Saiyami Kher: Working on Mirzya was life altering

Saiyami Kher as Sahiban (left) and Soochi in Mirzya
Saiyami Kher as Sahiban (left) and Soochi in Mirzya

New Bollywood film Mirzya will have a glitzy premiere at the 60th BFI London Film Festival on Thursday (October 6).

Acclaimed director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s contemporary adaptation of the ancient Mirza Sahiban love legend also launches newcomers Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher.

Model turned actress Kher has already garnered a lot of attention leading up to her Hindi film debut and hopes Mirzya will be the first step towards glittering Bollywood career. She plays two roles set in different eras in the episodic big-budget drama of star-crossed lovers.

Eastern Eye caught up with the star of the future to talk about Mirzya ahead of its release and find out more about her.

How did you feel when you landed the lead role in Mirzya?

Much before my last audition happened, Rakeysh sir had made me do some workshops in Delhi. He said he would test me again only after the workshops and training was done.

Those three months were the most enriching time in my life. I spent time with theatre stalwarts like Dilip Shankar and Adil Hussain and they changed my entire perspective on life. Weirdly, I started enjoying the journey more than the destination. I also had the opportunity to learn horse riding, which was something I had never done in my life.

So when the time came for the final audition, I knew my life had changed regardless of the outcome. I was very composed when I got a call saying that I was on board. It was only later when it sank in that things are not going to be the same for me any more.

What was working on the film like?

Life altering. How many people get the opportunity to get to work with someone like (writer) Gulzaar saab in their first film? Just sitting and listening to stories he narrates gives you an idea of the amount of life experience he has had.

Then there’s Rakeysh sir, who has been such a huge influence on me. We have so much in common that I know these past few years are going to be something I cherish.

I remember one time, we were shooting in Ladakh, and there was an important cricket match going on. Rakeysh sir and I were buffering the game on his five-inch phone and trying to watch it between shots. They (the Mehras) have become family for me.

How aware were you of the Mirza Sahiban love legend?

We have grown up hearing stories of Heer-Ranjha, Romeo and Juliet, Laila-Majnu and of course, Mirza-Sahiban. Regardless of whether we read up on it, there’s so much reference to them in popular culture that we’re bound to know a little.

I had never delved into the details of these stories, and Rakeysh sir actually didn’t want us to read up much about it either. If I read too many interpretations of the story, I was afraid it would influence me and I wouldn’t be able to do justice to his interpretation of it. I read the script and I spoke to Rakeysh sir and Gulzar saab a lot. At the end of the day, it’s their vision that I had to portray. Of course, after filming I’ve read up a lot on it.

Tell us about your characters in it?

So our film has two parallel stories going on at one time. There’s the folk tale as well as the contemporary story. How many people get to do a double role in their first film? For both the roles, the preparation was enormous, the mythical folk world version of it, especially.

Sahiban is a very strong character. She’s strong, has a raw sensuality to her and she’s vain. They didn’t want me to look like a dainty princess, so there was a lot of physical transformation needed.

As a character, I could relate more to the contemporary role of Soochi, who is adventurous, high spirited and is going through a lot of emotional turmoil. Her character is very complex but in many ways, it’s very close to me. I guess, that’s why Rakeysh sir chose me.

Who will this film appeal to?

A variety of people. First, it’s a visual spectacle. We’ve shot in some unexplored parts of India and I have realised that we underestimate the beauty in our country. The cinematographer has done a tremendous job of capturing the raw beauty in these places.

Second, it’s my favourite album by (music directors) Shankar Ehsaan Loy. In a time where meaningless lyrics rule the charts, they have really gone back to our roots and created a masterpiece.

Tell us more about the music?

Where do I begin? It is a musical, so there are a lot of songs and verses through the film. We are already the number one album on iTunes, and for me that says it all. There is a folksy flavour to the music, with a very strong classical backing. There’s one EDM track as well and Siddharth Mahadevan’s Teen Gavah is the easy breezy romantic song. It’s been so wonderful to hear Dalerji’s (Mehndi) voice after so long. And as clichéd as it sounds, they are all my favourites. It depends on my mood for the day when I’ll listen to that one song on loop all day.

Which is your favourite moment in the movie?

All the horse-riding sequences. I had never been on a horse before, so it was a huge learning curve. One time when we were training, I had such a bad fall that my entire left side was bruised and bleeding. The trainer didn’t let anyone help me, and told me to get right back onto the horse. Apparently if you don’t do that, it instills a fear in you of the animal. So I got back up, battered and bruised. It was literally a painful lesson to get up after every fall.

Are you excited about the fact that the movie is premiering at the BFI London Film Festival?

I’ll be seeing the finished film there for the first time myself and I can’t wait to see how it has turned out. I can’t wait to see peoples’ reactions. It’s also going to be my first time on a red carpet, so I’m really looking forward to that.

Mirzya is a love story, but how romantic are you in real life?

Very romantic. I believe love is the most important emotion a human can experience. I want the whole Disney fairytale. Doesn’t every girl? I love rom-coms and have a huge collection of those films.

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

I want to do films that challenge me as an actor and push my boundaries. I have grown up playing competitive cricket and badminton, so I would love to do a sports film.

Who are the leading ladies you most admire?

I love Jennifer Lawrence’s work. She spectacular and her body of work is enviable. I also really like Alia’s (Bhatt) work. I was blown away by her performance in Udta Punjab and Highway. She manages to touch a nerve and move you, and that’s what an actor should be able to do. I also love Waheedaji’s (Rehman) work. The poise and grace that she has is eternal. Also, what Priyanka Chopra, Nimrat Kaur and Freida Pinto are doing outside India is very commendable. They are paving a path for us, and not too many people have done that before.

Why do you love cinema?

It’s a place where anybody and everybody who wants to tell a story comes together. Writers can tell stories through books, actors through theatre, musicians through songs, lyricists through poetry and cinematographers through probably still photography. But when everyone comes together, it creates something completely different. It’s magical. It transports you to another world. And there’s no denying the fact that it has been the most defining medium of communication in this century.

Finally, why should we watch Mirzya?

The film is visually stunning. It’ll give you major wanderlust for your next Indian holiday. The music isn’t something we get to hear a lot of these days, it transports you to another time and it’s mesmerising. And it’s the retelling of an eternal love story by two of India’s biggest storytellers, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Gulzar. For me, as a moviegoer, those two names are a reason enough to watch the film.

Mirzya premieres at the 60th BFI London Film Festival on Thursday (October 6) and is released in cinemas on Friday (October 7). The festival runs from Wednesday (October 5) to Sunday (October 16) at venues across central London. Log onto for details.