INTERVIEW | 'Love heals, not hurts' : Rana Naidu actress Flora Saini on relationships, women power and more
The actress who fought domestic abuse speaks to us about red flags in relationships, spreading positivity and more.
Netflix's new series Rana Naidu is a story revolving around murder, blackmail, infidelity, hedonism and vengeance that cook the perfect recipe for an action-drama. Helmed by an uber-talented cast of real-life uncle-nephew Daggubati Venkatesh and Rana Daggubati, the series has become the talk of the town for not just the bellicose muscle men bring on blood-thirsty adventures, but its intrepid, unapologetic and flamboyant female characters too, played by Surveen Chawla, Flora Saini, Priya Banerjee and Suchitra Pillai, among others. We speak to Flora, also known as Asha Saini, who plays one such strikingly audacious character of Kavya. She sizzles on screen as a bold woman who is clear-headed about what she desires in life and would relentlessly pursue it, challenging even destiny. As the Stree actress aces this non-conformist role, she has over the years, come out stronger in real life too. From opening up about her domestic abuse, standing firmly with the #MeToo movement to lately tendering advice on women’s safety in the wake of rising crimes against them in the country, the Chandigarh-born has been a crusader of women’s rights and there’s no better occasion to chat with her than March, when International Women’s Day is celebrated.
After having worked in over 50 projects spanning Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Kannada cinema, the actor who also starred in Aarya, speaks to us without any filters on true love, abuse, spreading positivity and more.
Tell us about your character Kavya in Rana Naidu.
I play Kavya, who is a master of her mind. She does what she thinks is right, lives life on her own terms and wants what she desires. She says what she wants to if that gives her happiness. She lives the life of a Riley and has a fun, spirited nature. She isn’t someone to follow the conventional rules of society imposed especially on girls. A lot of female characters in the series are shown as bold women who love to exercise their own agency.
Do you think there is a growing acceptance of women now in darker roles or are they still vilified for playing them?
I think, with the coming of web series, people like more believable content. And we as humans are layered with shades of grey. That’s the whole beauty of human nature. Coming to the gender spectrum, society likes to see a heroine as a good girl. If she doesn’t adhere to societal rules, she’s branded as a vamp. While women enjoy playing the grey shades, they are not celebrated, unlike men who are touted as heroes for defying rules. However, now it feels great to finally get the power to do what we want to as female performers. It’s time to turn the tables and show a different shade of women.
You often post verses with an underlying message of spreading positivity.Tell us about your interest in poetry.
I post a lot of shayari and quotes as I admire the written word. It gives me a positive shift of mind when I need it the most. I like the idea of saying a lot in fewer words — that leaves an impact. It gets you thinking and changes the mood of your day. And it's lovely to start a day reading something like that. I read a lot during the lockdown, especially about Hindi novelists. They are all so fantastic that I feel so many Hindi novels can be adapted to web series. We are trying to remake foreign content, but it’s time to look at our native writers who are doing brilliant work. I really wish that more people start reading our own writers and narrating them through series or films. The change has already begun with South India making films that are true to the soil and resonate with the masses like Pushpa, The Great Indian Kitchen, Mandela and more.
Coming to personal life, you’ve spoken about violence against women. What’s your advice to women and girls who are victims of crimes in relationships?
The cases of abuse and violence were always there, but they did not come into the limelight as log bolne ko darte the (people were scared to speak up). But now, with the advent of social media and increasing awareness, a lot of women are speaking out. They no longer fear stigma. People often say things like ‘why don’t you leave a toxic or abusive relationship?’ But it’s not that easy. The news of many women meeting unfortunate ends is because they couldn’t come out of it at the right time. So there is a need for awareness and a civic cell where women can go and report such crimes. I’ve often seen women pressured by their partners or families to withdraw complaints. A perpetrator of abuse will always be toxic and violent. We can’t expect them to change, so I advise young girls to start spotting red flags in their relationships rather than settle for them. The toxic partners may tender an apology once or twice, but more than that is a habit which you can’t fix. If you’re still in such a relationship or marriage, get out of it because you never know if it will ever end. I urge women to embrace real love as your life is precious. Have a circle of good friends and if your toxic partner cuts you out of that, consider that a red flag. I hope that schools also include sex education and teach about good and bad touch and mental health issues.
March is the month of International Women’s Day. What message do you have for the women in the country?
We’ve been making amazing progress. The women of today have made so many industries and sectors feel safer for future generations. I feel predators are still everywhere but they’re scared today, which they weren’t earlier. Now the victim can just post one tweet and have the support of the whole community. I would like to tell all women to stand up for yourself because it’s needed not just for you, but for many others who will derive their courage from you as you lead the way.
What has been your biggest life learning and how did you come to realise it?
No matter how many obstacles come your way and how much people try to pull you down, you always show up and do your thing. No one can write your destiny, except you. So keep working at your craft and keep fighting even if life throws you a curveball. And I say this from my experience where I gained a lot of love and acceptance, especially from the South. But when I opened up about my domestic abuse at the hands of a producer, people stopped signing me up for projects. I felt low at that time, but my mother kept pushing me to go for auditions and not give up. I started my journey again by giving auditions. Today, if I’m here, it is the result of all those 100 auditions and more that I had given and failed in, but still kept my spirit high. Being out there helped me meet a lot of people who are my true friends today. Keep your heart pure and mind positive, and everything will fall in place.
What is your idea about love?
My idea of love is somebody who lets you be yourself and who brings a lot of calmness. Someone who understands that you have had a journey or emotional baggage and helps you unpack it. One, who knows that nobody’s perfect. There are a lot of people looking for love, but we just get tangled with the wrong people sometimes. If love hurts, that’s not love. Love can only heal and make you smile.
Tell us about your fitness and beauty regimen.
I follow keto. I don’t have a breakfast, lunch, or dinner concept. I eat when I'm hungry and I eat a lot of fat, ghee and coconut oil. It has helped me a lot with my PCOS. I am not a gym freak, in fact, I hate going to the gym. The two hours that you spend in the gym thinking that you’re going to lose weight is a misconception. While it’s good for toning, what’s more important is what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat.
Do you like to experiment with fashion?
Fashion for me means comfort because that channels confidence. We’re in an industry where every day on set means being decked up, sometimes in uneasy outerwear so I take refuge in comfortable picks for everyday wear. My style sense is all about basics like wearing joggers paired with canvas shoes which have become a trend when mixed and matched with ethnic wear like saris. I’m quite open to experimenting that way as it is fun to try new things.
What kind of projects do you wish to work in?
I chase roles that are different, like, I haven’t played a serial killer, a forensic expert or a cop, and I’d really like to do such roles. You’d see me next in The Good Wife with Kajol, film Khichadi 2 and two series for MX Player that I’m really excited about.
Rana Naidu is streaming on Netflix.