Former Miss World Manushi Chhillar made her big screen debut with Samrat Prithviraj, in which she stars opposite Akshay Kumar. After waiting for over a year for her first film to release, the actor is relived that the period drama is finally out.
In this interview with indianexpress.com, Manushi opens up about her dream debut, giving up the plan to become a doctor for a career in showbiz and the inadvertent delays her debut faced. The budding actor also addressed the age-gap controversy with her co-star Akshay Kumar.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did Samrat Prithviraj happen? It was offered to you just a year after your Miss World title win.
Winning a beauty pageant gives you a platform and popularity, which leads to a certain interest in the industry. You’re popular, people are talking about you, and are interested in you, so there’s a good incentive for people to launch you at that time. But I was very clear in my head that I didn’t want to be an actor. After the Miss World pageant, I wanted to go back and complete my studies. But, when it is a project like Prithviraj and someone like Doctor sahab (Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi), a banner like Yash Raj Films, there are multiple reasons to do the film. This is a story that we all have heard while growing up. Samrat Prithviraj and Queen Sanyogita’s love story is very popular. I was still confused whether I should do the film or continue with my studies. But, by then people already knew me and it was not possible for me to go back to living the life of a regular student.
I realised that if I go back to college, I won’t be able to live a normal life. In fact, my first year marksheet was all over the internet. I was not prepared for that kind of exposure. I started feeling that I’ll never be able even get bad marks. And as a student, you deserve a certain kind of anonymity, and privacy, and that was something that I didn’t have. Then, I had such a big opportunity right in front of me, and my family and the Miss World people told me to go with the flow.
So is there a regret that you couldn’t finish your studies? You would have been a doctor today.
I was conflicted between studies and doing this film. I am quite sad, because you prepare for a year with boards and entrance exams, you make some sacrifices as a student. I was in college for 12-18 months and it wasn’t exactly easy. In my first year, I had anatomy, and I had smoothly passed it, so, I knew I would be able to do other subjects well as well. Both my parents are doctors and I was quite confident about that field. I knew what direction I wanted my career to take.
Films are an unknown territory for me. I am experiencing and discovering at the same time. Here, I can’t chart out my life, my career. So, I was tempted to stick to what I was more comfortable doing. I would rather become a king of what I knew than a jack of what I don’t. But I had to take a decision and I am glad things worked out. I started enjoying acting, I really love what I do. That was the only fear I had that I may not enjoy what I am doing.
You had to wait for a long time for the film to finally release.
I fell in love with the process of filmmaking when I signed Samrat Prithviraj but there was a niggling fear in my mind — what if I’m really awful at this, and I’ll never be able to act ever again in my life? I didn’t want to do anything that I am not good at. But then, the pandemic came as a reality check and I spent so much of time waiting for it.
Yes, you do feel a little disturbed, you do feel impatient. I always thought I am a very patient person, but last one year has tried my equilibrium as the film’s release kept getting pushed. But it was a pandemic, and everyone was suffering.
When we started shooting, the prep took long. In the time I was preparing for the film, many films were shot and released. Prep from this film took a lot of time. The shooting itself was not as long drawn out as it can be for a period film, but our days were spread out because we had huge sets and making and breaking them was time consuming. Song preps were also extensive. The film took time to shoot and then Covid-19 entered our lives. But, I realised that everyone is going through hardships, and that having a film delayed is not so bad, considering the fact that there were people losing their jobs, their livelihoods, losing their lives. So, I am just glad that period has ended for everyone and we are all back to work.
This is your debut film, the age-gap between you and Akshay has been questioned on several occasions. How do you look at it, what do you have to say about it?
I would like to point out that our characters (Prithviraj and Sanyogita) also had an age difference. Irrespective of who is older than whom, it doesn’t matter if the woman or man is older, the cast should be appropriate. When you are an actor, you should look like the character, irrespective of the character being younger or older than your actual age.
You’re a good actor if you’re able to look (close to your character). Your director plays an important role in it too because he has to present you in a certain way. You have to look the age of the character you’re portraying, that’s more important than the actual age of the actor. In the future I’m sure that I’ll play characters much older or younger than me, but as long as I am able to convince people that I am the character, then I have done my job.