Indian television has now become a major force and one of the main reasons has been a handful of actors who have helped elevate it to a new level.
One of these stars is talented actress Sanaya Irani, who has impressed audiences with her performances and gained a global fan base. Such is her star power that last year, she beat off high-profile Bollywood actresses to be voted in the top five of Eastern Eye’s globally popular list of 50 Sexiest Asian Women. Sanaya has been taking a sabbatical since her last series Rangrasiya ended and is looking forward to returning to the small screen.
Eastern Eye caught up with Sanaya for one of her most in-depth ever interviews to talk about a range of subjects including television, her passions away from work, inspirations, moving to Bollywood, why she doesn’t see herself as sexy and acting.
How do you look back on your remarkable journey as an actress?
(Laughs) Oh my god. Actually, it has been remarkable. I didn’t think it would turn out like how it did. I feel blessed more than anything else because so many people come into this industry with such big dreams, and I guess only a few of them get fulfilled, so I feel lucky I even reached this position. Yes, it’s been a remarkable journey, but I have worked very hard and completely respected my work. I won’t take that away from myself. I think I also deserve part of the credit.
You must be proud that Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon is still going strong in so many countries despite it ending a few years ago?
Yes, it’s really amazing to think of it. It’s been years since I’ve been part of that show, but people will still call me (by my character name) Kushi when they see me. It feels really good. The show is over, but it’s good that it’s still going on in so many other countries.
You do different characters with each show. Is that a conscious decision?
I do, I wait for something that is at least different from the previous one. I’ve done quite a few shows now and you know how TV is. It’s not like you get a different character every second day. I mean, after Rangrasiya, I’ve been waiting for something good to come my way. But television can be a little bit of a stereotype, so I make a conscious effort to ensure that my character doesn’t resemble the previous one I have played. I try to sign something at least a little different and have managed it so far.
Fans are eagerly awaiting your return. Have you found something that you want to jump into yet?
I can’t talk about it right now because I haven’t signed a contract, but there is something and very soon people will know. I just hope it works out. Once all the formalities are done and the contract is signed, I think it will automatically be in the news. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed.
A lot of television stars have moved to cinema and you’re one of the biggest. Why haven’t you done the same?
I think somewhere I am staying away from it but I don’t know why. I’m just not very comfortable with Bollywood. It’s a very different world – you know, you hear all kinds of stories! I’m not saying anything is right or wrong, but I feel like I just don’t want to get myself there yet. I would do a Bollywood film if it were a really good banner – if Yash Raj Films or Karan Johar gave me a film, I would definitely do it. But it is not like Bollywood is my aim. I could not do it and I am fine about it.
Would you say television is more powerful than cinema in many ways now?
Of course it is, because you reach people on a daily basis. If I was in cinema I would probably do one or two films a year. With TV, I’m in people’s homes every single day. Honestly, when I started, it wasn’t as big as it was today. When I joined, my only intention was to act. I wanted to start off with a clean slate and build my way up to become a better actor. That is really all I wanted to do. I really didn’t think I would come this far and so much would work out for me. I am sometimes very pessimistic that way.
What do you mean?
I always underestimate myself and think I can’t do this or I can’t be so popular or I can’t do well. That is why I say I feel blessed and so happy this journey turned out the way it did.
Does a huge fan base put you under pressure in terms of their sky-high expectations?
I believe you can’t decide if a show is going to do well or not. Sometimes you can have the best content and a good channel, you could have everything, and things don’t work out. I think every show has its destiny and follows a path.
But what I can confirm is the kind of work that I do on the show. When I did Rangrasiya, it didn’t do as well, but I do know all my fans and the viewers really enjoyed watching the show. They liked it and would write wonderful things about it. For Chhanchhan, I hoped it would have turned out better than it did. But I don’t regret anything because I truly gave my best. Be it Rangrasiya, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon or Miley Jab Hum Tum, it doesn’t matter which did better – I think people who like my work liked it in all of them.
You must be happy about that?
