Perhaps Amrita Rao’s greatest achievement is that she has done things on her own terms. The talented actress has been able to do this because the film industry has regularly approached her with diverse projects and allowed her to pick the ones suited to her comfort level. This desire to do things her own way led the Bollywood star to take on &TV show Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hai, which has been topping the ratings and proving that she is one of the most gifted performers of her generation.
The hit series has a finite number of episodes [similar to shows in the west which have a set number of episodes per season] and revolves around two sisters in the singing profession who become rivals across different generations.
Eastern Eye caught up with Amrita in the middle of shooting to talk about the TV series, challenges of acting on television and future plans.
Was it difficult to decide to go from cinema to doing television?
I certainly believe that television is a bigger medium than cinema. Ultimately most films depend on television for longevity and to be connected with the audience or to be alive in their memory. Television also has a huge reach in terms of day-to-day connection with people, so if you are successful you have a different and emotional level of connect with audiences. I also believe this is just the beginning of finite series becoming popular. They are going to be the future of TV, I am 100 per cent sure about that. They will be bigger than movies.
What did you like about Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hai for you to say yes?
The concept. I have been approached by the top TV channels, to venture into finite series or to do fiction on television. This has been the case for the past two years, but nothing really inspired me. But with Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hai, I think the concept is the heroine of the series. And I had to say yes because it’s a very illustrious role that I got to play.
Many feel the series about two singing sisters who become rivals has been inspired by Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar. Is that true?
(Laughs) Well, comparisons are inevitable. But I think any comparison to Latajee or Ashajee would only be taken as a compliment. However, our story is about two retro singers who are professional rivals at one point in their lives. So comparisons are inevitable, but they are soul singing sisters.
What was the biggest challenge of playing this role?
I believe this particular role needed an experienced actress. So I am very grateful to the film industry for giving me that opportunity. The biggest challenge is to connect with people who are distracted. Like prime time on TV, it’s prime time at home too.
The phone is buzzing, there is so much noise in the kitchen, the doorbell rings and so on. So in the middle of that, to hold the audience’s attention is the biggest challenge. The second thing I felt was doing fiction on TV is like doing four films at one time.
Probably more, because there are usually more than 100 episodes in each show?
Yes, Asjad, perhaps even more. In the screenplay of a movie, there would be one or two emotional high points, some romantic scenes, a few comedy scenes, but the capacity of a television show is such that every episode has an emotional high point. So the challenge is that it keeps pushing you and giving you so many scenes, challenges and situations to keep working on. I think it’s been creatively very exciting for me.
You have acted in lots of genres, but which one is your favourite?
I think emotion is my favourite. I enjoy it and I would like to believe that I am better in emotional scenes.
You have worked with incredible people and huge names. Who has been your favourite?
Sooraj Barjatya, as there is nobody like him. It was a completely special experience to be directed by him. He writes his characters and lives them. They live with him forever. He really knows his characters and I think the way he explained them, the passion with which he narrated, it really drew tears to my eyes so I just had to copy him.
Is there a role you haven’t played, but would like to?
Yes, I would love to perhaps recreate Anarkali of Mughal-e-Azam.
Will we ever see you and your talented sister Preetika Rao acting together?
I would love to, but right now I am doing a show with a sister-sister dynamic, and I don’t see myself doing something similar immediately. So that might have to wait a little bit, but she is such a gifted actress and I am so proud of her. She has stood her own and not chosen to ride on my success or image. She has seen struggle – some worked, some didn’t and finally when it worked, she did so well. She is a selfmade girl and I am so proud of her. We are a family of self-made people.
What are your biggest passions away from work?
I believe I am very creative, so anything creative interests me. I can write screenplays and dialogue, so I contribute when I am working on my scenes; of course, with the assistance of my director. I also have an interest in editing. I have a fascination for interiors – recently I did up the interiors of my house without having a professional interiors person. I supervised everything with my team of carpenters, electricians and everything. I did it from scratch. I like to do things on my own even if it’s sitting with my PA with my accounts or paying the bills and so on. I kind of get involved in all departments.
Can you see yourself directing a movie one day?
I would love to, but not so soon.
Do you have a favourite movie? My favourite film of all time would be Andaz Apna Apna. Which leading man would you love to be romanced by on screen? I would love to work with Matthew McConaughey or Leonardo DiCaprio, because they are two of the finest actors we have right now. So are you going to balance film and television projects in the future? Both will be my priority. In fact, I always admired Jennifer Aniston. I used to look at her and think, ‘wow, she is so good on TV and equally good at films.’ I never thought I would do something similar. I will continue to do finite shows on TV if really exciting concepts come along.
What inspires you today?
Good actors inspire me. Good work that other people leave behind motivates me because as an actor you need to be inspired constantly. So when I see a good performance it totally inspires me.
Tell us about your fashion inspirations because you always stand out on the red
(Laughs) I am too lazy to be a fashionista. Honestly, I think I’m just bound by compulsion – I feel compelled to be a fashionista because it has kind of become a prerequisite now. It is an imposition of this industry that you have to succumb or surrender to, but it doesn’t make me happy.
I feel it takes away so much of your time, effort and energy. It takes a lot of effort to be perfect, but then you are judged, criticised or rated. I believe that fashion has to be customised and you have to feel comfortable in what you are wearing. I don’t like to do fashion under compulsion, adopt trends, embody it or whatever, because that is not me. I am in a profession where you are otherwise judged even with costumes, so it doesn’t give me any more pleasure to listen to these fashion blogs and criticisms.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
I love cinema because you walk into a studio and you create history. Not only that, the energy and the focus of so many professionals and talents come together to achieve that perfect shot and when you see that, it’s great. It’s all departments coming together, from the DOP (director of photography) and lighting to make-up, costumes and everything else. All of these energies have to be perfectly synced. It’s like being in this perfect creative focus. You will not be in this world one day, but your work will forever be there to be seen. That’s why I think cinema is magical.