Whether or not she will emerge as an equally effortless and versatile actress as her late mother Sridevi was, is something we can decide later. But the fact that she is a brave girl is unarguable. Janhvi lost her mother weeks after starting shooting for her debut movie Dhadak, but she did not let her personal grief impact the progress of the film and resumed the shoot right after the cremation of her mother. Dhadak comes out on 20th July. Right before the release of the Shashank Khaitan directorial, our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, catches up with the debutante for a freewheeling conversation. Excerpts…
Brief us about your character in Dhadak?
My character name is Parthavi Singh. She is from a political family, but they also have a royal lineage. In Rajasthan, there are many royal people who convert their heritage properties into hotel business and my character’s family does the same. She is a very strong and resilient girl. She is a little bossy, has an air about herself. She is a very beautiful character.
How did you bag this role?
Karaj Johar and I had commenced reading together, so I would come and he would make me read out scenes, monologues and dialogues. I think that was like a mini-audition process where he was deciding whether he should invest his time in me or not. After a series of readings, he told me there was this prospect and they were looking to make it, and then he put me in touch with Shashank Khaitan. We met a few times and very organically I started reading with Shashank. Then I did a test show for Shashank and it flowed into making a film together. There was no particular point where he said you are selected. In fact, he still hasn’t told me, so I still don’t know and the shooting is finished. So, it just kind of happened.
Dhadak is an official remake of the 2016 Marathi film Sairat. Did you see the original movie to prepare for your role in the remake?
Not as preparation though, I have seen the film twice before. Shashank was very clear that we stick to the script and not use the original for preparation else it sticks with you and you end up mimicking the original.
How did you prepare for the role then?
Everything was on paper. Shashank had written very clearly who Parthavi was. We also went with him to Udaipur in Rajasthan and actually met a lot of these families who have royal lineage and converted their houses into hotels. We spent time with them, we spoke to them, we tried to understand how they treated the women, how they have been brought up to think, to speak, to sit, to behave. We actually met a girl called Parthavi who belonged to a royal family. It was her idea to convert her Kothi into a hotel. She is a very strong girl, very ambitious, very independent. She was, I think, divorced and she took it upon herself to make a family business and she did. We just met people, observed people. Shashank told me to write a back-story.
How was Ishaan Khattar as a co-actor?
He was a lot of fun. He is just such a talented, energetic and passionate person. The insight he has of his work, the way he approaches every scene and with the energy he comes to the sets… I had a lot of fun, and I had a lot to learn from him. It’s a growing experience.
How did both of you approach the scenes?
Ishaan didn’t like rehearsals much, but for the first half, we did a lot of reading. In the second half, both of us preferred not to rehearse at all so that we could have more fun and be more spontaneous and be more in the part.
Did you feel any kind of pressure while essaying this character?
While I was shooting for it, I didn’t feel any pressure, because I was overthinking about my role and my character, like how to do the best job I possibly could. Though, after finishing the film while we are promoting it and all of you are asking me the expectation you have, now I am thinking there is a responsibility because it’s such an important film for so many people.
Could you recall any memorable incident that happened on the sets?
I remember after pack up one day – with a very hectic day at the shoot – we had a three-hour break before we would begin night shoot. My father and Shashank instructed us not to take the bike anywhere, but we convinced one of the ADs to hand us a bike and we took it around Udaipur. Shashank, on the other hand, was setting up for the night shoot near a temple and we took the bike there without knowing, so, Shashank was right there and we had to cross him, there was nowhere to go. So, we had ducked so he couldn’t see us and went through. Thankfully, he didn’t see us but he knows now when he saw one of our interviews where we talked about this.
Do you think your affinity to acting is because your mother was an actor too?
I thought maybe I want to act because that is the only thing I know. That is why I took courses in History and Fashion Designing to broaden my interest. Just because my mother is an actor maybe I am inclined to it, but I know in my gut that my passion, dedication and focus for acting comes from true intention and I don’t have to be insecure about it.
Was Dhadak the first project offered to you?
No, there were few other films, and it’s more like Dhadak chose me. When an opportunity like this presents itself, I think it’s a no-brainer. Personally, working with Shashank and Karan, and the story itself being such a special story, an iconic story; to experience it as an artist and tell it to the audience, it was a no-brainer. I am just thankful that it picked me.
What advice was given to you by your mother Sridevi when you approached acting?
The only piece of advice she gave me was that ‘to be a good actor, you have to be a good person’. Other than that, when it came to approaching Parthavi’s role, she was very clear that she didn’t want to impart any of her advice or choice as an actor on to me. She wanted me to find this on my own so that it’s all me. She wanted me to create my own identity.
Which was your favourite film of Sridevi?
Are you reading other scripts or are you waiting for Dhadak to release and then move on to other projects?
Right now, all my focus and energy are on Dhadak, but my mind is open.