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Aditi Rao Hydari admits exclusively, “I’m still like a kid on the sets.”

Aditi Rao Hydari – There’s an innocence to her that you pray remains with her always. A fragility that becomes palpable on screen. And this vulnerability isn’t just limited to screen time. Looking at her, you find it hard to believe that she hasn’t just survived but thrived in the dog-eat dog world of showbiz. Hearing her waxing eloquent about movies, you realise she’s genuinely enthusiastic about being part of cinema. In fact, she considers her position a privilege. Her goals are simple, she wants to be relevant for as long as she can be. Perhaps it’s that determination which drove her to seek meatier roles down South. And which is driving her to push the envelope on OTT. She’ll be seen in two period drama series. While Taj: Divided By Blood, is set in the Mughal times, Heeramandi is set in the pre partition era and tells the tale of a generation of courtesans. She talks about both with candour and wit. Excerpts:

Do you think OTT platforms are a game changer, especially when it comes to portraying female characters in a better light?

We all love theatre. We love to see larger-than-life films and it’s magical. However, OTT gives content creators a certain creative freedom to tell so many different stories in so many different ways. And our audience wants to consume different stories and content as well. They are open to it and they are choosing what they want. It’s about the stories without any kind of market pressure. The audience is consuming all kinds of things and not investing in a set formula. The makers as well as the actors have recognised that maturity and are paying heed to the change. It’s an interesting time for everyone and not just actresses.

What made you say yes to the series, Taj: Divided By Blood?

When I heard that they wanted me to play Anarkali. I was like, “What? No chance.” How can there be another Anarkali? In fact, Anarkali ke naam par sirf Madhubala ji yaad aati hain (You only remember Madhubala as Anarkali). I feel there can be no second Mughal-e-Azam. So I said no. I forgot about it. Then the director and producer came to my house to meet me. They stated that they viewed this as a global and an universal story. Because of this love story, everything else follows in the way things unfold.The way they narrated it, I was like, “This is not at all Mughle-e-Azam. It’s gritty and darker.” It’s an amalgam of history and imagination. Anarkali from the 16th century was just a girl and I played her as such. A girl in captivity who had fallen in love with a prince and who showed spirit and courage and stood up to the emperor and was loyal to her love.

You’re playing a courtesan again in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period drama, Heeramandi…

Sanjay sir has so much respect for women and female characters. He has so much love and passion for the stories he is making; that’s why people remember his characters. He doesn’t just make her a cardboard cutout. There’s much to do in the series and of course, I’m surrounded by such fabulous co-stars. That was indeed a bonus.

Was it a conscious decision to focus on South films and avoid Hindi films?

I love to work with good directors. For me, films are like beautiful stories that the director shows you on celluloid. Stories aren’t bound by language. It’s about the directors and what they bring to life. People like us, who are outsiders, have limited access.We wait for the right place at the right time. Agar Mani Ratnam sir jaise director ka apke paas call aa jaye… (If a director like Mani Ratnam calls you…) you feel lucky and then you get more good offers.

You’re bringing the nepotism debate into play when you say you struggled because you were an outsider…

Everyone has to struggle. But the difference between a star kid and an outsider is that they’ll get ten opportunities. And we will get only one. However, it is ultimately about people liking you, accepting you, directors choosing you. And you being relevant for a long time. Talent should be lasting. That is the main thing, right?

You did manage to work with some of the best directors, be it Sudhir Mishra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, or Mani Ratnam…

They are really great filmmakers. The audience remembers their movies for a long time and keeps going back to their films and talking about them. Those films became cult films. I am like a baby and cannot talk about legends. I feel blessed that I get the opportunity to work with them and with really amazing directors. They push, challenge and also protect the actor in you.

Would you say that you have found your place in the industry?

To be honest, my dream was to be a Mani Ratnam or a Sanjay Leela Bhansali heroine. When I was a kid,
I had these dreams. You can say I’ve realised those dreams. But trust me, I still struggle. If there is no struggle, then how will I learn? What am I looking forward to? So I still want to do more. I still have dreams. If you’re looking for a unique way to express yourself, this is the place to be. I still think – Will I be able to give life to the vision of my directors? Will the audience accept me in my new role? All those things are still there.

How have you evolved as an actor and as a person?

As an actress? Let the audience be the judge of that. But as a person, I feel I’ve definitely grown. When I first came to Mumbai and landed Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011), I had no idea how to survive in this city. All I knew was that I wanted to live here and make my name as an actor. But being an outsider, I had no one to guide me. I learnt the ropes on the way and I’m not that unsure or hesitant person any more. But I’m still like a kid on the sets. A kid lost in a playground. A kid who loves to explore. Who’s always dreaming of tomorrow. But who has more clarity now. So she can plan out her steps to achieve those dreams. The clarity of purpose wasn’t there before. Now I not only know what I want to do but also have the vision to achieve that.

How have you managed to stay positive despite all your ups and downs?

You should always believe in yourself. Never complain about not having enough and instead count your blessings. Never say the glass is half empty. It’s always half full. Always be aware of your worth and you’ll never feel low, you’ll never feel unimportant. I’ve always believed in the magic of cinema. I always feel that I’m in a profession which, for a short while at least, gives people a chance to escape their mundane lives. That’s kind of empowering, indeed. I take it as a blessing that I’m in this profession. This thought always fills me up with positivity. And I don’t bother about things that are beyond my control.

What is Aditi like in real life?

I am a happy person. I love to make people around me happy. I am very transparent. You can always read what I’m feeling on my face. I’m loyal. I do get angry and I cry when I’m angry. I’ve experienced that anger too is good sometimes. I’ve a video imagination. You tell me anything and I start imagining it in colour. In fact, that’s how I approach my characters. I’ve already imagined them vividly during the narration. So enacting them becomes easier as I feel I already know them.

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