'My character in Mirapakai is just too cute to handle'
Richa Gangopadhyay made her debut in Sekhar Kammula's Telugu film Leader last February and subsequently went on to do a Nagavalli where her performance was critically acclaimed.
Within a span of one year, this ex Miss USA is ready with her third project, Mirapakai directed by Harish Shankar. The movie also stars with Ravi Teja and Deeksha Seth. The movie releases on January 13.
The actress took time out from her short break to talk about Mirapakai and Nagavalli. Exceprts:
What attracted you to sign Mirapakai?
Vinamra's character won me over. However, it wasn't a straight cut at first! Harish noticed me at the Leader success party. After learning I was an NRI, he thought I initially suited the other heroine's role. He initially offered me Vyshali's role (which is being played by Deeksha), but when we met officially to review the script, he was convinced that I would do justice to the character of Vinamra, a sweet traditional Brahmin girl.
Did the fact that it is a two-heroine film bother you?
Not at all! Love stories, these days, more or less involve triangular love themes to add to the drama, or in this case, some 'spice', which is fun to watch on screen! I think films are evolving nowadays more towards realistic themes which involve betrayal and insecurities in relationships, and how true love wins in the end!
Image: Richa Gangopadhyay
'Audiences can expect to see a very energetic Ravi Teja with two cool, contrasting heroines'
Is Mirapakai a triangular love story?
Technically, with the two girls, one guy equation, yes. But it is not a typical cookie-cutter love story. Harish has added twists and amazing character graphs which will make the audiences sympathise with all three of us.
Ravi Teja's films are very entertaining. Is Mirapakai another in that genre? Is it a laugh riot?
Yes, it is an out-and-out entertainer and has a beautiful love story! Audiences can expect to see a very energetic Ravi Teja with two cool, contrasting heroines...fights, dances, laughs... all included! Mirapakai meaning "red chilli" offers some spicy-fun and energetic visuals indeed!
Could you talk more about your role?
I play the role of Vinamra, a timid, innocent girl who doesn't know she's beautiful. She is charming, possessive and very lovable but is completely oblivious about romance. Vinamra comes from a traditional, middle-class Telugu Brahmin family of musicians and always clings to her best friend from whom she learns how to be brave and tackle tricky situations. Her dynamics with Ravi's character, Rishi, is very exciting and audiences will love to see them together. Vinamra will make you laugh and cry both...and she is just too cute to handle!
Image: Richa Gangopadhyay
'Ravi Teja is one of the most hilarious people I have ever met!'
How was Ravi Teja as a co-star?
He's a one of the most hilarious people I have ever met! It was a challenge to match up to his energy levels during the songs! I always wondered if actors were as funny off-screen as they were on screen...and Ravi definitely proved that he is just as entertaining in real life! He would always have a sly expression on his face if he saw me doing something funny or tomboy-ish, which led him to tease me with the nickname "gundiyon ki gundi"!
Aside from being a comical person, he's also very patient and genuinely helpful. I was amazed at the various techniques he taught me which he said only came with experience!
You also shared space with Deeksha Seth. Did you two bond on the sets?
Deeksha and I didn't get much opportunity to spend time with each other on the sets because our characters in the film barely had any combination scenes. But the time I did get to spend with her was nice -- we would share silly stories and take mini power naps during breaks.
How was it being directed by Harish Shankar?
Harish has become one of my good friends in the Telugu film Industry, and I was in awe of his passion towards this film. He was always really down to earth and I never felt intimidated by him. I loved listening to his interesting philosophies in life and we would always joke around on the sets.
Although this is just his second film, I never felt like he was a 'new director' and the script he created was very creative. I hope this film will prove lucky for him and be a blockbuster. He deserves it!
Image: A scene from Mirapakai
'I would feel cranky once pack-upwas announced'
How was the experience of acting in Mirapakai?
It never felt like work. In fact, I would feel cranky once 'pack-up' was announced! The sets of Mirapakai were so welcoming, the production staff was extremely hospitable and everyone was always so eager to help. I felt like I was hanging with my college buddies whenever I was around Harish and Ravi. I got to travel abroad to Prague and Austria for shoots and was finally able to 'dance in the snowcapped mountains in saris and lehengas as I had grown up watching in films!
Are you happy with the way Nagavalli has fared?
