Text by Arnesh Ghose; Interview by: Alshaar Khan
Everybody loves Aditi Rao Hydari. All my guy friends are nursing crushes on her — and the women around me are enthusiastically Hy-curious. She’s unquestionably beautiful, but what I like about her is that she exudes a certain old world glamour — like she wants you to perpetually look at her through a black-and-white filter and a touch of soft focus. I remember her poignant performance in Delhi-6 as Sonam Kapoor’s spinster aunt (you remember everyone but the lead pair from that film) and even back then, I was really excited about what this actress would do next. Yeh Saali Zindagi released the next year, and she proved her acting mettle in a film that, unfortunately, didn’t do much for her career. Similarly, her kickass performance in Rockstar was overshadowed by the Ranbir Kapoor blitzkrieg. While her first solo lead, London, Paris, New York, with Ali Zafar, was quite a cool film, yet again it failed to leave a mark at the BO. She followed that up with Murder 3 – possibly the best film in the Murder franchise and one of the best thrillers to come out of the Bhatt camp – but the film did only average business. After three forgettable films last year, this year has another hat trick in store for Hydari – and hopefully, 2017 will solidify her position in the industry and bring her due credit for her acting chops. Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai has already brought in critical and commercial acclaim. Up next is the big, fat Sanjay Dutt comeback film, Bhoomi, in which she is the female lead as Dutt’s daughter, followed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s dream opus Padmavati with Ranveer-Deepika-Shahid in November. Performance-driven yet commercially viable, this year’s films should do the trick for Hydari.
This year is turning out to be a really busy one for you, isn’t it?
Yes. I’ve just finished Mani Sir’s [Ratnam] Kaatru Veliyidai which released recently. I have finished shooting for Bhoomi – it’s a father-daughter story with Sanjay Dutt and directed by Omung Kumar – and now, I am looking forward to joining the sets of Padmavati in a week. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I have become a workaholic. A couple of weeks ago, I told my manager that I want to lie down for just 15 minutes and I didn’t get to do that. And now that I have a three-day break, I really feel like getting back to work.
From Mani Ratnam and Sanjay Leela Bhansali to Sudhir Mishra and Imtiaz Ali, you have worked with some of the industry’s most celebrated film-makers. What have your experiences with them been like?
I’ve always worked with directors whose vision I want to be a part of. I recollect one unforgettable moment with Imtiaz [Ali] on the sets of Rockstar, when I was really troubled with my hair. He pulled me aside and asked, “It’s bothering you, right?” I said yes, to which he responded, “You know what? The way you look will always remain the same. What will matter is how you play your character.” From that day onwards, I get ready without much make up and step out of my van without looking at the mirror. It really helped me a lot.
Mani sir has this amazing ability to challenge you and also nurture you. He helps you realise how to stay real in front of the camera. It’s something that you don’t actually learn from him, but he creates it for you — it rubs off from him. Soon, you start yearning for that kind of realness every time. It was amazing to be on the sets with him.
With Sudhir Mishra, you come to the sets with an absolutely clean slate. He’ll simply put you in a situation and you have to just react to it. The reaction is almost like a response to physical stimuli.
On the other hand, it’s very different with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. It’s like the same ambition and passion with which Mani sir works, but they are two different people. With Mani sir, it’s like running a 52-day sprint — you have to be on 24×7. But with Sanjay sir, it’s a marathon. You need a different kind of stamina to work through it. Sanjay sir almost choreographs his films, while Mani sir likes to break the rhythm.
Bikini Top by Juicy Couture; Skirt by Marks & Spencer; Aquaracer Lady watch by Tag Heuer
What would you say has been your biggest achievement?
The day I call something my “biggest achievement” will be the day I hang up my boots. There’s always something big to do next, something big to achieve and something new to learn every day. But what I feel very happy about is that after every movie, in my seven-year career, I’ve taken a step forward, both personally and professionally. And I feel that my family will be proud of it, because while I’ve remained the same person, I’ve evolved as well.
You just wrapped up your schedule of Bhoomi, with Sanjay Dutt. What was the experience like? And you have an adorable nickname for him, too [Hydari has been referring to Dutt as “The Big Friendly Giant” on social media].
It’s been amazing. I never expected that I would get to do a film with him. I am glad that it was the right story, the right script and that it was just perfect in every sense. It gave me a lot of time to work with him. The entire process of being in the same frame with him was a lot of fun, because he’s really effortless and chilled out as a person. He’s a natural on set too, so sometimes you just react to what he does. We would improvise entire scenes at times. Also, I felt really lucky to come straight from a Mani Ratnam film to Padmavati and Bhoomi. It’s all been very intense, but I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
What would you say is your biggest flaw?
The first step towards improving is to acknowledge. So there are things about my personality that I acknowledge. I’m very particular about putting in a 100 per cent, but this drive makes people around me go totally bananas. It’s also tiresome for people who work with you.
