We asked the leading lady’s of Bollywood about that one actor who had inspired them the most. Here’s what they said.
I am someone who has always wanted to be an actor and have grown up watching some spectacular performances. But if I had to choose one actor who has been an inspiration, it has to be Sridevi. She stands out for her sheer versatility and complete conviction with which she does every moment of every role.
To understand the brilliance of the actor that Sridevi is, it is enough to sit through Mr India just once. I feel it is by far the most complete performance given by any actor in the industry. To me, it is equivalent to reading a whole encyclopedia of acting. What an awe-inspiring performance it is! Within just one film, through a single character, she personifies the navarasas beautifully, effortlessly and with complete conviction.
Despite being the superstar she is, her simplicity fascinates me. I remember once just after I had finished Parineeta, I had walked into a salon in Juhu to find her getting a manicure done. There she was, “the Sridevi” and I couldn’t believe that I was in the same physical space as her. She smiled at me and I kept stealing glances at her to see if she was in fact human…you know flesh, blood et al!
What I love about her is the fact that she doesn’t intellectualise her characters and performances too much. I am sure there is a lot of thought that goes into every role she takes up and she might sure have her own process as well. But when you watch her, you hardly see any traces of that. She submits, commits and surrenders completely to her craft and each makes every expression seem instinctive. That unquestioning faith she has in the work she does is what I would like to imbibe from her.
It was five years ago, in 2009, that I came to Mumbai. Unhappy and defeated, I cursed the recession which had deprived me of a well-paying job in a London bank. I was just testing the waters in Mumbai and keeping myself occupied with no intention of staying for long.
During one of my initial days as a part of the Yash Raj marketing team, I got to manage Rani Mukerji for a day. Although I was not someone who grew up watching a lot of films, Rani was someone I liked a lot. That day, I spent about 2 hours with her in the car and she asked me why I didn’t consider acting as an option. I was not in my best shape then, so she told me that I had the personality to become an actor and I should think about it. I don’t know if that was when the seed of the desire to become an actor was planted in me, but soon I started thinking, ‘why not! I should give it a shot.’
Now that I am an actor, I know what lies behind all the glamour. There is a lot of hardwork and as an actor there are so many things you should be looking out for. It is not that you come all dolled up, say a line and leave. With this experience, I can say that one actor I thoroughly admire and respect is Rani. What I like about her is the fact that she has managed to achieve a sort of balance between commercial films and the character-driven ones.
In Rani’s case, she manages to bring an element of liveliness to everything she does. I love her performances not just in films like Black and No One Killed Jessica, but also in the breezy ones like Hum Tum and even in something like a Hadh Kar Di Aapne. She makes her characters believable. Although the role in a usual rom-com like Hum Tum looks easy, it is tricky as the story travels through different phases of her character’s life. It looks effortless because Rani has portrayed it with such elan.
If there was something I could learn from Rani, it would be her ability to switch on and switch off with ease. She is not a method actor. One moment she would be cracking jokes and laughing and the next moment she would snap into an intense, emotional scene. Her choices of films and the hardwork she puts into each performance is what inspires me. I see it as destiny that the actor whom I admire the most itself put the idea into my head and handheld me into acting.
Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t have been born in this time and age. I am such a lover of what has gone by and I sometimes find myself thinking that the best has already happened. Be it in terms of films, music or fashion, I feel the beauty, purity and sincerity in art as a whole has somehow been diluted nowadays. I have said this before and will say it again that the golden age of Hindi cinema was without doubt the 50s.
One actor who has left me speechless is therefore Waheeda Rehman. I have done a film with her and whenever we were on sets together, I would just stare at her in awe. I would be thinking to myself, ‘this is the woman from Pyaasa and Guide! Here she is, Guru Dutt’s muse, standing in front of me like any other ordinary woman’. Last year I got a chance to sit down and interview her one on one. We spoke at length about the films she did, her process, her thoughts, her characters… It was such a fantastic chat and I was like a little kid trying to absorb all I could from her words.
