'To become an actor, you need to take care of your entire being'
From being a singer to an actor, Monali Thakur's journey has been fascinating.
Thakur plays the role of a victim of child prostitution in Nagesh Kukunoor's latest, Lakshmi.
Monali Thakur took part in the reality TV shown Indian Idol in 2005. She came to Mumbai from Kolkata hoping to become a playback singer.
Her career has suddenly taken a different path after she was chosen to play the lead role in Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi, a film about trafficking in women.
She plays a 14-year-old victim of child prostitution.
Monali Thakur speaks to Patcy N about her journey, about becoming an actor and working with Nagesh Kukunoor, and her next film Mango.
How did you feel when Nagesh Kukunoor offered you this film?
When he asked me to audition for the film, without even knowing what the story was about, I was in seventh heaven.
I couldn’t believe that a director of his calibre had asked me to even audition. After my audition, I saw he was smiling. In my mind I knew he liked it.
He told me the story of Lakshmi and that I would be doing it. I just couldn’t believe my ears.
People are saying this is not a glamorous role and why did I take it. But I say, I can’t even imagine saying no to this kind of film. This is one of the best characters that an actor can ask for. It is that good a role.
Yes, it is a difficult role. So, while I’m flying in the air that I got the role, at the same time I was also scared and stressed.
Image: Monali Thakur at Big Awards
Video: Abhijit Mhamunkar
'I figured out that I like facing the camera'
Weren’t you apprehensive about how you would portray this tough character when you haven’t acted before?
I have faced the camera before, in Kolkata, so I had a very brief experience of acting.
I had enjoyed it a lot and figured out that I like facing the camera. But I didn’t pursue it because I was struggling to become a singer.
I was apprehensive. I hoped I would strike the right chord.
What did you act in before this?
I acted in a Bengali film called Krishnakanter Will, based on a novel by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
I played the lead character of a dark girl. It was a very beautiful story.
Image: Monali Thakur sings Sawaar Loon from Lootera
Video: NV Reuben
'I didn't have any reference point to play Lakshmi'
Why didn’t you do any movies after that?
After that I moved out of Kolkata.
The film didn’t do well commercially but I got a lot of appreciation from people like Ritupurno Ghosh and critics.
I didn’t do more films because I was not comfortable meeting casting directors. Honestly, I had no idea of that world.
I came to Mumbai to become a playback singer.
Becoming an actor requires a certain lifestyle and a lot of dedication.
For singing, you just need to take care of your voice. But to become an actor, you need to take care of your entire being.
I judged a reality show, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li'l Champs, in Bengal, and Tanuja Chandra saw me and wanted to audition me for her film.
I lost weight for that film and that’s when I decided I was going to try and get into films.
The first thing and only thing that I did was to get in shape. I lost 20 kilos. I ate a lot but I worked out.
And then events and things started falling into place. Nagesh Sir thought that I could look like a kid and that’s how I got this film.
What did you have to do to look the part in Lakshmi, since you play a 14-year-old?
I didn’t have any reference point. I didn’t meet the real life Lakshmi. I didn’t meet any prostitute to know how they behave.
I told myself that they are normal human beings. So if I was in such a situation, how would I react?
I have never been exposed to such situations. My dignity and respect have never been threatened by anybody.
My reference point was Nagesh Sir. It was his imagination, whatever he had in mind for Lakshmi.
The best thing that happened was that what I had in mind for Lakshmi and Nagesh Sir’s vision of Lakshmi was almost the same. We were on the same page from the very beginning of the shoot. We finished the shoot in 22 days.
Image: Monali Thakur sings Aa Ghar Chale from Lakshmi
'Nagesh Kukunoor is strict but he gives the actor the space'
How is Nagesh Kukunoor as a director? Is he strict like a teacher?
Outstanding! He is strict but he gives the actor the space. Everybody’s acting in the film is so real - that’s not easy.
I didn’t want to ham it up as a 14-year-old. I wanted it to be natural so people would relate to the pain and the pathos.
Nagesh Sir knew exactly where to end the exaggeration or where to put a full stop to the emotional highs, which is outstanding.
I don’t know how to explain this, but so many times, he was measuring the emotions. So sometimes he would say thoda zyaada anger, or thoda less anger. He made me do this like he was measuring with a tape.
When I saw the film on the editing table, I was like; this man is ridiculously good at what he does.
What was he strict about?
He is a disciplined man. Whatever time was given, he would be there sharp on time. If you value other’s time, people will follow you.
When the director is so disciplined and so passionate about his work, everybody else is inspired by that and behaves like that on the set, and automatically the energy changes.
Secondly, he is passionate about film making. On the sets he is driven by some force that comes from his passion for his work. It’s inspirational to work in such circumstances. You also get that energy and zeal and you want to give more.
Image: Monali Thakur and Nagesh Kukunoor while shooting Lakshmi
'My father is also a huge fan of Nagesh Kukunoor's work'
Did he enact any scene for you?
No. He asked us to do the scene and then he would adjust it a little and say, this is what I want. And it becomes clear for everybody.
There are girls in the film who have actually been in that situation. Did you have scenes with them?
I didn’t know; I heard this from you just now.
There were different kinds of girls. The brothel set was a scary location. I mean there was room in which only two people can fit. Art (art direction team) had done a fantastic job, that it looks so real. I never knew those girls had gone through such a situations themselves. I was never informed.
How did your parents have to say about your becoming an actor?
My parents stay with me in Mumbai now. My dad, Shakti Thakur, was an actor and singer in Bengal.
He is an outstandingly talented a man. He has sung a few songs in Hindi also, with R D Burman and Hemantji.
He is also a huge fan of Nagesh Kukunoor’s work. He was happy to hear I had a chance to act in his film. He thinks this is one of the best things to have happened in my life, and it is indeed.
Image: Monali Thakur sings Ghazal Yun Sazaa Chand Ke Chalkaa
'I will definitely not give up singing'
Will you give up singing now that you have got into acting?
I will definitely not give up singing. I will sing all the more now, and I will feature in my own songs too.
I have recently sung a beautiful track for Bobby Jasoos.
My next film is Abbas Tyrewala’s Mango. It is on the verge of releasing, after Lakshmi.
Mango is very different from Lakshmi. I con these three boys.
Mango is Lakshmi’s revenge, you could say (laughs).
Image: Monali Thakur at the Filmfare award function
Video: Abhijit Mhamunkar