When newcomer Athiya Shetty was offered a lead role in the Salman Khan-produced remake of Bollywood classic Hero, she didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The daughter of veteran actor Suniel Shetty, Athiya has grown up being surrounded by cinema and pretty much knew early on that she wanted to be an actress. That is why she embraced the challenge of portraying Radha, which was originally played by Meenakshi Sheshadri in the 1983 cult classic directed by Subhash Ghai. The contemporary version is directed by Nikhil Advani and also sees the launch of Sooraj Pancholi.
Eastern Eye caught up with the new kid on the Bollywood block to find out more about Hero, her future plans, aspirations, working with Salman Khan and more. She spoke with an assured confidence associated and maturity more associated with a seasoned campaigner.
Was acting always a part of the master plan when you were growing up?
Yes, I have wanted to be an actor ever since I was young. I remember dancing to Madhuri Dixit’s song Ek Do Teen [Tezaab] and reciting (film) dialogues in front of the mirror. I did theatre in school, so I was a creative child and wanted to do something performance-orientated.
How did you feel when you landed a lead role in Hero?
It didn’t hit me for a while. Getting a production house backed by Salman Khan and a director like Nikhil Advani is just a dream launch. I was very excited and I feel extremely blessed.
Were you worried you were being thrown in at the deep end because you are a newcomer working with such big names and in a remake of a classic film?
No, I never thought like I was drowning or anything because I had Salman sir and Nikhil sir, who were so supportive and so patient. They treated us so well and are extremely protective of us. So they never put that sort of pressure on us. It was more like, ‘you enjoy yourself while you are on set’. That’s how you get work done.
How does the remake compare to the original?
The story and the script is essentially the same because it is a remake. But in terms of character, locations and songs, it’s a much newer film targeted at today’s youth. The relationships we have in the film, whether it is between Sooraj and Radha, or Radha and her father, they are all very modern and cater to this generation.
When you signed on to play this role, did you watch the original one?
I decided not to go back and watch it because I didn’t want to borrow or steal anything. I wanted to make Radha’s character my own and give it my best. I didn’t want any comparisons to the original – we can’t be compared to that because it is a cult film.
Do you have a favourite moment from the Hero remake?
There is this one scene, actually. I can’t tell you too much about it, but when you watch the film, you’ll know. It’s the one which takes place in the airport. That scene is really close to my heart because it was extremely emotional and I loved every part of it.
Did you get any advice from producer Salman Khan when the film was being shot?
He never really was on set, but he is an extremely hands-on producer. He was very conscious and very conscientious about what happened around Hero, and around Sooraj and me. So he knew everything that happened on set, whether it was a scene, dialogue or even a shot, because he has edited the entire film. He is not the type to be preachy. So he told me about life, how to be a good human being – he said be humble, to work hard and never forget the people who have kind of given you a start.
What was it being like being directed by someone as established as Nikhil Advani?
I think that was a dream come true, as clichéd as it sounds, because I have always been his biggest fan. Kal Ho Naa Ho is one of my favourite movies. I was just so excited to know that he was directing me. He is an amazing director. He has the ability to get something special from each actor; highlighting their qualities and strengths. So I am blessed that he is not only my mentor in the industry, but also on life.
Can you share a story from the shooting of the film with us?
Lots of things happened, but I think my most memorable moment would definitely be the time we spent in Manali because that was the first schedule of the film that we shot and it was 25 days. We shot two of my favourite songs Jab We Met and Khoya Khoya in Manali. The unit just bonded and became a family. Sooraj and I got really close and it was a great experience. I was working away from home for the first time and it was just such a fulfilling experience.
You come across as someone who is very calm and experienced throughout the promotions of Hero. Where does that come from?
(Laughs) It’s just an act. I am actually not a calm person. I am extremely hyper and I can get stressed out. People close to me know that about me. I think I get a sense of confidence when I am around people – I’m most confident in front of a camera. That’s where it comes from, I guess.
Are you ready for all the attention that will be on you when the film is released?
I think I’m ready for that because I’ve been realistic since I knew I wanted to be an actor. I know there are two sides to the coin; there is success and failure, and I have to take criticism constructively. There are going to be people who don’t like the film. So you have to be ready for both sides.
Have you made a master plan going forward?
I’m waiting until the film is released before deciding on what to do next. Right now I’m really enjoying the promotions because everything is new to me. There are a lot of firsts happening and I want to enjoy the process.
Do you have a wish list of the kind of roles you want to play?
Yes. I definitely want to be a Sanjay Leela Bhansali actress once in my life because he is my all-time favourite. I love the world he creates and love how he presents his actors.
Your debut film is called Hero, so who would be your dream hero in the future?
(Smiles) Ryan Gosling from Hollywood for sure. If it was in Bollywood I really like Ranveer Singh. He is my favourite right now. I admire him as an actor and think he is doing such diverse roles. That shows his quality as an actor. I think after seeing Dil Dhadakne Do, he is definitely one of my favourites.
Which leading ladies do you look up to?
Kajol, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt.
There is amazing talent in Indian cinema right now. Are you ready for that competition?
There is tough competition, so you have to be on your toes and work extremely hard because everybody is so hardworking. Right now I feel like everybody else has made their mark, but I am still yet to do that. Hopefully I will be able to prove myself and be accepted.
Tell us something that not many people know about you?
(Laughs) I love food. I love eating.
What inspires you?
I don’t know how to explain it in words, but it is this fire that’s burning within me. I want to reach my goals and I want to do good work. I wanna work with amazing people.
Have you been to the UK?
I love London and visit every year. It’s my favourite destination in the world. I love the food, I love the people and love the shopping.
Why should we all go watch Hero?
Because it is a film that caters to everybody. It has action, it has romance, it has dance and it is passionate. There hasn’t been a young, fresh love story in a really long time. After Aashiqui 2, I don’t think there’s been anything that is so new and intense.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
Because it will, hopefully, enable me to play diverse characters in lots of different films. I think it’s really cool that I will get to play different persons in one lifetime.
Hero is in cinemas now.