It was always going to take a special project to entice recently married actress Drashti Dhami back onto television and that is exactly what she got with Ek Tha Raja Ek Thi Rani.
The new Zee TV serial, set in pre-independence India, went on air recently and revolves around an ordinary girl marrying into a royal family with dark secrets.
Eastern Eye caught up with the small-screen star to talk about the new serial, married life, beauty secrets and her incredible fan base.
The last time we spoke you were still deciding on what project to take up. What did you like about Ek Tha Raja Ek Thi Rani?
Honestly it is a different show. First, it is based in the 1940s. I haven’t seen many shows set in pre-independence India and tackling those kinds of topics. Then, of course, there were the palaces, vintage cars, the different hairstyles and outfits. It was also a different dialect, with an unusual story line. So everything attracted me to this show.
The simple look of your character is wonderful. How did you decide on it?
(Smiles) I know, I like it too. We tried a number of different hairstyles to see what would look nice. There were several vintage references and we went through quite a few designs to find the right look. We did a lot of research to see what people used to wear in that time period. We tried different styles and found the one that looked best.
Is it true that the producers did a lot of intensive research before starting?
Oh, there was a lot of research into every little detail. Even the carpets on our sets, artefacts and everything had to be authentic; they have been specially brought in from places like Rajasthan and Lucknow.
Were you nervous before the first episode aired because there are sky-high expectations around everything you do?
Yes, of course, I was very nervous, Asjad. I was excited at the same time because I was going to see myself on TV after a long time. I was totally nervous, but I think I’ve got a very good response so I am happy. I was waiting to get something different like this. The wait was totally worth it.
Tell us a little more about the storyline of Ek Tha Raja Ek Thi Rani?
The story is all about a common family living in pre-independence India and the secrets of a royal family. They look all nice, royal and happy, but what is the truth on the inside? That is what the show is all about. Then of course, it’s about a girl from a common family getting married to a prince and becoming part of a royal family. So it’s about how her life changes overnight.
Are the emotions and subject relatable to current times?
Yes, totally. I wanted to relate to the emotions and connect them to the current audience. I wanted people to get a fresh feel about a show (while doing that). We have used a lot of vintage stuff to capture the period. We tried really hard to get the authenticity with the characters and settings, but the emotions are all very relatable.
Have you learned anything new about the 1940s?
I have learned a lot and hope to learn a lot more as my character progresses. It’s going to be a really interesting journey. I am looking to do more research into that period, especially when my character becomes a part of the royal family.
How much do you like the vintage elements on the show?
I love vintage stuff and was thrilled when I got to drive a classic car. I was so excited, but scared at the same time because the cars are really valuable and the owners are in love with their cars. I didn’t want to damage them. I fell in love with the vintage cars, especially.
The last time I spoke to you it was also just before you got married. It doesn’t seem like marriage has changed you?
I believe I am totally the same person as I was before I got married. (Laughs) I think I am probably happier now because I get a lot more time to spend at home with my husband.
Honestly, there is no difference at all and no change. I feel the same and am treated the same as I was before. I don’t feel like a daughter-in-law; I am treated like a daughter by my in-laws so it’s really wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this.
Given how hard TV actors work, is it easy for you to strike a balance between work and married life?
It is difficult, but touch wood, I am pretty much balancing it as of right now. Like everyone knows I am very close to my family, love spending time with them and having get-togethers. So I don’t think it is a difficult task to strike that balance.
Your close friend Sanaya Irani is currently competing in Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, a reality TV series you won. Has she been getting advice from you?
Of course she has. We are very close friends and are in touch most of the time. Now, of course, we have started talking even more because I want to know about her every act and what’s going on. I want to know how it is going for her and if she is ready. She does get very nervous and I tell her not to be (and to have confidence in herself).
So what is the secret of winning that show?
I think she (Sanaya) is totally on the right track. This year the competition is very tough. Honestly this time there are lots of fabulous dancers on Jhalak. Many of them are trained dancers so competing against them is a challenge. I think the journey is all about a non-dancer becoming a trained dancer, so I think she has to really work hard, but I believe she is on it and hope she wins.
You are an incredible dancer. When will we see you dancing again?
(Laughs) Very soon, hopefully. I will be on some dancing thing, I promise. I don’t know yet what is coming, but if there is a performance happening, I will be a part of it for sure.
Would you enter another reality TV show?
No. I was very happy doing Jhalak but I am done with the reality TV shows that are presently around. I have done the one, which I had to win and I did. I’m very happy with that.
Have you got used to the fact that so many devoted fans watch your every single move?
I just feel really blessed and very happy. I’m not scared or nervous about it, because my fans and well-wishers give me so much love, so it’s totally okay. Very few people get to feel that much love and I am one of them. So it is amazing to get that level of unconditional love from so many people, when they know they may not get that same attention back because I don’t know them all. I thank God every day of my life for such wonderful fans, who love me for whatever I do. Honestly, I appreciated their excitement when they learned I was coming back on a show. I feel really privileged and feel that I have to give my best just for them.
What are your beauty secrets?
Honestly, I have no beauty secrets. The only one that I perhaps have is that I drink lots of water. And every time I wear make-up, I take the time to remove it because a make-up artist once told me that it takes 20 minutes or more to put it on, so how can you expect it to be off in two minutes? You need at least five-seven minutes to remove it. So clean it off really well and drink lots of water.
You look equally stunning in western and traditional outfits. Which are you happiest wearing?
I am much more comfortable wearing western outfits. (Laughs) By western I mean pyjamas, I think that’s the most comfortable attire that anyone can be in. But I definitely feel more comfortable in western wear, although I do love wearing traditional outfits.
When we last spoke, you were doing a lot of cooking. Have you learnt any more recipes?
No, I haven’t learnt new recipes and I still don’t know how to bake. That is something that I want to learn. But now that I’ve started working, I really doubt I will have the time (right now). But I just like cooking random stuff. Nothing special to be honest.
Would you like to give us a message for your fans?
Thanks for the wonderful response that you gave me when you learned that I am coming back on TV. I love you guys for that. I am open for all the comments that you are ready to give me. I love you and thanks a lot for loving me. I feel blessed, so thank you.
Finally, what is your idea of happiness today?
I think when you are content in life with everything that is going on, that is what leads to happiness. Having mental peace of mind, I think, is important.