Yes, like I said, I can’t make sure if a show will be a hit or flop, but I can make sure my fans enjoy what I’m doing and like the kind of work I do. I specifically select shows that are different or where my character is different, so they get to see a new side of me and it doesn’t bore them.
You must be getting offered a lot of reality TV shows. Is that something you will do?
I have always maintained that a dance show is the only thing I would do in reality TV. I once did a stint on some cooking reality show and didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t my cup of tea. Sometimes I feel the shows are not as real as they say it is. So I’m consciously staying away from it. I would never do a Bigg Boss or Fear Factor. I am so afraid of all of these things. It really takes guts to go there and I don’t think I have it. So if it was a dance reality show I would definitely do it, but besides that, no.
What are your biggest passions away from work?
Well, I love watching movies. I’m getting to spend a lot of time with my family. When I’m working I don’t get to spend as much time with them. So pretty much just lazing around and being with my family, watching films and hanging out with friends. All the things I never get to do when I’m working. I like cooking and I like baking, so I experiment with that. But I guess work will be starting soon and all of this will come to an end.
You have been voted in the top six of EE’s list of the 50 Sexiest Asian Women for the past two years. How do you feel about that?
(Laughs) I don’t feel sexy at all. It’s great that people think that I am, but it’s really funny because people who know me would never say I am sexy. I think people who vote for me don’t think I’m sexy, but they love me so much they want to me to make it on any kind of list, be it sexy or best actress. I truly believe that – if you genuinely asked people, I don’t think anyone thinks I’m sexy.
Looking ahead, do you have a dream role you would love to play?
There are certain films I look at and wish I could do that. I remember when I saw Black, I was like, ‘I wish I could do that’. I saw Queen and I came out thinking, ‘I don’t want to do films, but if I get a role like Queen, I would do it.’ So there are a few roles here and there but I really don’t think that much about it. To be honest, when something challenging comes to me, I get really scared.
Really? That is surprising.
I’m not one of those people who is like, ‘I’m going to do this and going to kick ass’ when something really challenging comes along. I get really scared. I go into my shell and think, ‘oh my god, why is somebody thinking I can do this?’
I felt that about each one of my roles, be it Rangrasiya or Iss Pyaar Ko. I have had the toughest time when I started off. I always underestimate myself and think I won’t be able to pull it off, but somehow I manage. That is why I don’t think of a dream role because I don’t even think I can pull off what I am thinking. So there’s no point thinking. I just want to take it one step at a time.
If you wrote a script for a show yourself, what concept would you write about?
(Thinks) This is something I’m going to have to think about. I can’t think of anything right away, but I really love comedy. I wish I could do something like that, you know. I see so many of these English comedies that are so well done, so I wish I could do something like that.
Character-wise, if am greedy, I want to do something challenging, like maybe portray a girl who is physically challenged. I don’t know if I could ever do it, but I want to try something like that.
What inspires you?
Well, I don’t know if it’s an inspiration, but I just want to become a better human being. I just want to be completely honest with myself and with people around me. I just want to help people as much as I can. It’s not a ‘Mother Teresa type speech’, I truly want to.
I always wonder, will I ever have that much of an income to help so many more people? We are in the television industry today, but tomorrow we may not be. I just wish I knew I would have that much income coming in from every time of my life so I could go out there and help so many more people. I want to do that. I just want to become a better person.
Finally, what message would you like to give to your fans?
I would like to tell them, thank you so much for everything you have done for me. Watching all my shows, for loving me, for enjoying everything that I’ve done, so thank you so much. I will be back soon and I will need your support. So you have to promise me that you are going to be there to support me.
Hopefully in the future, I will also do more interviews, so a big sorry that I don’t do more interviews. I am just a weird person that way, when I’m not in the limelight, I like not to be in it. I feel my work should speak for itself. But I get it. People don’t see me in so long and do expect one or two interviews, so I promise there will be more. And you will see me back on TV very soon. I need all your love and your support.
Special thanks to www.twitter.com/teamsarun and www.facebook.com/teamsarun