COVER: 'I manifested being a Bollywood heroine': Naane Varuvean star Elli AvrRam on dreams, self-belief and cardinal connect with India
Our cover girl Elli AvrRam spills the tea on her claim to fame, power of passion and why simplicity is true bliss for her
Our entertainment industry is like a chimera — a dreamland of stories that can entertain us all day but with little gravitas to back its larger-than-life appeal. For Elli AvrRam, who is an actress of Swedish-Greek origin, however, being a movie star is not just a whimsical fantasy… it’s a visceral desire — one where she has manifested the Bollywood heroine and become one with her sheer passion and belief in self.
Since her childhood, the sassy actress born in Stockholm had a deep fascination for India and its colourful film industry, painting dreams to be a part of it one day. Today, she has come a long way, having embarked on a glorious film career starting from Mickey Virus (2013) and then becoming a household name as a Bigg Boss Season 7 contestant. From recently sharing the screen with superstars Amitabh Bachchan in Goodbye and Dhanush in Naane Varuvean, she will next be seen in action-thriller Ganapath set for a December release.
Besides being an actress, Elli is also a gifted dancer. She dazzled in hit dance numbers like cabaret song Har Funn Maula alongside Aamir Khan which raked up 91 million views on YouTube and the Chamma Chamma remake which has already garnered a whopping 296 million views (and counting). While the 32-year-old is riding the crest of a wave and might have it all at the moment, in reality, she is someone who needs just the small things in life to be truly happy. Perhaps that’s why she leads a very simple life away from the glitterati of Mumbai, in Madh Island amid quaint fishing villages and farmlands. When we spoke to her, she was comfortably seated in her balcony, sipping tea, enjoying the lush greenery around her. In our hour-long candid chat, we met a sagacious Elli who knows how to write different chapters of her life with utmost honesty. Excerpts:
Tell us about your childhood and how you were acquainted with performance arts like theatre and dance?
My father is a musician and my mother and aunt come from a theatre and acting background. So, as I was growing up, I was surrounded by art all around. I had a daily routine of rehearsals in various art forms and I loved each of them equally. My mother and my aunt have given me a lot of acting related advice since my childhood. For one, my father and them used to suggest that once you are stepping into a character after the project is over, learn to come out of that role and be yourself again. Such exposure at the right age planted seeds of creativity and passion in me. When it comes to dancing, I was a figure skater from the age of eight to 15. It taught me how to hold posture, where to give that extra stretch and more.
You’re originally from Stockholm, so, what made you so deeply connected to India?
I am a spiritual person and the only reason that explains my love for India is, I guess, some past life connection (laughs). It was from childhood that I used to watch Bollywood movies on Swedish television and that was the beginning of my fascination with Indian culture. In my teenage years, I even decorated my room in our Stockholm home with all possible Indian elements. I remember, I painted the walls in bright green and gold and selected orange bedding and purple curtains. Then, I got posters of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and adorned the walls with them (laughs) making the whole room exude a princess kind of vibe. Cinema further anchored my interest in India. I found this DVD store in Stockholm which sold Bollywood movies. So, I used to buy many of them and spend my Fridays and Saturdays binge-watching them! I was so enticed by the dance, music, studios and actors and dreamt of being part of this over-the-top world. I am a big Shah Rukh Khan fan, so, I have watched Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham several times. I am a big Kajol fan also and have always admired her for her natural acting and bubbly nature. I met her a few months ago and even told her: you’re exactly the same as you appear in films! (laughs). Now that I’ve spent many years in India, the fact that the audience has also embraced me makes this whole journey worth it. In fact, this year, I have celebrated Diwali with the traditional Laxmi Puja at home with an Indian family. India is now my home away from home.
You often say you manifested the Bollywood heroine that helped turn your dreams into reality?
It was like a childhood dream to become a Bollywood heroine. And yes, when I look back, maybe, I manifested being a Bollywood heroine by wanting it enough. When I look back at my journey, especially after reading the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, I felt that I was actually doing everything that was written in the book about trusting yourself ! If you truly believe in yourself with 100% conviction, it will manifest into reality. There were so many people in my journey who kept telling me that I won’t be able to make it, and pointed out my mistakes and shortcomings. But, I created my own reality by trusting myself rather than being affected by what people have to say. About manifesting dreams, I remember, I had watched Raanjhanaa in Mumbai. Watching Dhanush, I was in awe of his acting and wanted to work with him one day. Now, as I worked with him in Naane Varuvean, I realise if you have firm belief, dreams do turn into a blissful reality.
Tell us about your experience working in Goodbye and Naane Varuvean and sharing space with Amitabh Bachchan and Dhanush?
Dhanush was so humble, welcoming and supportive. He is a highly professional co-actor. He was very considerate of the fact that I was able to understand everything. That made me feel free as an artiste and had a positive influence on my performance. I truly appreciate such actors that help you shed all your inhibitions. For Goodbye, I was very excited to act opposite a legendary actor like Amitabh Bachchan. I acknowledge it as a big feat.
You’ve worked in Hindi, Tamil and Kannada films. How did you cope with the language barrier?
I love learning about new Indian languages and going through speech training. I feel once you like something wholeheartedly, you can grasp it easily. For instance, I’ve heard from many people that Tamil is difficult to learn. However, for me, it is the most exciting language and my goal is to master it. I love the language so much that I have said in many interviews — that I might have been a Tamilian in my past life (laughs). Whenever I go to Chennai or meet a Tamilian, I get really excited like a little child!
How is your personal lifestyle different from the Elli AvrRam we see on screen?
I celebrate the simplicity of life. Since my early years, my family has imparted the values of finding happiness in the smallest things in life. I remember when I was 19; my family and I were sitting in our living room back home. My father pointed at the furniture and said: you know all these things around the home are materialistic things that can be bought and sold, but family is what you should hold onto.
What’s that one life mantra that keeps you going with such fierce passion?
You just have to keep on working on yourself and believing in your craft. I feel like, why should I give up when I am honest about my work! I am perspicacious about the challenges and feel that the journey might be long, but I will eventually reach there. Now, since I’m gaining visibility for my work, I realise that all the hard work was absolutely worth it. Right from the numerous rejections to the jeering remarks of people, it all culminated in making me a stronger person.