The other thing is that I’m like a child. It’s a very good thing for an actor to come to the sets and be happy and excited, but then, you’re also very vulnerable and susceptible as a person. So that’s a big problem for me, because the industry that I’m in is a tough space. You can’t be affected by little things. I get really upset and angry sometimes. When I’m angry with someone, I just want to punch them. I’ve been brought up to not raise my voice. So, when I can’t raise my voice, I start crying.
Of your contemporaries, whom do you admire the most?
I really like Kangana [Ranaut]. I think she does what she wants. I admire her courage a lot, even though it does come with trouble. I also admire Deepika Padukone. She started off with nobody backing her, but she still turned it around with so much poise and grace.
She’s not my contemporary as such, but I’d like to mention Vidya Balan. She has just done what she believes in and is a great actor. My favourite actor has to be Ranbir Kapoor. I want to work with him again. He’s such an incredible talent and is very transparent as an actor. I also like the mad energy that Ranveer Singh is all about.
Gown by BCBG; Ring by Gucci
What do you think are the problem areas for Bollywood as an industry?
One of the biggest things I feel is that very few people go by artistic conviction. Ultimately, cinema is an artistic medium. When you’re making a film, you want people to believe in your story and take your characters and story back home with them. But people are mostly making films as projects in which they put big names together who have had some kind of success. It should instead be about the right people for the right parts. The directors in our country are under so much pressure to create these big projects and to have big openings. I wish people could just make the films that they want to make. So, if you pick actors that you have conviction in, you might not make a lot of money, but you would make a good film — something that you can look back with pride in the future. I understand that everybody needs to make money at the end of the day, but I also feel that we need to make good cinema.
Do you think the movie industry has unfair standards of beauty for actresses? Abhay Deol recently lashed out at the industry’s attitude towards fairness in a string of Facebook posts.
The question of unfair standards of beauty is not just for the industry but for the entire world to answer. Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that there are a lot of people who help us look the way we do, despite some of us being naturally gifted in our own ways. The other side is that it is great to live in a fairytale world with aspirations of certain standards of beauty. But it can’t drive people to insanity, where they stop eating and stuff like that. There has to be healthy encouragement to accept who you are. It’s not wrong to aspire to dress well or look good, but you can’t have one standard for it. That factory prototype of what is beautiful and what is not is the problem.
I have dimples on my shoulders, and everybody tries to Photoshop them out. But I keep saying, “No, I want them to be left alone.” I also have pixie ears, and I’ve created my own stories about them because my mom told me that I’m a pixie child. It stems from your family values to stay happy with who you are. There should be a need to constantly become a better version of yourself, but not just physically.
What are the things that you feel strongly about, in today’s world?
“Feminism” has become such a preachy word today, and sadly people are so scared of it. It is most natural for everybody to be brought up as feminists, because everybody needs to be treated as equals. It’s, again, a part of your upbringing. I’m also against violence. I don’t like the divisive brand of politics that we see around us today. Also, people shut out amazing things in the country which need to be promoted in the news more, and talk only about the negatives instead. Talking about the positive side is a reaffirmation of the good that exists.
Swimsuit by Tommy Hilfiger; Shorts by Pepe Jeans; Ring by Outhouse
Very few actors come out and a take a stand for anything in this industry. To hear Hydari put things down so matter-of-factly is heartening. Having said that, the industry (and trolls) is never kind to women who speak up. The likes of Kangana Ranaut and Swara Bhaskar realise that quite often. To lighten the mood, we ask her about the kind of men she likes. Hydari is definitely single at the moment, but you rarely read anything remotely juicy about her. She isn’t splashed across the tabloids, or spotted at some party with a “good friend”. And because she does not add any fuel to their fires, gossip mongers have started getting bored too.
If you could be someone else for a day, whom would it be?
Not that I really want to be somebody else, but I really look up to Audrey Hepburn. She had a life that I dream of. Along with that, she was a great human being, so dignified and amazing in every way.
Our readers are very interested in knowing about your taste in men. What is the first thing you notice in a man?
The smile and the hands, for some reason. I don’t know why, but the hands speak a lot about the person to me. I am not talking about hands being manicured or something, but just the natural shape of the hands.
And if we had to take you out on a date, what would the ideal setting be?
I don’t like the idea of dating. But if I had to go on one, it would be something with good music, preferably with a guitar at a beach. Or maybe, a long drive in a car with some music. There’s something more organic about this sort of hanging out than constructed dating.
Swimsuit by Roxy; Jacket by Marks & Spencer; Formula 1 Lady watch by Tag Heuer
What turns you on?
One is the smell and the other is the basic frame of the person – like how they’re built. I love an athletic build. Also, the smile. Every man should visit the dentist regularly.
Which three films do you wish you had been a part of?
Queen, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas and Mani Ratnam’s Bombay.
Which are the last films you loved and hated?
Apologies for sounding so immodest, but I really liked my own movie [Kaatru Veliyidai] made by Mani sir. I also watched Fifty Shades Darker recently, and I didn’t like it that much.
Art Director: Amit Naik
Junior Stylist: Neelangana Vasudeva
Hair And Make Up: Sandhya Shekar
Location Courtesy: Airbnb