Interview Hindi

Meher Vij: Working in an Aamir Khan film is like going to school

The Secret Superstar actress praises her co-actor and producer; says Zaira Wasim and she were scolded several times on the sets.

Courtesy: Meher Vij, Facebook

Mayur Lookhar

'Can you relate to your character?' It is one of the most cliched questions reporters throw at an artiste. And if the character is dark or submissive, rarely will you find an artiste relating to it.

TV and film actress Meher Vij is drawing much praise for her portrayal of the meek  oppressed housewife Najma in Aamir Khan’s latest production Secret Superstar. In the film, her daughter Insiya (Zaira Wasim) even calls her stupid, fearful and childish.

Vij stated categorically that in real life she is not at all like Najma. But speaking to the Delhi lady, we do get the feeling that rather like Najma, Vij is a bit unsure and restless. She may not agree, but perhaps that is what made her best suited to play the character of Insiya's mother.

Born Vaishali Sahdev, Vij is a late bloomer. She started with little roles on television and in films but got noticed while playing Rasia, mother of the mute Munni (Harshali Malhotra) in the Salman Khan blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015).

Meher is married to actor Manav Vij, whom she met on a TV show. Speaking to Cinestaan,com, she shared her Secret Superstar journey and the experience of working with Aamir Khan and recalled how she was a lost soul in her younger years. Excerpts.

In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, you had a daughter who couldn't speak. Now, in Secret Superstar, you have a daughter who just doesn’t stop talking.

(Laughs.) Absolutely! Insiya calls me stupid, darpok [frightened] and bacchi [childish]. Both the roles have been very difficult. At the same time they are both strong roles. I don't know what to say.

Which daughter is dearer?

I am very fond of Zaira. I am very fond of Harshali as well. I am very protective about both. I connect with people, for what reason I do not know. You meet so many actors on the sets. You connect with some, you don’t connect with some.

What is the story behind you landing the role of Najma?

I got a message from [director] Advait Chandan two months after Bajrangi Bhaijaan was released. It was around 8:30am, and he said he would like to meet me in the evening to discuss an Aamir Khan production. I thought someone was playing a prank. So, I lied that I am not in town, as I wanted it to sink in. I didn’t want to look haywire. So I met him the next day. I was really nervous and told Advait that I will get back to him in two days. He was like ‘accha’.

Perhaps he felt I was behaving like a star. But he understood my point of view. I went back home, discussed it with my husband and close friends Mahesh and Anisha, who told me it would be stupid to turn down an Aamir Khan film. I messaged Advait the same evening that I will give my 200% to the film. I auditioned 10 times [shooting from different angles] for this role.

Is there a bit of Najma in Meher?

Meher Vij as Najma in Secret Superstar

No. I am freaky, I am anxious, I am crazy, I am comical and my energy levels go up and down. I am not this person at all. I can’t sit in one place for more than 10 minutes. I have to keep moving. When I am home, doing nothing, I am always jumping. So, I am not this person. I don’t know how I did this role.

Advait is the best person to speak about this. He had to calm me down. I had told him before that he would need to calm me down on the sets for I am not this controlled person. I am a true Gemini, having many shades to my personality. Sometimes I can be emotional, very unpredictable. Nor am I the sensible, optimistic woman who is in control of herself. I can be gullible and impulsive.

With such a personality, was it Advait who guided you all along? Or did he give you the freedom to improvize?

No, I think it worked both ways. He guided me a lot but also gave me the chance to do what I wanted. The readings helped a lot. I felt I was going to school to learn something new. When you come to Aamir Khan’s office, you feel you are out here in school to learn something really amazing, something exciting.

Was Aamir there to supervise your readings?

No, he was there only when required. He is a sensible guy, he knows where the actor is going wrong or where the character graph is going. He enacted a few scenes of mine to show how they ought to be performed. That is the kind of dedication he has. What I have learnt from him is the way he respects his work, his art. It is beautiful. It is something everybody should learn.

I saw one of the behind-the-scenes videos of Secret Superstar where you disclosed that your mother is no more. Did that enable you to connect emotionally with the character?

Absolutely. I lost my mother to cancer. [But] I could feel that she was around me. While shooting I felt I had her energy, her blessings. On more than one occasion I felt I picked up many nuances, body language, reactions and the vibe of the character from my mom. She was the closest person I had in my life, more than my father. To lose somebody likes that… [chokes]. This role kept reminding me of her.

It must have been emotionally draining for you. How tough was it to get out of that zone?

Yes, very draining. [But] I was fine. You do a scene and then sit for 10 minutes, speak to people around, and let go of the moment. However, her memories will always be there in my subconscious mind. No one can take that place.

You are like a livewire, Zaira is a young girl. I am sure both of you had your fun moments on the sets.

Absolutely, we must have been scolded a hundred times on the sets. Often we would be just laughing. For what reason, I don’t know. Her energy is very infectious. She is a blessed child, but she doesn’t know it. I had a ball on the sets.

Any anecdote you would like to share?

She imitates an Angry Bird character. I can’t recollect which one. She makes some funny sound. I think she has done that in a few interviews [as well]. Whenever she did that I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed for hours, for which I got scolded. I was even told that I was not taking my work seriously. It is easy to make me laugh. I can be crazy.

Secret Superstar is not just a film about a girl's dreams or a mother-daughter relationship, but it also subtly addresses a few social issues. The final scene of Insiya throwing away her veil could well have been deemed offensive by some. Did you fear any adverse reaction to it while reading the script?

No, because that is the beauty of the writing. Advait wrote it so well that I didn’t feel offended at any moment. Credit should go to Advait that he touched upon those issues without hurting anyone. The intention was not to hurt anybody but to just tell people not to do such things, don’t let this happen around you, and support the girl child.

