'Even if Hansal Mehta was directing an erotic film, I would do it'
'On screen, I am Patralekha and he is Rajkummar. I am 24 and he is 28 years old. We are seeing each other, but that is very different from the husband and wife relationship. We had to start from scratch.'
City Lights actress Patralekha gets ready for showbiz.
Shillong girl Patralekhaa will make her debut in this week’s release, City Lights.
The actress, who is dating the film’s lead hero Rajkummar Rao, says their real-life chemistry did not seep into their movie characters, as they play a married couple in the film.
She tells Patcy N more about herself, and the film.
How did acting happen?
I made a lot of friends while I was in college in Mumbai. One of them worked with B R Chopra’s production house. He asked me whether I wanted to do an ad and I thought of trying it out.
That ad never released but I had found my way into the advertising world. I did a lot of commercials.
In 2008, for a college student to earn Rs 50,000 in a day was a huge amount of money.
I loved it and some of my commercials got good reviews. Some directors and casting directors took notice of me. They called me for a film audition.
That’s when I realised that there is a lot of hard work. There are very good actors and there is amazing talent, and I will have to learn.
So what did you do?
I knew I wanted to become an actor, and be really good at it.
I went to Barry John for a three-month acting course.
After that, I went to theatre professionals and did workshops with them. Then, I got a little confident and started auditioning for films.
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'I survived by doing ads'
How did you get City Lights?
The casting director of City Lights called me for an audition.
After the audition, I heard that Hansal Mehta will direct the film instead of Ajay Bahl who was going to direct the film earlier.
I was overjoyed because I had seen Shahid and it was absolutely brilliant. I was looking forward to working with him but I was told that I would have to audition again.
I gave another two to three rounds of auditions. The last round was with Hansal himself. I was totally stressed. I knew it was a make or break situation.
Hansal called me two days later and told me I was on board.
Did you have to struggle before you landed this role?
The two years that I spent after college and before I got City Lights was the period I learnt a lot. I am glad that I took that two-year break.
I survived by doing ads during this period. My parents supported me as well.
Things were easier because we have a house in Mumbai.
'If it was sleazy stuff, I wouldn't have done it'
When you told your parents you want to act, what was their reaction?
My father was not so happy. He’s a chartered accountant, so he wanted me to become one as well.
After he saw me in ads, he was a bit okay, but when I took the two years’ break, he got very scared.
He didn’t tell me anything but he would tell my mom how nervous he was. After I signed City Lights, my father was on cloud 9.
Did you sign City Lights because it was the only film that was offered to you?
The reason I signed City Lights was because Hansal sir (Mehta, director) was collaborating with Mahesh Bhattsaab and you cannot say no to a Vishesh film. That’s the best thing that can happen to you.
Vishesh Films are known to make erotica but I had read the script and it was fabulous.
Plus, Hansal sir was directing it, so I knew even if it’s an erotic film, Hansal sir will treat it differently. Even if Hansal sir was directing an erotic film, I would still do it because it would be good.
If it was sleazy stuff I wouldn’t have done it, but I had read the script and it was good.
'I learnt how to cook food on a chula'
How difficult was it for you to get into the character?
It was very difficult.
I have a very western upbringing. I have always been independent. I have lived in boarding schools and looked after myself.
Going to Rajasthan, learning their language, adapting to their culture and their lifestyle was very challenging.
But I loved it because this was something new that I was getting to learn. There is so much in life apart from your own sheltered life.
Had you done a workshop before you started the film?
Yes, we were in Rajasthan for three weeks. We would wake up early in the morning, meet the villagers, and eat our meals with them.
I learnt how to cook food on a chula (earthen stove). It was difficult because your hands can get burnt.
I also tried to learn the language and lifestyle.
'The mental stress was too much to handle'
In the second half of the movie, you play a bar dancer...
It was a very difficult scene for me.
As a woman, I felt very demeaned and humiliated.
I hated the way the bar person reacted to what I had to say, the way he looked at me. I felt like I had no power to do anything. I guess every woman in that situation feels that way.
How was the Mumbai shoot?
The Mumbai shoot was emotionally draining. There were days when I came home and cried, thinking why are these things happening to these people? (She comes to Mumbai and joins as a bar dancer in the film).
Physically I was tired, but I could rest and I would be fine. But the mental stress was too much to handle.
What was the most difficult scene for you?
The bar scene was tough but there is another scene where my husband comes drunk and the way he reacts -- he humiliates me.
'Your off-screen chemistry cannot be your on-screen chemistry'
Was that easy as you are already in a relationship with Rajkummar Rao?
No, it becomes very difficult.
Your off-screen chemistry cannot be your on-screen chemistry. Because on screen, I am Patralekha and he is Rajkummar. I am 24 and he is 28 years old. We are seeing each other, but that is very different than the husband and wife relationship. We had to start from scratch.
What other films are you doing?
My next film is a Bengali film Dhaker Shaaj.
Image: Patralekhaa and Rajukummar Rao in City Lights