Exclusive interview: Kiara Advani on films, battling failure, witnessing fandom and placing her hopes on Indoo Ki Jawani

In today’s trying times, Kiara’s story is of a girl who has carved a niche for herself by taking things one step at a time

Heena Khandelwal Published :  27th March 2020 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  27th March 2020 12:00 AM

Kiara Advani

LAST YEAR, WITH the controversial film Kabir Singh (2019), Kiara Advani saw her first release as a solo-heroine, opposite Shahid Kapoor. Although the film was called out by several sections of the society for being misogynistic, it worked wonders at the box office, earning over Rs 350 crore and generating a plethora of memes that feature Kiara’s character, Preeti Sikka.

“It made the audience realise that I am there and I belong to them. After the release, even Karan (Johar) told me that this kind of success and mania for a role doesn’t come with every film,” says Kiara. She admits feeling a sense of ‘stardom’ after the release where she couldn’t roam freely anymore, and is now stopped often for selfies, while there are paps waiting for her at the airport. 

Kiara’s journey started in 2014, when she debuted with Fugly, co-starred by Jimmy Sheirgill. But the film didn’t do too well, and there was a long wait before MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), which saw her playing Sakshi Dhoni. Although the film did fairly well at the box office, Kiara’s impression remained in the background. After another failure with Abbas-Mustan’s Machine (2017), she offered a breath of fresh air in the Netflix anthology Lust Stories (2018). In the short film that featured her, Kiara was seen as a woman with desires that are left unaddressed by her husband. She eventually uses a vibrator and climaxes into an orgasm in a rather hilarious scene with Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’s theme song playing in the backdrop. The scene was praised for its portrayal of women’s sexuality, and since then, she has been climbing the ladder of success one step at a time. As she returns with the Netflix Original film, Guilty, which is also the first production venture of Dharma Productions’ digital arm, Dharmatic, we sat down with the actress for a full-length chat about the films she has done so far, enduring failure, tasting stardom, working in the Telugu film industry, having a bag full of promising films (Laxmmi Bomb, Indoo Ki Jawani, Shershaah and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2) in her palms and her character Nanaki in Guilty. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Kiara, you are in the middle of doing some really good work and giving the audience and your fans one film after another to indulge in. How do you reflect at the year gone by?
The year 2019 has undoubtedly been very special in my career. Both Kabir Singh and Good Newwz brought me closer to the audience and the love I received was overwhelming. And I couldn’t be happier to start 2020 with Guilty as it was totally unexpected from me. I hope to be versatile and yet entertain the audience with each film.

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Q: We saw Guilty and the character of Nanaki is very different from what we have seen you playing on the screen so far. How did you prepare for Nanaki?
My character and the person that I am in reality are North and South. While I can relate to her for sure, her whole being is very different, but I think that’s the challenge. When Ruchi came to me with this project, I could see the homework that she had done. Be it the way she reacts or her hair being coloured in certain ways or the tattoos that she had on her skin, none of it was just for effect, there were reasons behind everything that you see on the screen. For me, it was interesting to get in those layers and understand that. But, I’ve had a very sheltered upbringing and to play Nanaki, I needed a lot of prep. I did several workshops and met people who are similar to Nanaki. I met girls who think like her, who have gone through situations that Nanaki had gone through in her life and spent a month and a half to prepare for the character. The minute I got into the look of Nanaki, I was Nanaki. The entire Delhi schedule, when we shot for a month, there was not a moment when I snapped out of character.

Q: How has the initial response been to Guilty? What’s the best thing that you have been told about your role in the film?
I feel immense gratitude for all the appreciation that I’ve been receiving for Guilty. People are sharing their stories with us and they are loving the film. It’s truly satisfying. It’s probably one of the hardest characters that I have ever played, and reading comments like ‘career-defining performance’ makes all the months of hard work feel so, so worth it.

