A demure and subservient housewife Munira in Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi to a sensuous and psychotic serial killer Lovina in Hungama’s web series, Damaged, and the bubbly and ‘prankster’ wife of Manoj Bajpayee’s character in John Abraham’s upcoming Satyameva Jayate, Amruta Khanvilkar has constantly been reinventing herself and cannot be boxed into any one mould. For a long time that wasn’t the case. “I cannot express how grateful I am. For a long time, I was typecast by the Marathi industry and given roles where I had to dance and look beautiful. I’m not complaining it happened but I wanted more,” says 33-year-old Khanvilkar, who decided that she didn’t want to be restricted to one kind of role anymore.
When the National Award-winning film Katyar Kaljat Ghusali happened, Khanvilkar thought she had proven herself. “It was the chingari, the spark. But it was very shocking for me that despite that, I was offered no meaningful work by the Marathi industry,” she says.
Khanvilkar wanted to be more than “just a glam doll”. “That’s what one of the newspapers wrote about me. And till today, a lot of them address me that way. It disturbs me as I had been typecast for a long time. Honestly, I am a very ordinary looking Marathi girl and I can do more than just glam roles. Isn’t it ironical that I was getting these strong characters to play in Hindi films but in the Marathi industry, it was the same old stuff,” says Khanvilkar.
The actor began her career in 2004 after she won a talent show. She worked first in the Hindi film industry on a few projects before moving on to Marathi films in 2006, where she had a long and successful run. She is now returning to Hindi cinema with three back to back projects. “I don’t understand when people ask me, ‘Oh you were in Bollywood then you went to Marathi films and now you’re back’. I am in Mumbai, both the industries are here only. So what’s this ‘went there, came here?’ I didn’t do too many Hindi films in between and now I don’t have any Marathi film projects coming up,” she says.
So what happened after Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, a critically acclaimed film? “I just didn’t get work. I waited. And then I started making calls to casting directors, asking for work and meetings. When there was work, I got complacent. I am not overly ambitious as a person so as long as I had work, I was happy. But I am not egotistical either. When I didn’t have work, I went for auditions. Several of them. All of these roles I landed are through auditions. And I am not ashamed to say that even after so many years, I go auditioning for roles because honestly there is nothing wrong with it. They are not questioning your talent or your seniority, they just want to know if you fit that one role or not,” says Khanvilkar.
What shines through in this candid admission is how Khanvilkar isn’t averse to reveal the struggles she has gone through or is not embarrassed in admitting things that many wouldn’t talk about. She tells us that she has auditioned for at least a 100 ad films but was never offered one. “People kept telling me you’re such an ad face but when I went for auditions, I never landed the role. I auditioned for about a 100 ad films and not one was offered. It was easier to land a film than an ad for me,” she says.
She also talks about working in any format — reality shows and small roles in television — to make ends meet. “I don’t come from a privileged background. I knew early on that if I want to survive in Mumbai, I will have to work. This is an expensive city. So people came and told me that you’re sabotaging your career by doing TV’. But for me, it didn’t matter. I didn’t believe in waiting but making things happen. And it helped pay my bills,” she says.
Khanvilkar came from a middle-class Maharashtrian family, born and brought up in the suburbs of Vile Parle and Andheri and studied commerce in Pune. She says that she does not remember a single lesson taught in school as she sat by the window dreaming and “visualizing” things. “I came into the industry through a talent contest, the advertisement of which I had seen on TV. I wasn’t confident and I didn’t speak English well. Some people called me a vernac (slang for vernacular), to my face,” she says.
She was body shamed for being too fat and there were comments on her bleak film future after she got married. “The same people are going gaga over my success now. How does that make me feel? I believe in karma,” she says.
The bubbly and chatty Khanvilkar is quite opposite the shy Munira of Raazi. It was a role which has had her find fans on both sides of the border. “Munira’s character needed a certain thehrav, a calmness. When I was going through my worst phase, I experienced that as I waited patiently for good things to come. So for her character, I took the experience from my failures and channelized it into that character,” she says.
And for the serial killer Lovina, surely no personal experience could have matched up to that. She says with a laugh, “When my sister saw the show, she said, ‘This is you. You’re a sociopath deep down’.” Khanvilkar suddenly acquires a serious stance. “You know there are moments when nothing is going right for you. You’re angry and lonely. But on the surface you’re happy. That’s what Lovina is made of,” she says.
Her character in Abraham’s upcoming film, Satyameva Jayate, is, however, closest to the real and present her. “She is the wife that I am in real life. Constantly harassing her husband and pulling jokes on him,” she says.
Khanvilkar says that she is having a great time now as people have finally started to offer her a variety of roles. “I am hoping this will continue so I can prove myself. But even if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t mean that you have to drive yourself or others crazy around you. Or drown in misery. This is a phase, I am enjoying it. But I know these things are temporary. Tomorrow if I don’t act, my life doesn’t end. But I would have enjoyed this phase,” she says.