You’ve said it was a dream come true to work with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. What did you get to learn from him?
Working with Rakesh sir, I got to learn different techniques of acting. The first and foremost thing is that you don’t need to act, you just need to feel the moment. What he also taught me is that, for an actor, the biggest ‘khazana’ are the memories–you need to relate them to your scenes and it always brings out magic. Also, Rakesh sir has never put pressure on me as an actor; he always used to have a conversation about the scene. I used to watch the monitor after every take, but then he said, “Mrunal, jo dil se aata hai (what comes from the heart), you don’t even need to watch it, you know it is the best”. So, I think, after working with him, I don’t really care about how I am looking. I have realised that you know when it is your best take and you need to have faith in your director. I’ve learned so many small things from him. He gave me all the liberty and freedom and that’s when the magical moments came out. I love that about him.
‘Toofaan’ was shot just before the pandemic. The shooting would have been completely different from ‘Jersey’, which you shot during the pandemic?
When you shoot a scene in a packed set, the fun is not the same. When you see the characters on the streets of Mumbai, in Dongri-Nagpada, there is so much depth in it, you can see the slice of life. So, because of Rakesh sir, I have become a fan of real locations. Also, we had finished ‘Toofan’ just two days before the first lockdown was announced in March 2020. I didn’t have to dub for the film because it was sync-sound and the texture of voice on real location is totally different. But, with ‘Jersey’, we were all very scared. Everyone was wearing PPE kits, precautions were taken, we all were isolated for days until we got our negative test results.
In the past one year entertainment has shifted to OTT, and the cinema viewing experience has changed. What was your reaction when ‘Toofaan’ was announced as an OTT release?
It is a blessing in disguise because the film is now reaching 240 countries, and a lot of international filmmakers will watch the movie. So, I am really excited and I can’t wait for their call to cast me in their next (smiles). And we have dubbed the movie in English as well; it was quite a learning process and now, all my friends in the US and Europe will get to enjoy the movie in English. Also, during times like these, even I wouldn’t go to a theatre with my family because it is scary out there. All I want, at this point, is for families to enjoy their movies in their drawing room, on their TV. As a performer. I don’t want to stop entertaining my audience.
Coming from TV, did you face any prejudice? How difficult was it for you to break into Bollywood?
It was difficult but I did not feel anything as such. The filmmaker who gave me an opportunity just embraced me as an actor. They made me feel confident about myself because, at the back of my mind, there was a constant question: “Will he cast me because I am a television actor?”. I needed to remove that thought from my mind. So, I just kept telling myself, “Mrunal, if you are a good actor, people will cast you no matter where you come from” and thank you to all those directors who gave me the opportunity to feature in these movies. You simply need to change your thought process, if you have faith in yourself, then people will show faith in you. So, never give up.
In the past couple of years, things have changed for you with ‘Super 30’, ‘Toofaan’ and ‘Jersey’. How do you see your career evolving?
I am just going with the flow and it has been quite a learning process for me. I believe in manifestation, and I have always dreamt of working with these co-stars and filmmakers. Every time my friends go like ‘why do you keep fangirling over every co-star?’ but the thing is that they don’t understand but I am actually a big fan of all these actors. When I met Madhuri (Dixit) ma’am recently, I just kept looking at her because I had always looked up to her. I know I was acting like a creep but I manifested this. But honestly, every time I had a bad day, I visualised myself on a movie set and told myself that this is what I wanted and what I dreamt of, so I should give it my best. I cannot give bad performances and I want to make sure that I give my 200 per cent. I prayed every day for this moment; I love this and I don’t know what would I do if I was not an actor.
How would you describe Farhan Akhtar as a co-star?
I always look up to him–the kind of roles he does, the way he performs, he really gets deep into the skin of the character. Farhan is one actor who never gives up. He will always push and work very hard. I think after watching this movie, all those guys and girls who have left boxing for whatever reason, are going to come back and start boxing. And for all the boxers who are performing in the Olympics, this film will inspire them to get all the medals, and I pray that they win. That’s the impact that Farhan Akhtar, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s films have on the audience.
One quality of Farhan Akhtar that you would want to imbibe?
If I can steal something from him, it is his discipline. He is so disciplined! The amount of hard work that he has put in to become Aziz Ali is impeccable. How does he do that? I always want to know what is that one thing that pushes him. Whenever I watch Farhan on screen, he is not acting, but just feeling the part. He is determined, and absolutely passionate about the roles he plays; I want to learn that from him. I am glad that I could witness the magic that he has created onscreen. I am very excited for Farhan because I feel this is his best work and I get to see it.
How would you describe your character of Ananya in ‘Toofaan’?
Ananya works as a catalyst when it comes to transforming Ajju into Aziz Ali. She is a girl who has many wounds in her life, but she channels it to bring out the best in her. Ananya is a positive girl who makes sure that people around her are always motivated. I feel there is an Ananya in every household, who gives us direction. I feel happy to play this part because it is not just inspiring but a role that every Bollywood actress would love to play.