Her master’s apprentice

Deccan Chronicle.  | Mehul S Thakkar

Sunday Chronicle, screenario

Saiyami Kher talks about lessons learned from Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, and hopes from her debut, Mirzya

Saiyami Kher

Despite hailing from a film family, Saiyami Kher has been kept carefully out of the limelight for the longest time. The actress, who makes her debut with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, opposite Harshvardhan Kapoor, lets us into her personal space for a chat. Operating from her family home in Mumbai, where she’s staying with her mother, Saiyami reveals to us why she is an Amitabh Bachchan fan, her experience of shooting for Mirzya, and how acting happened to her. Excerpts:

You’re from a film family, your grandmother was yesteryear actress Usha Kiran, and Tanvi Azmi is your aunt. However, you didn’t have a typical filmy upbringing...
Actually, there never were any filmy dreams. My childhood never revolved around the thought that I wanted to grow up and become an actor, because I was so busy. My parents had three restaurants in Nashik. So, after school, I used to work in the restaurants. Weekends used to be about the mountains or the lakes — that was what my childhood was all about. I just feel so blessed, because when I look at kids in Mumbai, I feel so bad because their life is right there. It’s not their fault, not even schools have playgrounds. What are the kids going to do? All of my childhood helps in acting; it all comes down to drawing experiences. When you’ve experienced life in a bigger perspective, it just helps you a lot more than just living and going to say, a Carter Road, and chilling. I’m happy my upbringing showed me much, much more.

When did you decide you wanted to take up acting?
I came back to Mumbai and studied in St Xavier’s. I pursued my bachelors in arts, so I was here for five years. Sushma Reddy, the model, said to me that I should have my pictures shot, and I should start modelling. She felt I’d be good at it, and so I went with the flow. I was 16, and the response was much better than what I was expecting. I did quite a few ad campaigns too. Modelling and acting are very different from each other. It’s not quite like how people make it out to be. “You become a model, you become an actor,” they say. However, the theatre culture in Xavier’s was so strong, acting just happened to me, and I started doing it. I pursued it for a few months, but unfortunately, I couldn’t commit to a theatre group for a year, since I was travelling a lot.

You’ve been an Amitabh Bachchan fan. How come?
Rakeysh sir  laughs at me and says that I’m 70-years-old in my head, because my playlist consists of Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Lataji and Asha. I love that kind of music. I’m also a big Mr Bachchan fan. I can just watch Abhimaan all the time. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend 15 days on a film set with him, as my bua was working on the movie Aarakshan. Back then, I had just started college and was trying to know what happens on a film set. I’ve always liked his work, because I’ve seen him like a star on the screen.

But when I went and saw his work, my respect for him went for another level — there was a big shift in my respect for him. Even in the cold of Bhopal, when there was a shoot scheduled for 2 am, he used to be there at 1.45 am. And what dedication! He must’ve been 68 back then. He’s so humble, and he speaks to everyone. He’ll look you in the eye and shake your hand; he’s actually with you. I felt ‘who am I?’ I was just a kid on a set, just a college-goer. When he interacts with you, he’s there in the truest sense — you can see it.
What are your hopes from Mirzya?
I’ve given the film my all; there’s no effort I didn’t put in for it. Now, whether it does well or not, our hopes are pinned to it. Not just me, everybody from the spot boy, to the editor, to the make up team — we’ve put in our all. This is what a film does; it brings together a big team, which goes behind and makes it. At the same time, I’m aware that the industry has some good and it has some bad — it’s a part of life.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Rakeysh?
Everyone has their own journey, and Rakeysh sir is very vital to mine. I can’t stop talking about him! I feel I connect to him. He functions in a way that he will never follow a norm. He does what he feels like, and he does it from his heart. I feel that I’m a newcomer, but the biggest thing I’ve learned from Mirzya is that I know very little, and that I have a long way to go. There’s a very interesting incident. We were shooting in Rajasthan, and like you can see in the trailer of the movie, I’m wearing a long, red lehenga. It was very heavy — nearly weighing 15 kg — and I was sitting in a very uncomfortable place. I was on the ground and there was a close up shot of me being taken, with the make up man, the hairdressers, camera and lightning.

There were like 15 people attacking me, because that’s how close-ups happen. We were losing light, as it was evening. Rakeysh sir was standing behind while this whole drama was happening. He okayed the take within two shots, and everyone just vanished to set the next shot up. I was trying to get up, with the lehenga weighing me down. Sir came to me and gave me his hand and said to me “you can learn”. I was too caught up with the whole situation and just asked him what he meant. He said, “This is the industry. They’ll come at you and they’ll go away as quickly. You need to always keep your ground.”