Did you anticipate that you would receive so much appreciation for your debut film?
I didn’t, actually. When you are doing your first film, you have no idea how things are going to go. At that point in time, what really mattered was that I had an opportunity. Fortunately, I had worked enough years behind the camera and had started very young. When I read the script of ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’, I knew there was something special but ultimately, when you are in the project, you don’t really know how things are going to pan out. I feel a sense of gratitude for what the film has given me and the journey that I have had thereafter.
Were you apprehensive about playing Sandhya?
All the apprehensions that I had for the role went away when I was prepping up for it. It was such a major physical transformation that I went through. There are many social convictions for a girl; there are such high standards of beauty that are imposed upon us right from when we are very young. I got rid of them all while I was preparing for it. I was scared that because I was inherently a city girl; I just wanted to fit into the character. It was not only set in a beautiful small town of India but it was also a different period. It was the time before globalisation had really hit us and before the internet happened. Around that time I was literally a toddler. So, I had to make sure I do complete justice to the part that Sharat had written because it was very beautiful.
The script was penned about 8-9 years before its release. You were chosen from among 100 women who auditioned for the role. Do you feel it all came together at the right time just for you?
I would like to believe so; you need to channelise what you really want in life. I really wanted to be an actor and I have said this time and again. Many people had auditioned for the part. In fact, I auditioned many of those girls myself and also went through a very grueling audition process myself. I had to go through two-and-a-half months of auditioning because Sharat is a very fair man. But I am glad that I had to go through that process and prove myself even more because I was an employee. That gave me the confidence of having bagged the role purely on merit.
Not many know that you were trained for the role of Sandhya by your onscreen mother Seema Pahwa. Tell us about it…
Seema ma’am was not a part of the film when Sharat sir had brought her on board as a teacher for me. Obviously, everybody knows what a brilliant actress she is. I remember the first day when she had called me over to her house, she had told me to wear something Indian. When I reached her house, she went, ‘Tie up your dupatta. There are some dirty utensils over there in the kitchen, start cleaning them.’ I was shocked but that is what broke the ice between us. It was very important for her to transform me into that girl. We never did any lines, nor did we sit on any scenes; we used to discuss life experiences. It was very different. She literally taught me a lot of household chores. So through her experiences and mine, we kind of built the character, working around the canvas that Sharat had given us. We also worked on the language a little. Over a period of a few months, we created a girl who was in tandem with what Sharat wanted. And later, because our chemistry was so crackling, Sharat requested her to play my mother in the film. She happily obliged. Since then, we have had a beautiful journey. I have worked with her as much as I have worked with Ayushmann. Luckily, every time we have collaborated, our films have done beautifully.
Was it fun on the sets while shooting?
We had so much fun! It would anyway be memorable for me because it was my first film but the cast and crew of the film got along like a house on fire. We used to look forward to reaching the sets every day. It was very stressful for me because it was my first film but I had such a fun cast and they were all so supportive! We were constantly cracking up between takes. I was eating kachori, papdi chaat and what not. Of course, Sharat was great too. He really guided me through the film beautifully. What made the entire set a happy place was the fact that he, as a director, knew what he wanted to make. When a director has such clarity, it automatically becomes easy for everyone to follow. I am friends with most of them now and we are all still in touch. ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ was not just a film for me; it was a film that gave me a family, which doesn’t happen with every film. Not all films give you that sort of experience. I feel fortunate that my first film did that for me.
What was your first impression of Ayushmann Khurrana?
Ayushmann Khurrana, to date, even after a tremendous amount of success, is truly a down-to-earth person and he was exactly like that even then. We were very comfortable and became friends. He is a wonderful co-star and a superb actor to work with. What is beautiful is that he got success pretty early in life and he still remains grounded. He is brilliant!
What is the best compliment you received for your role in ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’?
I am not trying to brag but the film got a lot of love. Some of my most favourite actors messaged me telling me how much they loved my work. However, if there is something I’ll always cherish, it would be what my mum said. She is my biggest critic. She is a quintessential mother but she pulls our strings whenever required. She told me she didn’t really see me in the film, she only saw my character Sandhya, which was the biggest compliment for me.