'The filmi keeda was always there.'
'I hope I can get even five percent of the love that audiences gave my mother.'
'But I'm here to make my own identity.'
Bhagyashree's daughter Avantika Dassani makes her acting debut in the thriller Web series, Mithya, and she hopes she will not be compared to her mother.
Avantika's brother Abhimanyu Dassani is an actor too; he won the Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival People's Choice Best Actor for Meenakshi Sundareshwar over the weekend.
"I have constantly been told that I look like the girl next door, that I look like my mom, and I have that vibe. But when you see me in an explosive character like Riya for my very first project, I think that's exciting," she tells Patcy N/Rediff.com.
It's quite a bold decision to start your career with a crime thriller. Usually, debutantes pick a romantic film.
I wanted to do something different.
Aren't you looking for something new?
When you look at the amount of content on OTT and films, there's so much work happening.
I wanted to make space for myself.
So I wondered how I could do something slightly different?
Obviously, it's a risk, it's unconventional, but it's exciting.
I hope it plays out well because I have constantly been told that I look like the girl next door, that I look like my mom, and I have that vibe.
But when you see me in an explosive character like Riya for my very first project, I think that's exciting.
How was this Web series offered to you?
I auditioned for the part.
I found the character very interesting. The scenes that were given to me were also very interesting.
When Rohan (Sippy, Director) sir and Goldie (Behl, Producer) sir said they liked me, I was super excited.
How did you know about the audition?
I have been auditioning for a while now.
I've been offered a couple of projects before, but none of them excited me.
Like I said, I wanted to do something different.
The things that I was offered, I could not relate to them.
When I got the part, I told my mom. And she was like, which one, because I had auditioned for three different projects.
Then we went through the script and we saw the original series Cheat made by the BBC.
We understood what the whole thing was about and how they would adapt it for the Indian audiences.
Then we made the decision.
To have someone like Huma Qureshi, Param (Parambrata Chatterjee), Rajit (Kapur) sir, Samir (Soni) sir in this project, Rohan sir to direct me, and Applause Entertainment backing the project with Goldie sir...
If I had seen these names in a project, I would have wanted to watch it. That's how I decided whether to work in Mithya.
Did you seek advice from your mother or brother?
Yes. I look up to them.
They have a lot more understanding and knowledge about these things. I'm just starting off.
All three of us are actors with very different journeys.
While they give advice, they always take a step back because at the end of the day, I have to do the project. So if I'm not feeling excited about it, there is no point in doing it.
Abhimanyu also started his career with Rohan Sippy. He assisted him on Dum Maro Dum. How did Rohan guide you as a newcomer?
I used to jokingly call him (Rohan Sippy) Zen master on set because he is such a calm person.
We were shooting in Darjeeling and we had days of rain and fog, unexpectedly thrown at us. We were hassled, but he was always calm, throughout no matter what the troubles were.
That really helped me because I thought if he's calm, why am I worried?
He was okay with me asking him 10,000 questions.
He was fine taking me through things, giving me more time as compared to Huma or Param.
It was really nice to have someone like him as my first time director.
How did you prepare for the role?
We had a bunch of reads that we would do before we left for the shoot, as well as when we were on set.
After the shoot, we would be in our hotel, and we would sit and do our reads.
I would constantly speak to the rest of the cast about what they thought of the characters and the relationships, just for me to get a better understanding.
I'm the person who has 20 questions for everyone, and I'm unapologetic about it.
Questions like, how should we be in the scene? What do you think Riya's feeling? What are you feeling?
Everyone would make fun of this, but I had a Riya Rajguru playlist on my phone, which helped me get into the zone and helped me understand better because music, to me, is very important.
Huma Qureshi and you are at loggerheads in the series. How was she on set?
She's a bully.
The first day we met, we were in Goldie sir's office.
She walks in and says, 'Hello newbie, are you ready for ragging?'
I said, 'I've grown up with brothers. Bring it on.'
That set the tone for us.
She is helpful as a co-actor, very giving.
She really mentored me, she was looking out for me.
She constantly helped me, making me conserve energy because I would get excited and would want to give my all in every take. By the time it would come to my close up, I would be exhausted.
She made me aware and understand better.
She's also such a fun person to be around.
Because it was my first time and I wanted to do everything right, I was very strict with myself.
But she would tell me, 'Sit down. Enjoy yourself.'
There are so many talented actors in the cast. What was your takeaway from them?
All of them are fantastic performers.
One of the main things I learnt from them was their onset behaviour. That was so interesting because one minute you see them completely in character, and then the next minute, it's Param, not Neil.
The same was with Rajit sir (Rajit Kapoor).
Samir sir (Samir Soni) was the opposite. He would stay in character the whole time.
Rajit sir and I would really talk about our characters and the scenes that we had together. Every night, we would sit and map out what we're thinking and how these characters feel.
I really enjoyed that process with him.
Mithya is so intense. How was the atmosphere on set?
We partied the whole time because it's such an intense thriller.
We played badminton, cricket.
We had long discussions on 'aaj khaana kahan mein kya aayega?
Everyone was so comfortable and familiar with each other.
You studied business in London. When did you decide on acting?
The filmi keeda was always there.
I was always interested in performing arts and creativity, whether it was dance or drama.
My name would be first on the extracurricular lists in school.
Every time I watched a movie, I would dress up as a character and walk around the house for months.
I've been wanting to be a detective, a ballet dancer and what not, just because I would get so excited with the movies I saw.
As I grew older, my interests shifted towards business, economics, marketing.
I've been interning in different spaces since I was in 10th grade.
I need to have my education completed; I need to get a degree.
After graduation, I worked in a couple of places but nothing fulfilled me as much as acting workshops.
That's when I realised that this is where I want to be.
How supportive were your parents?
Forget acting, my dad was very upset that I came back from London without an accent!
That was his biggest complaint.
He said, 'Without an accent, the full money has gone to waste.'
So every time I wanted anything from him, I would put on a British accent. That's the only way I could get anything out of him!
My parents knew that I wanted to act so it did not come as a shock.
They know I'm a very sensitive and emotional person. So they were worried about me since this line is so unstable with ups and downs, and criticism.
But they see how much I love it, how hard I'm willing to work towards it.
So they were like, okay, fine, go get it.
Are you nervous that you would be compared to your mother? Or even to your brother?
You saw Maine Pyaar Kiya?
You saw the trailer of my show?
Can you compare them?
You can't compare the two of them!
I hope that's how audiences feel.
I admire my mother, I admire the work that she has done.
I hope that I can get even five percent of the love that audiences gave her.
But I'm here to make my own identity.
As a child, were you aware that your mother was a popular actress?
Yes. Every time we would go anywhere in the world, in any public space, till date, people give her love and appreciation.
Even when we went on family holidays to the remotest of places, somehow there would be someone who loved my mother and her work.
Initially, we didn't understand it.
But once we were older, we realised that for a film to have such an impact even 30 years later, it's admirable.
It makes me want to work harder at what I do, makes me appreciate the craft even more.
What kind of work do you want to do?
As an actor, I'm excited to take on challenges.
I'm excited to take on anything that allows me to work with interesting directors and great scripts.
I'm very greedy.
I want to work in films.
I want to work in OTT.
I want to work in regional cinema.
I want to work everywhere, anything that allows me to grow as an actor try new things.
I want to do thrillers, comedies, dramas and romantic movies.
I want to do a movie with Sooraj Barjatya.
I want to work with Neeraj Pandey, Vishal Bhardwaj, Shakun Batra...