In every sense, Waheedaji is a role model for me. Right from her acting, her choice of films, her fashion sense, everything. My favourite performance of hers is Rosie from Guide. She was way ahead of her times, so real and not the conventional, traditional sati savitri. She had her flaws and flaunted them as she did her strengths. It requires great guts to choose to play a Rosie at that time. It is this streak of adventure, this quality of daring to different things that I want to imbibe from Waheedaji. There was so much of warmth and happiness in her acting. Like Waheedaji, I hope that I am able to do films that will make people remember me for the actor I am and be able to look beyond my face.
Inspiration is a tricky thing because for me I have seen that it changes with time. Creatively as you go along, every film and actor influences you in some way or the other. But one person who has been a constant source of inspiration for me is Vidya Balan. I met her for the first time while she was still modelling and doing music videos. We were both aspiring actors then and I remember she had no qualms in parting with her set of contacts with me. She was in fact the first one to give me a set of 20-25 phone numbers and instructed me on how to approach ad filmmakers and other important people. Right from then, I knew that she would make it big in the industry. And look at her now. It is solely her dedication and perseverance that has helped her get here. Also, her guts to make the choices she made, they have been so interesting.
Right from Parineeta, one can say that Vidya brought back the idea of the traditional Indian beauty which had been forgotten till then. She is the one who should be credited for opening that chapter in contemporary times, an aesthetic which still refuses to die down. Vidya embraced herself and her Indianness like no other woman and celebrated both for what it is. The film that just blew me away was Ishqiya. What was that! Never in recent times had I seen a quintessential Indian woman revelling in her sexuality, flaunting it like its no one’s business and looking absolutely at ease while doing so. Even in her later choices, there is that sense of abandon that can be seen. Be it The Dirty Picture, Kahaani or the recent Ganchakkar, the moment you look at her, you know that she doesn’t care what you may think of her. She is just having a blast doing her own thing. That is what makes her such a treat to watch.
Whenever I have met her, the one thing that has struck me is her humility. Vidya carries no baggage of her star status and is extremely humble and affable. When people become successful, I have seen them becoming reclusive and cold. With Vidya, it is the opposite, she just gets even more warmer every time I meet her. Humility, gratitude and generosity, I believe, are the things that had made what her what she is today and I would like to learn those Vidya. And, yes to surrender myself totally to my craft like she does.
For me, the most iconic actress of our times is Madhuri Dixit. She is a real goddess. A whole generation was star-struck by her and the phrase “main Madhuri Dixit banna chahthi hoon” became the life story of many a young girl then. She is just fantastic, a 360 degree entertainer… an apsara! She was much ahead of her times and so much more talented than her male counterparts.
The biggest tragedy of our times, in my opinion, is that we never tried to recognise her wholesome talent. The films and roles she was offered only tried to take advantage of her dancing skills, when she had so many more layers to her.
The real reason I am inspired by her is because of all the commercial work she has done. Be it a Jamai Raja or Beta, she stood out in everything she did. Madhuri could pull off the weirdest costume, the weirdest dialogue, the weirdest dance move, and she would look so real. And, what is more amazing is that she is still around. In an industry, which is so cruel and unforgiving to women, she has managed to bag interesting roles. When the men she once acted with are still romancing young girls and doing pretty much the same things, Madhuri has reinvented herself, be it in films, in television or through her dance. I can’t think of anyone in my generation who can pull off everything–be it comedy, drama or dance– like Madhuri did.
This might sound weird coming from me because of the baggage people carry in their minds thanks to my work, but I think Madhuri’s performance in the song Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai is just unbeatable. If you can show me one actress today who can do it with the same level of grace, I will stop acting that day. As an actor, I know how hard it is to perform like that in front of an all-male film set. There will be 50-60 men gaping at you and to dance and emote with such a level of abandon is a feat in itself.
The fact that we always limited her to playing somebody’s sister, lover or sister-in-law is complete injustice to her talent. As an industry, I feel we have done a disservice to her, I feel, and hope we are able to correct it in the future.