Yes, very happy and satisfied. Nagavalli had immensely high expectations because of the original Chandramukhi, and I think with a twist in the storyline, people were eager to find out what Vasu Sir could whip up. I was very happy that the suspense of my 'Nagavalli-possessed' character was kept alive till the day of the release...and even more ecstatic to see the audience's reactions to my performance which no one expected! It has been wonderful to get such fantastic reviews from both critics and fans! It was a very rewarding experience for the hard work I put in. I'm also thrilled that the movie has become such a success in the US as well.
How did you prepare yourself for that role in Nagavalli? It must have been tough to give a powerful performance and yet not go over the top?
I felt blessed that people like Suresh Babu gaaru and Venky sir believed in me enough to recommend me to Vasu Sir for this role. Vasu Sir told me he selected me because he wanted an innocent-looking girl with big, expressive eyes, and a newcomer, so the audience would least expect a high-voltage performance from me. As excited as I was after getting the offer, I was also extremely nervous on how I was going to pull off such a performance-oriented role, especially being only one film old.I watched the Kannada Aaptha Rakshaka and other movies to see how critically-acclaimed actresses performed in such challenging scenarios. I was extremely observant of the minutest expression Vasu Sir showed me, and he put me to the test on the first day itself when he gave me the most challenging scene. He thought I executed it perfectly with the harsh voice, grunts, twitches, lip-distortion et al. He was convinced he'd taken the right girl for the role. After I did one particular scene, Venky Sir complimented me by saying, 'Richa, you killed it!', which gave me a huge shot in the arm!
Image: A scene from Mirapakai
'I have been very choosy about my projects'
Did you learn anything from Venkatesh?
Venky sir is one of the most sincere actors the film industry has seen. I admired that he always brought a surreal aura of balance to the sets every day, and practices what he preaches about 'Being Positive'.
The biggest thing I learned from him was how to maintain extreme focus and be uninhibited. I observed what he did whenever he was asked to do a particular action and how he always prepared his mood with full concentration. He does every shot with the utmost integrity and I tried to emulate him while doing my scenes too.
You are now three films old in the Telugu film industry. How does it feel?
Frankly it feels unreal! Leader, Nagavalli and Mirapakai have all been significantly large projects for me, which I didn't know would become so big in their early stages.
Each character that I've played so far, from Archana, to Gowri-Nagavalli, to Vinamra, have all been imperative to my growth as an actress and I'm thankful that because of these projects, I've been able to head towards my main goal -- being a versatile actor, in my first year in the industry.
I have learnt a lot this past year, not just about acting, but about the culture, interactions with various kinds of people, how to manage my time and balancing priorities. It's like I took a huge course on life!
Have you signed any projects after Mirapakai?
I'm currently in the process of discussing a script for a Selva Raghavan project with Rana as the hero. Things are being worked out. I'm lucky that I've been steadily getting many offers, but since the beginning of my career, I have been very choosy about my projects.
I don't make hasty decisions as quality is more important than mere quantity of films I do. If I am lucky enough to get multiple quality projects, I'll surely take them up.
You seem to have taken a short break back home...
Yes! I firmly believe it's necessary to take a break between hectic schedules for all busy professionals! I've written about it in my blog, and find that there is no better way of recharging your batteries than to spend some time with family and friends back at home.
With the heavy publicity and continuous shooting schedule I had, I felt I needed a break. I was also missing the winter holiday ambience back home. I figured with Nagavalli released and Mirapakai coming up, I could take a mini holiday. I enjoyed the quiet time at home, disciplined fitness schedules/healthy eating, occasional winter Starbucks' drinks, the neighbourhood Christmas lights, the snow, the company of my dog, the warmth of the holiday season...and the casual catch-up chats with my parents!
Are your parents happy with your progress in the Telugu film industry?
Yes, they are extremely proud of me and my professional growth as an actress in the time span of one year. My parents feel I'm very lucky to have got such wonderful opportunities, which many heroines don't get at all in their entire careers. They said they are in awe and wonder where I got my acting talent from. They've commended me on my hard work, maturity to make the right decisions, and most of all for adapting to a whole new way of living from the US. They are also happy I have a home away from home with the people in the industry who have so open-heartedly guided and helped me from my first venture, such has the Daggubati family and all my directors.
Image: A scene from Mirapakai