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Interview Hindi

A film delayed by the pandemic is not so bad; people lost jobs, lives: Manushi Chhillar

Miss World 2017 Chhillar, who is set to make her debut with Samrat Prithviraj, talks about the film and more.

Photo: Courtesy of Manushi Chhillar on Instagram

Ankita Kanabar

Haryanvi beauty Manushi Chhillar, who brought home the Miss World crown in 2017, has had audiences waiting for her film debut ever since it was announced back in 2019 that she would star opposite Akshay Kumar in a Yash Raj project.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out later that year and ravaged the world over the next two played spoilsport owing to which Chhillar's big movie debut kept getting delayed. But the radiant actress exuded confidence ahead of the film's release at an interaction at the Yash Raj Films studio.

While her excitement at finally seeing her debut film released is at a peak right now, cinema was not an obvious choice for Chhillar after she won the Miss World crown.

“When I won, I was very clear that I won’t come into the industry," she said. "It didn’t make sense to pursue anything because I had to go back and study. But when you have a story like Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan and someone like Aditya Chopra wanting to launch you and someone like Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi directing you, it’s not something you can let go of. When suddenly you are popular after winning Miss World, offers do come, but to be honest, this was the biggest I got.”

The offer made it a tough choice for Chhillar between continuing her medical studies and taking up acting. “They are both equally big opportunities," she said, "to study to become a doctor and to act in a film like this. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back and lead a normal life because everyone knew me. My first-year mark-sheets were all over the internet. To be a student and study medicine, you need to be in a certain closed environment and not want everyone’s attention. Then, everyone told me when you have a big opportunity like this, you should go with the flow even when you have other plans. So, I chose this, but I’m so happy because I realized I enjoy acting.”

Chhillar had to prep for about nine months for a period drama like Samrat Prithviraj. Talking about her preparation, she said, “I started watching all films in theatres, good, bad, all films. You should also be a part of the audience and understand cinema to become an actor. I saw period films. I have seen Jodhaa Akbar at least 25 times. But the vision of doctor saheb [director Dwivedi] is very different. So, it depends on what the director wants.

"I prepped for eight or nine months. I think the basic focus during that was to learn the basics of acting. Every detailing was taken care of — right from the fabrics and the embroidery that would be used on them. He has paid attention to even such small things.”

All of it was challenging for the newbie, but producer Aditya Chopra used some tricks to get her to performing well. “Everything on this film was a challenge," Chhillar confessed. "One thing I take credit for is I survive every time I’m thrown into a new situation. That’s something Aditya Chopra realized about me. He said, ‘Everytime I challenge you, you take it to your ego and give your best'. That’s why he loves to challenge me. He plays that trick with me.”

But more than acting in the film, what was challenging for Chhillar was to have the patience when things did not go smoothly due to the pandemic. Asked how she managed to stay calm, the actress said, “I used to feel I’m a very patient person, but the last one year has been testing. The film’s release date kept getting pushed, but it was a pandemic, everyone was affected. I used to tell myself that having a film delayed due to the pandemic is not so bad considering that people were losing their jobs and lives.

"But I’m so glad things are back on track. When you spend time on a film set, you realize that so many people get employment due to films and so many people get paid on a per-day basis; they have all suffered. I wondered how they survived. So, I used to purposely think of those people. Yet, when the film was delayed again in January, I was really upset. But you have to look at the larger picture and calm yourself.”

Chhillar is similarly realistic enough to know that other producers and directors will sign her only if she proves she is good at her job and that keeps her on her toes. Will she pass the big test when the film is released tomorrow? Only time will tell.