Still from Lust Story, Kabir Singh and Guilty featuring Kiara Advani

Q: From 2014 to 2020, it took a good six years before you could reach where you are today. Were there moments of self-doubt, especially when your debut film Fugly didn’t do well at the box office? How did you fight off the negativity?
Of course, it was heartbreaking. I am a human, at the end of the day. I did go into a shell, I felt lost, I felt like I didn’t know where I was going with my life or if I would get another film. And, I really wanted to work, but there were days and months of having absolutely nothing. But I believed in myself and I knew my potential, I knew I had something, I was just waiting for that opportunity. There is a saying that I believe in — when hard work meets opportunity, you get success. So, I continue to work hard, and prepare myself for such opportunities — so that when they come, I am ready.

Q: Your Telugu film Bharat Ane Nenu did amazingly well. Will we see you doing more South Indian films in future or is Bollywood your sole focus right now?
I would love to do more work in the Telugu film industry, but it all depends on the right script. I am yet to hear a script as good as Bharat Ane Nenu. The fans that I earned from that film have been loyal and they follow my work in Hindi films as well. I read all their mails, wanting me to do more films in the South, and I’d love to do it for them. I’m just waiting for the right one.

Q: Kabir Singh became the talk of the town for several reasons. While it made around Rs 200 crore, it also received heavy criticism, and you were in the middle of it all! Now that that storm is over, what does Kabir Singh mean to you?
Some characters stay with the audience and that’s what the film Kabir Singh did for me... even today, the love for Preeti hasn’t died and it’s overwhelming. It made the audience feel that I am there and I belong to them. Even after a year later, every new picture that I upload is followed with a Kabir Singh meme, which is funny yet flattering. People can’t stop calling me Preeti, I’ve never seen anything like that... very few films and characters generate that kind of magic today.

Q: How crucial a role did Lust Story play in your journey so far? And how important is to have a mentor like Karan Johar?
Karan Johar has been a godsend for me. He’s believed in me and my potential and saw something that no one else did. He has given me some of my career’s most defining roles so far. It began with Lust Stories and there’s been no looking back since then. My character in Lust Stories gave me wings to fly as an actor, to believe in myself and to take up challenging parts and surprise people. He’s had my back and I will always have a very special equation with him. He’s someone I love and respect deeply.

Q: Having spent some years in the industry, we want to know what you look for in a script?
It has always been an instinctive decision, while choosing a script. If I feel it’s a film that I would want to watch, then I would want to be a part of it. The director really matters, of course, and there is a list of directors I would love to work with, but if I connect with a new director and his or her vision, I would like to take up that project. But, overall, my story and my role are two elements that matter the most.

Q: How would you define success? What does it mean to you? And how do you manage to stay grounded after having this huge splash of success hitting you time and again?
Success is temporary, just like a failure. I have seen extreme lows and extreme highs and I know, wise are those who take neither seriously. Be grateful, work hard, focus on the journey and leave the rest to God. I give it to my first film for teaching me to continue to be the same. I’m also managed by the team that saw me when I was starting off, so surrounding myself with people who give me that reality check keeps me grounded.

Q: Do you remember the first time that you felt, ‘Oh, I am a celebrity now’?
Post Kabir Singh, I realised that I can’t just walk into a public place without being recognised. Earlier, people would recognise me, but some were still trying to figure it out, some would actually come up and ask me why I look so familiar, which was quite funny, but the Preeti-mania after Kabir Singh has made me a bit cautious. Now I’m mentally prepared to give a zillion selfies at the airport without complaining about my face hurting, because of smiling for each of them.

Q: What’s your fitness routine like?
Eat right, sleep well and dedicate an hour a day to some form of physical activity. I like to mix it up between dance, yoga, boxing, functional training and pilates.

Q: What do you love the most about your job? And what is one thing that annoys you most about your profession?
The process of creating characters and the entire process of shooting gives me a high that can’t be explained. Honestly, promotions have started to annoy me a bit.

Q: What do you do on an off-day?
To be honest, there are barely any off days, but I am not complaining. Sleep is precious, and time with family and friends is valued on every rare off-day that I get now.

Q: What’s the one role you are most excited about, in your upcoming movies?
Indoo from my film Indoo Ki Jawani! It’s also my first female-oriented film and is very entertaining. There was a distinct amount of prep that went into the characterisation, so I am longing to see how the audience enjoys the film.