of anything?
Since a very young age, my parents have always given me right values. I, as a person, will know my rights and my wrongs. So, I think, they trust me enough to judge that. He gave me tips about filming and movies, of course, but not any warnings.
You have an amazing legacy as both your parents are actors and have done so much of theatre and films. What is it that you gather from their work?
I realised that both of them are very intense in their work, which is something that I wish to do. I am a little young to be there but they are so professional, so focussed in their work and they are very, very hardworking. So, I think, these things make them what they are. And growing up, watching them do all this has been very inspiring.
What are the qualities that you have inherited from them?
I would like to say hard work because that is something that has been told to me from a very young age that without hard work nothing is going to happen.
Getting launched in a big film like Dabangg 3 is another thing, but surviving in Bollywood and facing the cut-throat competition is something totally different. How are you going to deal with that?
I think everybody has their own strengths, their own niche, their own USP. So, everyone capitalizes on that. Everything will fall into place because right now, I think, it is all out because there are so many people, so many young talents. I think if everyone finds their groove, everything will fall into place. And again, as you said, how I am preparing to go after this, I think the audience is king. So, if the audience likes my work, they want to see more of my work. If they don’t then I will have to work harder and make sure they like it.
Lot of Maharashtrian actors started their journey with theatre. Was there any phase where you wanted to try theatre and also try something in Marathi?
I have actually done a film in Marathi, a tiny role in Kaksparsh (2012). I have done theatre for a very long time in school and college. I have had theatre as a subject. I have gone and learned theatre. That was not because I was preparing to become an actor or I was preparing to get launched. That was just because out of pure fun. I used to go and attend these classes, I used to prepare monologues, plays but that was only because it was so much fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Do you feel any pressure ahead of the release of Dabangg 3 as you have a certain legacy to take forward?
More than pressure there is a sense of responsibility that I have to make my mom and dad proud, make Salman sir proud because they have really trusted me a lot. I just want to make them proud, make myself worthy of their trust.