For a self-confessed rebel growing up in Wales, no form of formal education inside the walls of a classroom could contain her dreams. After winning the Miss Wales Charity and bagging several titles at the Miss India UK contest, this Gujarati NRI realised that her dreams lay in acting. She admits that her poor acting skills had her rejected by the Peter Wooldridges’ acting school seven times, but she did finally manage to gain entry and get an acting diploma.
From watching Madhuri Dixit on television, to wanting to become just like her, Nikesha moved to India following the Bollywood dream, her acting diploma intact. But things didn’t go as planned as her film in which she was to act with Dev Anand, got shelved without giving her the break she had dreamt of.
“I had moved to India all by myself, and at times, I wonder if things would have been better if I had had a mentor or if I’d known people in the industry. But, when Beauty Queen didn’t work out, I was advised to move to the south as so many south films were being remade into Hindi and because of the respect that the technicians from the south command in Bollywood,” she says.
After making her debut with Puli in Telugu, which failed both critically and commercially, she knew she had her work cut out as far as choosing scripts were concerned. “Working on Puli was a great experience and I was disappointed that the film didn’t do well. In fact, people thought I was mad when I didn’t readily pounce on the offer in the beginning. But my plan all along was to act in roles with plenty of scope for performance. I then moved to Kannada and worked in films, like Narasimha and Varadanayaka, which did well at the box office, but were unsatisfying for me as an actress. These aspects about the industry were not what I’d been taught in acting school,” she remarks.
She says her Telugu film, Om, has been the most satisfying so far and feels that it helped her find her groove on the acting front. For an actress who treads the four borders of south India regularly, she says each industry is distinct in its own way. “I love the luxury and the comfort that the Telugu film industry offers the actress. An actress there is treated in such a way that it seems as if they pay heed to her demands. In Kannada, even great performances by heroines go unnoticed. It is therefore difficult for them to make movies that offer space for heroines. But the Tamil film industry is quite evolved in that respect. Actresses here have to bring in great acting and as the films here are mostly steeped in reality, the talent and skills of the actress are lauded and appreciated even if they don’t offer the same luxuries or glamour as the others,” she states.
Adding more about the Tamil industry, she says she finds the shift towards more homely and performance-oriented roles refreshing even as she finds herself in a disadvantageous position because of it. “Earlier, there was this trend of bringing what was called ‘Bombay heroines’ who had little to do more than add glamour or play arm candy. They looked for taller, fair-skinned actresses who came from the north to act opposite their heroes. But now, they have become more conscious in their selection of actresses, which is great for cinema even if it has, however, worked against my favour,” she points out.
Advising newcomers to first learn the language before acting in southern language films, she says she has missed out on a few opportunities as she couldn’t speak the tongue. “I have started making a keen effort to learn these languages now. There is so much you add in terms of performance if you actually speak the language, including the nuances of its dialects,” she points out.
As far as acting goes, she says it is her background in psychology that helped her just as much as her acting classes. “I believe in observation, and to this day, I feel that observing people can teach you more about acting than anything else. When you couple observation with whatever little I learnt from my psychology classes, I manage to pick up nuances which I can use for acting, especially considering my lack of knowledge of the local language.”
Looking forward, she says she is quite happy with the place she has found herself in at the moment, with films like Yennamo Yedho, and another Tamil film, called Narathan, in the offing. Even the much-hyped bilingual, Rumbha Urvasi Menaka (RUM), with Trisha and Isha Chawla, is expected to be completed soon, ensuring that she has plenty of work to keep her busy.
She hopes that the future holds out roles for women that offer a glimpse of the bigger picture. “I respect and admire actresses like Anoushka and Nithya Menen, who stand for actresses having a bigger role to play than just adding
glamour to a male-centric movie. I’m not just talking about the odd women-centric films with a heroine taking the movie on her shoulders. Even in commercial cinema, there is plenty of room for actresses to do more than just look pretty. The industry is still too male-dominated for that to change very quickly, but I sure hope it does,” she says in parting....