Now the 33-year-old actress is embracing a new journey – motherhood. Amrita is expecting her first child with her husband RJ Anmol any time now. For our #BigInterview this week, literally on the threshold of motherhood, the usually shy and reclusive Amrita opens up and gets candid as she talks about the different choices she made, her early stardom, reaction to the criticism ‘Vivah’ received, and her alleged link-up with Shahid Kapoor.
Read on …
Amrita if you had to go back in time and give a word of advice to that girl on the sets of your debut film ‘Ab Ke Baras’ in 2002 what would you tell her?
Wow, I would perhaps just let her be. That girl at 15, was full of conviction about giving her best shot in every take without remotely thinking about the consequences of a hit or a flop and totally unaware of movie critics and their reviews and effects. Hence she gave her 100% in every take. There were many directors who told me that they sat through ‘Ab Ke Baras’ only to watch my performance. (Today newcomers are so much aware of hits and flops and have so much pressure).
When your debut movie didn’t work, how did you cope with failure?
Blessed as I was, my entry into movies happened through Tips films who saw me in a popular ad film and came home with a bouquet and a cake to sign me for an artist management contract. Even before my debut film was released, I had already shot for ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ with Ajay Devgan and started rehearsals for ‘Ishq Vishk’ and so the failure of ‘Ab Ke Baras’ was a complete flash in the pan. The critics and the audience both woke up to me through ‘Ishq Vishk’.
Your first taste of sweet success was with the 2003 release ‘Ishq Vishk’. How did that feel?
I can never forget that day when ‘Ishq Vishk released’. Director Ken Ghosh, Shahid, myself and producer Ramesh Taurani, we visited literally all the theatres we could. We would stand in the entry zone and peep at the audience going crazy with laughter and enjoying every punch line. Ken got a call that the film is a bumper opening in India. Shahid and I also entered a projector room in one of the halls which was so exciting. We ended our day at Gaiety Galaxy theatre where I took a photograph of the “House Full” board. I also remember weeks later going to Chitra cinema hall where the guy at the counter told me that they have to forcefully pull-down ‘Ishq Vishk’ which was going housefull in every show only because Ram Gopal Varma’s film ‘Bhoot’ was releasing.
Of course, we can’t talk about your career without visiting ‘Main Hoon Na’. That was your smash hit. How was it to work with a superstar like SRK. What did you learn from him?
Yes ‘Main Hoon Na’ was a Silver Jubilee and one of my most loved performances. It was Gauri Khan who spotted me in the Bru coffee commercial and recommended Farah Khan to audition me. Honestly, I was never intimidated or starstruck by Mr. Shahrukh Khan on the set. Luckily I was so focused on being Sanjana which was a huge change from Payal of ‘Ishq Vishk’, that I only saw Mr.Khan as Major Ram and myself as Sanjana on set. What I learned from Mr. Khan was that he strives to be a one-take artist. That determination to give your best in the first take itself is incredibly inspiring from someone who was already 39 films old.
What are your thoughts on ‘Vivah’ now when you look back at that film. Do you think about it differently? It is often a part of memes and jokes and sometimes even labeled as regressive. Your thoughts?
Actresses do many films but only a few are lucky to get that one film and role which becomes their larger identity in the country. ‘Vivah’ to me is what ‘Mughal’ E’Aazam’ was for Madhubala and ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ is for Madhuri Dixit. The film has grown to become the darling of the nation over the years and the kind of respect and relatability I have from that film is unbelievable. (This movie was like revisiting the sixties and seventies kind of movies and values). It actually catered to the pulse of the two and three-tier cities in India where arranged marriages and living in huge joint families are a way of life even till date. While the rest of the industry was turning bolder and sexier, Sooraj ji knew his audience. ‘Vivah’ was considered regressive only by the English critics but the Indian audiences proved them totally wrong. There were cinema halls in Jaipur which turned into Shadi Halls with full baraat to welcome audiences in their 4th week. Even today it’s a record on television that if it’s a weekend, ‘Vivah’ has to be telecast. It’s my prediction that ‘Vivah’ and its traditional Indian values will make the film grow only bigger with the audience over time.
How did you deal with all those rumours and link-up stories with Shahid Kapoor? Both of you would get asked these questions about each other. Was it embarrassing?
