Aditi Rao Hydari on Mother’s Day, her career, personal style, passions and why she’s not afraid to be ‘innocent’
Fresh off a fabulous and much-praised performance in Ajeeb Daastaans, Aditi Rao Hydari returns to the OTT platform with Sardar Ka Grandson in just a few days. We speak to her on the eve of Mother’s Day to find out more about the Aditi we need to know…
We first saw her as a danseuse in the National Award winning Sringaram, a Tamil film on the devadasis of Tamil Nadu (that travelled the international festival circuit in 2006 before being released in 2007). The choreographer of the film, Saroj Khan, told this doe-eyed actress that her eyes speak volumes and that she would do very well in Bollywood. Ten years later, in 2017, new life was breathed into her career when she essayed the role of an army doctor (Leela Abraham) in Mani Ratnam’s award-winning Tamil film, Kaatru Veliyidai. More recently she was seen in Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi, a part of the Hindi anthology Ajeeb Daastaans and will be seen next in Kaashvi Nair’s family drama Sardar Ka Grandson paired opposite John Abraham for the first time (both on Netflix).
In all these years, this vivacious actress believes that she hasn’t, “changed one bit.” We catch up with the extremely talented singer, dancer and fashion icon for a conversation on all things film, fashion, family and fun. Excerpts:
With Mother’s Day around the corner we begin with the very obvious question: what does this day mean to you?
This day celebrates my biggest inspiration in life: my mother. Second to her would be my grandmother. I love to celebrate both women. They are both very good human beings and amazing at what they do and how they think and the people that they are! They say you learn by example and so I accredit everything that is good in me to these two strong women. They truly taught me to be who I am, by living as examples.
Priya Sharma, the role you play in Ajeeb Daastaans is a character with many subtle shades. There’s a greyness to her that’s muddled in the complexity of her character foliaged by her perceived innocence. Was it difficult to play the role?
Priya is very innocent and naïve and she says whatever is in her heart. I don’t think she even realises what a complex situation she is in. That’s what made it exciting for me. The character was very far removed from who I am and the world I grew up in. Priya was a subversion of the manic pixie dream girl. It was about the female gaze. Anthologies aren’t necessarily easier. You might be shooting for fewer days, but the effort is still the same. So, it was difficult in a sense, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Being typecast as an ‘innocent girl’ is one of the most common tropes for actresses in Indian cinema. Do you think you have been typecast?
I don’t mind being typecast as the innocent girl anymore. I mean, I am what I am. I yearn to be versatile, I definitely don’t want to be put in a box, but that’s up to the directors. I look a certain way and people perceive me in a certain way and so there’s going to be a type of character that gets offered to me more regularly. But that can be my core and people can build layers on that core. After working with Mani (Ratnam) sir, I realised that I could just be me and come to the sets as an open sheet and allow that sheet to be written on. I’m uncomfortable with people looking at innocence in just one myopic way. All my growing up years, I’ve been teased for being childlike, for being a dreamer, for crying as much as I laugh — for being innocent. But today I think, ‘hey, I’m being transparent,’… that’s who I am and I’ll work with it.
The OTT platform seems to spell magic for you, so far?
My first OTT release was the Malayalam film, Sufiyum Sujatayum, last year. I was really crestfallen when I realised it was not going to have a theatrical release. It was such a beautiful film, so visually spectacular, I really wanted it to be a theatre viewing experience. It had a fable like quality. But when I saw the responses the film got and heard how the characters literally entered people’s living rooms, figuratively; it changed the way I perceived the platform. This led me to really value OTT. The power of OTT is that the characters you see almost become yours. On the big screen, characters are ephemeral, almost unreachable; but on OTT, you get to be more intimate with them.
Videos of you performing with your guru Leela Samson still make the rounds in classical dance circles across the country. From bharatanatyam sequences in Sharada Ramanathan’s Sringaram, to an exquisite mujra in Loot Liyo Mohé Shyam (from Marathi film Rama Madhav), to freestyle and dreamy kathak sequences in Sufiyum Sujatayum — you are known to be a good dancer. How important, therefore, is dance in your scheme of things?
I am biased towards films that are based on dance, but I hardly get them. I’ve hardly even danced in my Hindi films. Dance and music are such a big part of my life. I’ve been dancing since I was five years old. My mother is a Hindustani classical singer, so I’ve woken up to the sound of the tanpura every single day. I dance all the time, but do I get time to really practice? Not really. I don’t perform on stage anymore because I haven’t practiced enough, but I keep in touch with that side of me. I visit my guru, Leela (Samson) akka every time I am in Chennai. On sets I am usually caught humming to myself and dancing in my head, mudras on my fingers; and I am often found randomly sitting in the aramandi (the half sitting basic bharatanatyam pose) — it’s that much a part of the real me (laughs).
And what about music?
I never learnt music professionally. I did learn it for less than a year as a child. I sang in school, but was never formally taught music. I’ve heard it all my life and I guess, some genetic code worked in my favour and so I can sing relatively decently. But I am always up for singing in a film or if anyone asks me to sing, literally anywhere. A huge credit goes to (AR) Rahman sir, as I lost my stage fear of singing when I had to perform (Vaan Varuvaan from Kaatru Veliyidai live with him at IIFA (The International Indian Film Academy Awards) in 2017. A studio recording seems so much easier after that. And by the time I recorded Kaathodu Kaathanen (from Tamil film Jail) with Dhanush for GV (Prakash), I was able to do it in a few hours. I openly tell the music director to push me as much as they want, till they get what they want; but please don’t auto tune me.
You have received much praise and criticism for your unique brand of style that is glamorous, yet subtle and simple. How do you define your sense of fashion?
My sense of style is very innate. It’s all about who I am and it stems from within and how I feel on that day. It would always be something that I would wear: any year, any time. I like fashion that is more timeless. If it looks nice on me and I like wearing it, then I will wear it regardless of whether it’s a trend or not. I just have fun with it.
What are the passions that drive you in life?
I am very drawn to craft and craftspeople and I am involved in providing education and I don’t mean literacy, but actual education. I am also very vocal about women’s issues. Abuse towards women is normalised in our country and that is not normal! I love doing anything creative. I think I came out of my mother’s womb dancing and singing and so I can’t imagine being anyone else. Acting is also such a beautiful amalgamation of every art form and being in front of the camera is like wonderland for me. I am also into yoga and cooking.
What can we expect from you next, film wise?
There’s Sardar Ka Grandson in Hindi and Vikramaditya Motwane’s web series Stardust, that’s also in Hindi. There’s also (choreographer-turned-director) Brinda’s Hey Sinamika in Tamil and Ajay Bhupathi’s bilingual Mahasamudram (Telugu and Tamil).
And finally, can you speak in any other language, save English and Hindi?
I don’t speak Telugu, Tamil or Malayalam. I grew up in Delhi and so my Hindi is decent. But I manage to dub for Telugu movies. I am still afraid to dub in Tamil just yet, as I think the audience will throw tomatoes at me (laughs).
Sardar Ka Grandson releases on Netflix on May 18.
Main picture and Picture 2 credits:
Outfit: ‘Mandana’ by Punit Balana
Jewellery: The House of MBj
Stylist: Ami Patel
HMU: Elton J Fernandez
Photographer: The House Of Pixels
Picture 3 credits:
Outfit: Sonam Parmar Jhawar
HMU: Elton J Fernandez
Stylist: Sanam Ratansi
Photographer: Kumar Devikar