She is vivacious and elegant, her personality is magnetic and her journey is one that needs to be celebrated and talked about. She took a massive step from television to Bollywood and is living her dream on movie sets. Yes, we are talking about Jersey’s leading lady Mrunal Thakur. With no godfather or links to the film world, this is an actress who has made her presence known based on her merit. With hard work and talent, she has successfully carved a niche for herself in the industry. She began her acting career with the TV show Mujhse Kuchh Kehti… Yeh Khamoshiyaan. Mrunal Thakur rose to fame with her performance as Bulbul in Kumkum Bhagya. The actress’ Bollywood debut was in Vikas Bahl’s biographical movie Super 30.

The actress is now gearing up for the release of her film Jersey, with Shahid Kapoor. In an exclusive interview with Man’s World, Mrunal Thakur opens up about her character in the movie, being a part of the industry, working with Shahid Kapoor, her struggling days, and more. Excerpts from the interview:

How does it feel when directors want to cast you because they feel you fit a role, and that writers are writing roles keeping you in mind?

I live to entertain my audience. Initially, I used to feel writers are lying that they have written the character keeping me in mind because jis ladki ko script padne ki ijazat nahi thi, jisko lagta tha ki ek role hi mil jaye vahi badi baat hai, narration toh dur ki baat hai… (A girl who was not allowed to read scripts, who just wanted one role in films, for her narration is a big deal). I can’t believe this and maybe somewhere I am making a difference. I am glad people are showing so much faith in me and are loving my performances. This gives me the courage and strength to take more risks. The roles I’ve done in the past are diverse – people expected me to play sweet characters, dance, and sing around, but I didn’t want that for myself. I wanted to reach out to the audience with my work. 

Tell us something about Vidya? What attracted you to play the character?

Vidya is someone I have never played. I like experimenting with my characters. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the man was considered to be everything; he was the bread earner for the family. It was a big deal the society if the woman was going out to earn, took care of the family, paid rent and light bills, etc. I am playing an independent woman who lives life on her terms. In Jersey, I am not playing a supportive wife, but people will see shades of a woman. You will see the complete opposite of what you’ve seen from me. It would be a little difficult to like Vidya as she is always against Arjun Talwar (Shahid Kapoor). Human drama attracts me the most and I am glad that I can play such roles. Vidya is strong and capable of taking care of the family. After television, I wanted to try my chance in films. I can resonate with the film in that aspect. We should never give up without trying.

Did you guys have to change something to suit the Hindi-speaking audience?

Yes, we have changed the background of the film. The original film is based in Hyderabad but this one is based in Chandigarh. Shahid plays Punjabi boy and I am playing a Telugu girl and people will see me speaking the language. Jersey was my preparation for the Dulquer Salman film I am a part of. 

We have always seen you playing strong female characters — be it in Toofan, Dhamaka, Super 30, or Jersey. What attracts you to a character?

First of all, I want to be vulnerable and go with the flow. I don’t want to play just a wife or a girlfriend but a professional. All the parts I have played are based on some profession – in Batla House, I am playing a journalist, in Toofan, I am playing a doctor, in Dhamaka, I am a reporter and now in Jersey, I am a receptionist. All the characters are independent. The only thing I look at in the script is the content and I want to be a part of films that will be remembered by people across the globe. 

I am loving your journey. From television to playing supporting actors and now the lead. Tell us something about your journey. Was there a time when people doubted you?

Not many people know this but Super 30 was my Bollywood debut as Love Sonia is a Hollywood film. Starting my career with such a brilliant film, and opposite actors like Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha, Freida Pinto, Rajkummar Rao, Demi Moore, Mark Duplass was huge and it boosted my confidence. I felt if I could pull off Love Sonia, then I can do any film. For me, it was the ticket to Bollywood. Many people used to tell me “Tumse nahi ho paega” but then I looked forward to meeting them because that was the fuel to my passion. If I wouldn’t have met such people, I might not have worked even harder to prove them wrong. I love challenges. When people tell me that I can’t do a certain thing, I do it better. Now, people who once told me that I can’t make it big and I should go back to television, appreciate my work. 

What are your takeaways from Jersey?

My takeaways from Jersey are It’s never too late to achieve what your heart desires and don’t just survive, live your life. Babumoshai, zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi…

Any BTS moments from Jersey?

Shahid and I have shot so many montages which I don’t think could make it in the film because we had a lot of talks but Shahid is extremely goofy and funny around everyone. It was fun shooting with him. He is just lovely. 

One thing about Shahid Kapoor that no one would know?

If there’s tension on the sets, or if someone is not happy, Shahid makes sure that the person feels better and is smiling. That’s the best quality in him. He reads people’s minds. 

The pandemic has brought the entire fraternity together and we no longer just want one film to work. What is your take on films clashing? 

After the pandemic, we are all coming together. It’s not like South films or Hindi films but it’s an Indian film releasing. As a fraternity, we just want to spoil our audience with choices – if they want human drama and cricket, they have Jersey, if they want action, then they have KGF: Chapter 2. The audience just wants the actors to pamper them with a lot of good films.

One thing about Mrunal Thakur that no one knows?

I am a very emotional person; I can cry in seconds. On the outer side, I might appear to be strong, just like Jhansi Ki Rani, but inside I am emotional. 

You’ve been a part of amazing OTT releases. Do you think they are a game-changer and women characters are now being portrayed in a better light?

Women are being celebrated now, thanks to OTT platforms. As actors, it is so important that our work reaches out to a global audience. Be it Madhuri ma’am or Shefali ma’am, they are blossoming and doing some amazing work. Earlier, it was said that female actors have a shelf life but now they can work till their last breath and that’s beautiful.

You inspire so many young actors. If you have to make a guide for these actors, what are those 5 things you’d tell them?

Always remember why you started. Have a conversation with yourself because many answers lie in those questions. Third, we should never compare ourselves with others because there is no comparison between the sun and the moon; they both shine when the time is right. Fourth, learn to be happy, do not be dependent on someone else, make sure that you are the reason to be happy. Don’t be a victim because if you will try to gain sympathy, you’ll be trapped. Instead create opportunities and move forward.

What’s next for Mrunal Thakur?

I am working on Pippa with Ishan Khattar, Aankh Micholi with Abhimanyu Dassani, and a beautiful love story with Dulquer Salman.