Mallika Sherawat Exclusive Interview: ‘I Wanted to Reinvent Myself and This Was the Perfect Role!’
Mallika Sherawat stars in RKRKay. (Outsider Pictures photo)
By R.M. VIJAYAKAR Special to India-West
MUMBAI — Mallika Sherawat first captivated Indian audiences in the 2003 film “Khwahish” (2003) with 23 kisses. In the following year, she starred in the annual topmost hit, “Murder,” an erotic thriller. She caught the attention of Jackie Chan, who cast her in the 2005 film “The Myth” and she emerged as a breakout star at the Cannes Film Festival, with Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss calling her “the next big thing.”
Sherawat was seen in the Indian American film “Hisss” (in which she also made her debut as co-producer and singer) with the late Irrfan Khan, for which she won a Kalakar Award for Best Actress. Other popular film credits include “Dasavatharam,” “Welcome,” “Pyaar Ke Side/Effects” and “Time Raiders,” which made $127 million at the box-office.
The first Hindi film actress to meet President Barack Obama, Sherawat’s popularity has immensely grown within the Hollywood community.
She is a strong advocate for women’s issues, environmental causes, and nutrition, and has appeared on CNN with Piers Morgan and on Chelsea Show on Netflix. She has a degree in Philosophy and resides in Los Angeles and Mumbai. Sherawat was given a special honor by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a council presentation, recognizing her as the first star to be honored with a Resolution in her name from the City of Los Angeles for her extraordinary career and charitable efforts and getting an Honorary Citizenship.
Additionally she received the Diversity Award in Hollywood, and the mayor of Jersey City presented her with the Arts Award and she was the first star from Asia invited to the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.
Her predominant image in India, thanks to her first two films, was glamorous, and she was branded as a sex-symbol. Cameos in songs in films like “Guru,” “Aap Kaa Surroor” and others followed.
Quite naturally, 19 years into a remarkable career, Sherawat was looking for a change, a reinvention. She had shown a great flair for comedy as well (“Welcome,” “Maan Gaye Mughal-E-Azam”) and she found a great opportunity in “RK/RKay,” Rajat Kapur’s meta-movie, to fulfill her ambitions.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Assignments abroad, films in Mumbai, web series…how do you decide on what to do at any time?
A: I go by the story and director. I am, for example, doing a series for MX Player in which I have a role with depth.
Q: What made you choose “RK/RKay?”
A: I am a huge admirer of Rajat Kapur’s work and serious directors like him, and I also fell in love with the script and the character. The fact that it is getting a theatrical release in USA and Canada on May 14 even in these days is something special. And those who have watched the film have been wowed by it.
Q: I watched the film too, and it struck me that while you have the dominant role or a lengthy role in most of your solo films, it is not so here.
A: But I think this is my meatiest role! The romance, the choreography in-built in it was so good. The Americans who have watched the film I loved me.
We even did research on 1960s actresses like Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman. I watched so much of ‘60s cinema. I agree it is not a character that is there throughout the film, but quality is very important, right? Like Ajay Devgn’s character in “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.”
Q: And the double role was an additional asset.
A: Of course! We have Neha, who has lot of energy and is a temperamental, high-maintenance actress, and Gulabo, the role she plays, who exists only on screen, that too in the ‘60s. You see, my career and Mumbai gave me lots of money, fame and hit songs, but these kind of serious roles were not offered to me. Gulabo had a lot of glamour but there was also depth in the two roles.
Q: And it all came together at the right time.
A: Yes!!! Rajat is one of our finest directors, and I have loved all his work, whether it was “Aankhon Dekhi” or “Mithya” or “Kadakh” in which everything happened in one room and yet was so engaging.
Q: And the time was ripe for reinvention.
A: Of course! I want to reinvent and change, add layers to my image, not necessarily change it completely.
Q: “RK/RKay” is a meta-movie. How familiar are you with this genre?
A: I have watched a few, like some of the work of the Coen Brothers.
Q: Do you expect more meaty roles now in India and the US?
A: I do. But in the US, it will take a while, as the film industry will begin functioning only next year. So it’s too premature to think about this, but I am really hoping it will happen.
Q: You recently also did a series in India called “Booo…Sabki Phategi.”
A: I did it for Farhad Samji, with whom I had a long association and we were planning to collaborate for a good while. The clincher was when he told me that Sanjay Mishra was to be my co-star. Ranvir Shorey, Rajat, Sanjay—these are actors with whom you enhance your performance skills while working with them.
Q: Indian web series are a great new avenue for actors, but do you agree with the excess in expletives, sleaze and violence just because there is no censorship?
A: No way! I think that with freedom comes great responsibility. But it is really great and gratifying that a series like “Delhi Crime,” for example, has a lead role for a 50 year-old actress. It’s a wonderful platform.