You had a few scenes with Aamir Khan in the film. Can you talk about that experience?

As I said before, I felt like I was back at school. The environment here is so healthy, intellectual. I am a non-serious actor. After coming here, I became more focused. I could concentrate more. That much passion, focus can only come when everybody is serious about their work. The kind of films Aamir makes are very unique, special.

Like in Secret Superstar, you had a few scenes with Salman Khan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. What’s the difference between the two Khans?

The difference is that I haven’t talked much with Salman sir. He doesn’t think of himself as a star, but everybody around him knows he is a star. Aamir knows he is a star, but he is one who would never take his stardom for granted. Actually, neither does Salman, but Aamir is more consumed by his work. He is so consumed, in a good way, that I can’t even tell you. I guess it is all about being more involved. Aamir would work on his character in a very different way.

It has been a great few years for you and your husband Manav, who was quite intimidating in Udta Punjab (2016). What is the atmosphere like at home?

Meher with husband Manav Vij

Yes, even I was scared after watching him in Udta Punjab. He had gained 18kg for that role, then lost it. That is how he works with his characters. I could not believe it was him. Even Aamir Khan was surprised to see him at the special screening [of Secret Superstar]. He couldn’t believe Manav was the same person who played [Jhujar Singh].

We don’t discuss work much at home, but I have a lot of respect for the way he works, the way he prepares. I wouldn’t be able to do that. I just go with the flow. He is a better human being, a better actor, and more dedicated. We don’t bring work home, as we like to have our peace.

Peace! I wonder, are you the one who calls the shots at home?

No, it is both. We don't impose ourselves on each other. At best, I just make a suggestion. If he is convinced about something, he goes ahead with it. He has been around for a while working in television before graduating to film. He has done Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. We met on the sets of Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil. We fell in love and got married.

I read online that you were born Vaishali Sahdev but changed your name after marriage to Meher. Can you tell us about that?

There was no specific reason to change. It was naturally planned by the universe. My character in Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil was called Meher. I met Manav there. He always called me Meher. He is close to [the popular Punjabi singer and actor] Gurdas Maan saheb. One day he introduced me to Maan saheb, saying her real name is Vaishali but he calls me Meher. Gurdas saheb also said Meher fits better. Manav connected more with Meher and I respect what Maan saheb said. I have changed my name officially in all documents.

Can you talk about your background, family, and education, and how you began your career?

I was born in Delhi. I was 14 when the family shifted to Mumbai. My father moved his business to Mumbai. I studied Arts at Bhawan’s College, Andheri. I wasn’t a good student and didn’t complete my studies because of some personal reasons. I was never sure whether I wanted to act. While in college you don’t know whether you want to be an actor or just be famous. That was not clear to me. I did start with a few print ads, then did a few episodes of a TV show, I don’t even remember its name. Then I did this film called Lucky: No Time For Love (2005). I had a small part in that film. I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do.

Thereafter I got this show called Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil. The show was a hit and only then I realized that I could act to save my life. Right after that I lost my mother to cancer and so I was not in the frame of mind to understand. It took me a lot of time to understand what I wanted. It’s only in the last three or four years that I have started to take my craft seriously. I was a lost soul before.

You started with John Abraham’s Saaya (2003), then took up Salman Khan’s Lucky: No Time For Love (2005).

Yes, I did do that film where I probably had just one or two scenes. I was promised a bigger role, but that is not how it turned out. Thereafter, I took up Lucky and then did a few Punjabi films, most notably a film called Ardaas (2016). Before Bajrangi Bhaijaan, I became more committed to my work. I don’t know how to explain, it's very blurry for me. So, whatever you think you can write.

When one makes a debut early in youth, one stands a chance to play the glamour doll. Is it easy for a late bloomer like you to make peace with the fact that you may find it difficult to get the glamorous roles now?

Courtesy: Meher Vij, Facebook

I never wanted to do a film where I just had to dance, sing or do romantic scenes. I would love to do a romantic film, but it has to make sense. If I have to do a commercial film, then there ought to be good reason to do that. I have understood that zone of Judwaa 2 (2017) or going into glamorous roles... ah, I have been told that when some people are told to work on their characters, they tend to go and lose weight. Instead of working at a cerebral level, they lose weight. I don’t mind playing glamorous, sexy, but I would do it for my own happiness or if the character required it. Unnecessarily dressing up everyday and going to parties doesn’t make sense to me. Probably that is the reason I didn’t do such films, or they didn’t come to me. Like I said, I was a lost child. I never made an effort. If I can’t justify a role, then there is no point taking it up.

TV is a different medium. It may not give you much creative satisfaction, but it helps pay the bills. Earlier, it was seen as difficult for TV artistes to make the transition to films. They just couldn’t get rid of their TV characters. Was the transition tough for you and Manav?

To realize that you don’t want to work on TV takes time. TV is good, it offers good money, instant fame, but to realize that you want to do something different was difficult for me. I took a break for two years after quitting TV. I waited for two years to get work. A lot of people asked me whether I felt insecure. I wasn’t insecure, because I will never go against my heart, against my will.

Manav quit TV before me. I think his last show was in 2010-11, Mitwa Phool Kamal Ke. You don’t know how destiny works. Both of us lost our mothers in the same year. After that, there has been a lot of change in both of us. You feel that you have left your parents and come to Mumbai to make something. You feel that responsibility even more. Your parents supported you morally, financially when you were a newcomer. It was my mother’s wish that I should do better in life. Responsibility makes you a better person. Guess that’s why we got into films.

Finally, what after Secret Superstar? Have you been reading any scripts?

Two scripts have come to me. I have turned one down. I am going through the other. It will take another 10-15 days, probably a month, to decide. Films are not signed in a day. The moment I sign a film, I will let everybody know.