Not at all. Shahid was always in a relationship when I was his co-star. Yes, the audience always wished that we were a ‘real-life couple’ but that had only got to do with our tremendous onscreen popularity. The funny part is that Shahid and I have only been very good colleagues, we were not even friends who hung out with each other. but yes, we have tremendous respect for each other as artists and recently Shahid also expressed on social media that he misses working with me, which was very sweet. Why Shahid and I were never cast together after ‘Vivah’ is a million-dollar question and something to think about!
Are you ambitious as a person? How would you analyse your own career path?
I entered the film industry with the tagline of the “lucky mascot”. Perhaps newcomers today have not seen the back-to-back silver jubilees and success that I have right from the beginning. My popularity and acceptance were genuine and not bought through paid PR and marketing strategies. Yet there were many things that were beyond my control because I don’t have any Godfathers here.
I could have missed out on many opportunities where I was right on the top of the casting list, however, I cannot also deny that I have never had to ask directors for work. I’ve always been approached for and had the privilege of refusing the biggest of offers because I was not comfortable with doing certain intimate scenes. My journey has been easy yet difficult because I had to carve my own path with trial and error. But the taste of being self-made is the sweetest !!
Were you less competitive? Did you lose films to other actresses because of this?
I never believed in calling a director and asking him for work. I always thought that directors should be visionary enough to spot my talent and cast me. I am not sure if I lost out on opportunities because of that as there are many actresses who pick up the phone and chase directors during the casting of a project which I never subscribed to. I think at most your manager should ring the bell and leave the rest to the director and production house.
You didn’t have a Godfather or a big launch. What are your thoughts on the nepotism debate? Do you consider yourself an outsider or an insider?
Nepotism exists but talent and audience acceptance is supreme. The advantage star kids and star girlfriends have over others is that they get importance and get invited to parties and perform at award functions and get opportunities to mingle and network with the topmost people including film editors, irrelevant of the hits or flops around them. Networking definitely helps to ring a reminder bell on casting. For outsiders with no such backing, you have to be purely dependent on the merit of your movie’s success. And yes people here do change drastically in their behaviour with you when you have a hit and when you have a flop, which doesn’t happen with a star kid. This is quite a put-off and you do lose confidence. I have earned my space inside the film industry. I am not a part of any camp.
Your real-life love story is very unlike the one you portrayed on screen. Talk to us about how you met RJ Anmol and how did you know he’s the one
I met Anmol at his radio station while I went to do an interview. We became friends and there was a free-flowing comfort. From a very young age I have interacted with so many people in my life that it was very easy to realise that he is different. His positivity and genuineness and family values brought me closer to him even without realising.
Amrita Rao opens up about her pregnancy, says feeling of becoming a mother soon is yet to sink in. What’s your take on social media. Is it a bane or a boon?
Social media is a sordid boon. An overdose of medicine also becomes poison. But the advantage of social media is that your popularity is out there for the film industry and the world to see. A few years ago it was easy for the sharks in the industry to dissuade other people from casting you by spreading rumours like your popularity is slipping only on the basis of a flop or two. People here don’t miss a single opportunity to pin down successful and popular talent and dissuade others from casting you only because they want to promote someone else. Social media is a good validation of your genuine popularity.
Your last film was the 2019 release ‘Thackeray‘. Why do we not see you much on the big screen? Can you talk about the kind of roles in films that you have rejected?
I always wanted to associate with intelligent content. Also after 2014, I focused more on my personal life.
I’ve been working since the age of 14. I wanted to enjoy building our dream home myself, getting married and taking a break from the stress. Yes, I did debut on TV with a huge series in 2016. With Thackeray I’v come back and honestly the content and execution now is better than it ever was. it’s a great time to be an actress now.
Do you have plans for the OTT platform? Is there anything you are working on for the small screen?
In fact even before the OTT platforms opened in India, the biggest television channels were trying to enter that space. I debuted in the TV series ”Meri Awaz Hi Pehchan Hai” wherein I enacted the role inspired by the life of Lata Mangeshkar ji. These platforms are far more wholesome and fulfilling an experience of living the soul of a character as compared to just a two-hour movie. I’ve had many offers from the OTT platforms since August and yes I will be committing to something after Jan 2021.
How are you embracing the idea of motherhood?
I have heard that with babies every few months there is a landmark transition. You are perpetually about discovering new things. Yes, I am nervous about the idea of motherhood but the saying is true- when you see your baby’s face the mother in you effortlessly awakens. I am looking forward to being a friend to this little wonder in my life.