Mrunal Thakur

Mrunal Thakur plays John Abraham’s on-screen wife in “Batla House.” The actress told India-West that Abraham was a great relief on the sets of such a heavy film. (photo provided)

MUMBAI— While some girls go and make screen debuts down South before they return or come to Mumbai, Mrunal Thakur went all the way to the US, so to speak, to act in the globally-renowned “Love Sonia.” Before that, she made a name in India as a television actor, and now, she is best known for her recent hit “Super 30” and her latest outing this week, “Batla House.”

The lady laughs and says that she signed “Love Sonia” unaware that, in its canvas, it was an international film. “The team was casting here, and they wanted a new girl who was not connected to an image. I was not so dark, was slightly good-looking and now I think it was a perfect debut!” she told India-West. “I met some of the girls from the red-light area who look like us, smile like us, but lead terrible lives! I am glad I represented them, even if some of my friends told me I was so stupid to sign this film as a debut as I would kill my career before it began!”

She also explained, “How many girls get solo leads or titular roles in their first film? I know the film did not make the numbers grade, but when I told Tabrez (Noorani, the director) that his film would have done better if I had been a star, like Ayushmann Khuurana’s choice of movies, he said that ‘Love Sonia’ was not made for that purpose. Indians want to watch films to relax, but my film has got rave reviews in so many countries. It has been shown at the UN, and after the screening in Uzbekistan, the president there changed two laws: one on gender equality and one of violence against women. Isn’t it great that this happened because of an Indian film?”

As a Bachelors in Mass Media graduate, Thakur, a Maharashtrian (the use of “u” in her first name – Mrunal’s – spelling and pronunciation is a giveaway), identified a lot with her character in “Batla House” as Nandita, a television journalist. “I could empathize with a career woman whose husband was also like her, in fact even more work-oriented,” she said.

Shobhna Yadav, whose screen counterpart Thakur plays, is a classic Delhi woman who prefers to be presentable all the time – her nails should be painted, her hair blow-dried. “I never met her till after the film during promotions but had watched a lot of her videos. She complimented me when I met her recently and spent time with her, and said that she could feel I was her on screen. In one scene, I catch John (Abraham)’s hand in a particular affectionate way, and she said she had done that many times with her husband!”

Thakur agrees that the film can be thus looked at as an unusual love story. “How a police officer and a journalist want to balance their duty and relationship is nicely depicted,” she declared. “Nandita is on the verge of splitting with her husband, but when she sees what is happening, she does not leave him, as she thinks that she cannot do that when her husband needs her the most.”

About the fact that very few actors make the big-screen cut, she has a simple explanation. “We are termed loud, but it is only the way we are presented on television to grab the viewership ratings!” she feels. “We actually act in the same way. But honestly, without the way TV has prepared me, I would not have been able to do these three films,” said Thakur frankly.

She feels that films and audiences have changed since 2018, and a good actor like her can now be appreciated and given films with superstars! About her leading man, Thakur has this to say: “Hrithik is the biggest star, the Greek God himself! When he first met me, I was sitting on a chair in a room, and he came up and very casually said, ‘Hi! I am Hrithik Roshan!’ And I thought – WHO does not know you! He’s so down-to-earth and hardworking that he carried on shooting for ‘Super 30’ at 46 degrees temperature without the shelter of an umbrella or a fan and when his back was full of heat-boils. When you work with someone like that, you have to pull up your own socks!”

Roshan told Thakur the difference in people’s perception of him between three hours before the screening of his debut film “Kaho Naaa…Pyaar Hai” and three hours after. “That change should not affect you as a person” is what he told Thakur, who was floored and now said, “He is my role-model, and I want to work with him again.”

John Abraham, she said, looks like a serious hunk, but is an incurable prankster who was a great relief on the sets of a heavy film like “Batla House.” “While shooting a serious scene in which I am weeping and have to look at him, he actually put a ‘bindi’ on his forehead. And I have forgotten the number of times he has asked me why I was not bothered that my phone has gone missing and I would say that I knew it was in safe hands – with him!”

Coming up from Mrunal is Netflix’s “Baahubali” series in which she plays Sivagami’s earlier avatar. “I will be compared to Ramya Krishnan ma’am and Sivagami is such a cult character!” she said.

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