The fact that countless fans around the world are eagerly waiting for Preetika Rao to return to the screen shows just how much of an amazing impact she made with her debut television serial Beintehaa.
Apart from winning over fans, the rising star showed off her acting range and demonstrated the kind of maturity associated with a seasoned performer.
Preetika aims to do things on her own terms, and that spirit was very much on display when EE caught up with her for an in-depth interview, where she talked about work, life, her fans and future aspirations.
The first question that countless fans sent in is, when are you returning to our screens again?
I really don’t know. Right now I’m on a well-deserved break after the colossal slog that an Indian daily soap has to offer the protagonist. Indian television is like a military training ground for an actor (laughs). I worked for 15 hours a day on average, without a single holiday for months.
I had my toughest performance scenes begin at 3am. One day after shooting from 9am to 11pm, I was suddenly told I have to begin shooting for a dance-sequence at the poolside from 12am until 5am. Most of my dance sequences were shot this way.
That sounds incredibly tough?
Television lead actors in India have a very tough schedule, and are not left with any choice because invariably the production house declares they have no footage left for the next day’s telecast.
In our case, this mostly happened because our team shot scenes elaborately like a Bollywood movie and focused on a quality output. However television gives a lot more in return, so I don’t regret the slog either.
Is the plan to carry on with television, or will you make the move to cinema?
If I got a good movie offer, I would love to take it up. During college I received some great offers from veterans like Pradeep Sarkar, Aamir Khan (for Imran Khan’s debut Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Naa), Kumar Taurani and Vashu Bhagnani. But I chose not to short-circuit education for cinema and have no regrets.
Besides my sister Amrita Rao, being a successful Bollywood actress, gave me a good insight into the industry. I did take up some south Indian movie offers post-college, but soon discovered that I didn’t enjoy working in the south. Living outside Mumbai and acting in a language totally alien to me was out of my comfort space.
I quit south Indian cinema for a degree course in broadcast journalism at the New York Film Academy. I chose television for a debut because right now it is huge in India, with every Bollywood celebrity wanting to be a part of it. I feel actors should be open to both these industries without making just one of them their priority.
How have you dealt with all the added attention you have received?
I’m quite enjoying it. For me, fame and attention is nothing but an opportunity given by God to receive the love of people from all over the world who appreciate your talent and encourage you to work more. I am thrilled when I find 13-year-olds calling me their role model.
What is your fondest memory of Beintehaa?
Beintehaa in itself is a fond memory. The grand set, the vibrant team of camera, light and sound technicians, and their beaming faces around me. The echo of my screen name Aaliya, which was invariably the ‘mantra’ on the set all day long.
The loneliness within the chaos, the me trying to find me, flavoured tea sessions over interesting tales in our vanity vans with actor Naveed Aslam, who played my maternal uncle. An amazing team of actors.
What have you been up to since Beintehaa ended?
My fans already know this. I am working on a secret project, which I will announce soon. They are eagerly waiting but I promise it’s just around the corner. I just had a photo shoot that went off really well. (Smiles) I have been catching up with the world that had I lost out on for almost a year during Beintehaa.
How important is it for you to do things on your own terms?
Very important. I am a very meticulous person who seeks perfection in everything I do. If I don’t supervise things from start to end, the outcome will lack a certain degree of perfection, at least in my eyes. Presentation and quality matters a lot, being artistic in nature and profession. I cannot do things half-heartedly. This all the more makes it important for me to do things on my own terms.
What roles do you want to play in the future?
It is difficult to get a dream role. I was lucky with Beintehaa, but I’m hoping to do roles that have some challenging performances that help me discover myself as an actress in the process.
You are also an accomplished writer. Is that something you will also pursue?
I used to be a film journalist but it is time-consuming, especially if you commit yourself to a daily or a weekly column with any publication. At the moment I am not finding time for it.
I also enjoy blogging, although I have only been able to blog on two topics to date, both highly controversial in nature; vegetarianism and religion. The response has been phenomenally positive from believers and skeptics. You will find the link on my website.
What are your passions away from work?
I’m passionate about singing, music and travelling. I’m obsessed with my tablet, which helps me search for and discover interesting people from all over the world. They teach me so many things that are of interest to me, from food and fashion to spiritual retreats.
Tell us something that not many people know about you?
I am such a pure vegetarian that I do not have eggs in cakes and food items.
What is the best piece of advice you have received since you became a star?
That one should be able to let go of stardom easily. After you reach the top most position, the only way out is a climb-down. This is more self-taught than advice received.
Could you share a beauty secret?
I firmly believe that beauty is an integral part of grooming. Attempt to look good because there is no procedure that guarantees permanent beauty.The day you stop caring about yourself; about your health, weight, hair, skin, teeth, dressing and appearance, there is no point brooding that you do not look good.
A lot of your fans also want to know how you stay in such great shape?
I’m a big fan of traditional Indian yoga. It has some great stretching exercises that keep me in shape. If I do not get time in the day, I simply do these stretches sitting in my bed just before going to sleep. You will wake up to see a big difference if you follow this pattern for a week, although the bed is not the ideal place for yoga.
Also, one has to initially learn yoga from a good teacher. Today you find many videos on the internet where most teachers do not even guide on the basic breathing technique to be followed while doing yoga, which is a very wrong way of teaching yoga.
Which cinematic hero would you love to be romanced by onscreen?
Ayushmann Khurrana or Ali Zafar, because both are singers and great actors. If I do a movie with them, it would be fun to sing the songs with them.
What has been your most memorable fan encounter so far?
Several, actually. Fans from different Indian cities would track us down and reach our set in Malad. A fan from London flew all the way down to Mumbai to meet me on the set before the show ended in November. She said that I really inspired her and changed her life.
A girl from Switzerland came to Mumbai with her mum and they both went about in Film City at Goregaon trying to find out if Beintehaa was filming there. They met up with a canteen guide, who was so kind that she not only found out our studio address at Malad, but also got them on our set to meet me. It is simply baffling.
Who is your acting idol?
There are many. But I admire Kishore Kumar. He was a genius; a singer, music composer, actor and director. And of course, Guru Dutt, who is my relative.
What are your cooking skills like, and do you have a killer dish?
My sister always gives me a big thumbs-up each time I surprise her with my cooking skills. I make good potato soup, biryani and fried rice. I don’t follow the recipe book. More recently, I made some yummy fried rice with bottlegourd and mushrooms.
Would you ever consider participating in a reality television show?
Nope. It is not my comfort space. I was recently offered a chance to participate in Nach Baliye and host Dance India Dance; however, I was not that keen on it.
How did you feel about being voted so highly on Eastern Eye’s list of 50 Sexiest Asian women?
I read a fan’s message on Twitter saying that I have reached the 10th position, beating the likes of Alia Bhatt and several Bollywood actresses. I was thrilled because I am just a product of one TV show. I am just a year old, unlike other TV actresses who are here since five, six years or more. But I guess my fans did the trick by voting heavily for me.
What would you say inspires you today?
I have always been a self-motivated person who taken inspiration from young achievers and from their success stories. They could be from any field.
Also fans on social networks play a major role in encouraging my talent and in keeping me motivated. Although my sister is a Bollywood star, my parents never asked me to get into cinema or do any acting course; they simply left my career to my choice. And I’m glad that I followed my instincts.
Finally, would you like to give us a message for your fans?
Keep loving me just like you do. Thank you loads for your votes that help me win contests and awards each time. I owe a lot to you guys and hope to come up with work that you would love watching me in.