What compels 'Jersey' actress Mrunal Thakur to choose unconventional roles? She talks about the choices she's made
The actress gets candid about her journey from television to films, her next flick with Dulquer Salman, and why she is inspired by Taapsee Pannu and Vidya Balan
Among the new generation of actresses there’s one name that stands out for the unconventional choices she has made. Mrunal Thakur, who started with television shows like Mujshe Kuchh Kehti… Yeh Kahmoshiyaan and the popular soap Kumkum Bhagya, has carved a niche for herself in Indian cinema for being a dependable performer. Her debut film in Hindi cinema, Love Sonia, in which she played the title role, was internationally acclaimed for its heart-wrenching subject of human trafficking and prostitution. Mrunal had bagged the Best Newcomer Award at the London Indian Film Festival in 2018. Since then, there has been no looking back, with films such as Super 30, Batla House, Ghost Stories, Toofan, Dhamaka, and the recently released Jersey.
Charting a different path
Jersey didn’t really set the cash registers ringing, but it’s an important movie in Mrunal’s career because the actress chose to do something that is different from the set path of actresses her age. Mrunal played not only Shahid’s love interest but also portrayed the role of a mother to a young boy. The 29-year-old actress explains, “Many actresses my age are not comfortable playing a mother. But my character had a journey in this film. The film begins in the ’80s and goes on to the 2000s, I couldn’t have played a girlfriend in all three decades, and it would be silly to say no to a film just because my character becomes a mother. When someone said Shahid is playing a dad at the age of 40 and that I am silly to be doing it at such a young age, I told them that I had bagged a great role and that I wanted to be known for my characters. There are many young mothers. My mother became one at 19, so why shouldn’t I play such a role?”
Mrunal was shooting for Ghost Stories in Goa when she got a call for Jersey’s remake in Hindi. The actress had already done Toofan which explored boxing and Jersey was about cricket. Although there was a risk of being typecast as a sports films actress, Mrunal says she agreed to do the movie because it seemed like a challenge to her. “Many were against me doing another sports film. But I wanted to take it up as a challenge and Vidya’s character is very different from Toofan’s Ananya. I wanted to show people how different I can be in two different sports films. I had never played a character like Vidya. Usually, people expect actresses to play bubbly and happy-go-lucky girls. But I want to redefine the rules. A heroine is not just a lover or a wife, she has an identity of her own. Films are about relationships and if I don’t agree to play a mother or sister, then how will I entertain the audience?” she asks, adding, “I want to break these stereotypes in Bollywood. I am also doing Pippa in which I play Ishaan’s (Khatter) sister.”
On a roll
This attitude of questioning the norms is what sets her apart. Even though she started her career as a television artiste, Mrunal didn’t get restricted by the medium. “I never sought validation from anyone. Although we are living at a time when most people on social media seek validation 24/7, I don’t ask for it. I want to be authentic. Every time I play a character, I want to come back stronger as Mrunal Thakur, the actress. There were times when I was lost and I didn’t know where I was heading. I stopped stressing about what people are thinking about me. I started focusing on what I wanted to do! I want to live life on my own terms. I had to debut in 2012 but I waited until 2018 to be part of films that are iconic, and did television between all of this,” offers Mrunal who has acted with top actors such as Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Shahid Kapoor and the up-and-coming Kartik Aryan.
Her next outing is with South superstar, Dulquer Salman. Mrunal is cast opposite Dulquer in Sita Ramam, a multilingual film that also stars Rashmika Mandanna. The story revolves around a soldier and is set against the backdrop of a war. “It is going to be my Tamil-Telugu-Malayalam debut and I am very excited about it,” says the star. The first look of the movie has been received quite positively. She thinks Indian cinema is heading in the right direction with such multilingual films and also credits some other actresses who are paving the way for younger actresses like her with their choices. “There is a paradigm shift in the industry and the audience is liking it. Now it’s about Indian cinema, people are appreciating films from the South, Bengali and Marathi cinema, and actors of all ages are being celebrated. Taapsee (Pannu) and Vidya Balan have gone out of their comfort zone, have broken stereotypes and are inspirations to many,” says the actress who will also be seen in the Hindi remake of the Tamil film Thadam and in the comedy flick Aankh Micholi opposite Abhimanyu Dassani.
Though her films have kept her busy, Mrunal has also walked the ramp at the recently held FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week. She was the showstopper for the legendary fashion designer JJ Valaya. But off the ramp, for her public outings and film promotions, Mrunal’s look has been casual yet chic. She says she’s found a magician in stylist Rahul Vijay. “I have finally found my go-to fashion person. Rahul Vijay is my man when it comes to fashion. He has told me to embrace my body and not copy ensembles that other actresses are wearing just because it’s trending. He is creating a style statement for me which is very important. I need to be comfortable, effortless, chic and unique. Rahul has changed the fashion game for me. He said, ‘When you go for a promotion, people should be able to relate to you. A lehenga or a sari may seem OTT. We need to decide when we can go OTT. The more effortless it is, the more people can recreate that look.’ I think we are normalising dressing up for occasions and feeling comfortable with body types,” says Mrunal.
While she’s gearing up for some exciting releases, Mrunal has also been spending quality time with her loved ones. She was holidaying in Sri Lanka earlier this year with her sister and spent Holi in Bikaner with her family. The actress admits she is a family-oriented person. “I love to spend time with my family and close friends. In their company, I am a mad person. None of my roles have given me the opportunity to showcase this crazy side of me. I love food, dancing, travelling, and road trips. I think life gets boring when you keep doing the same thing. We only live once, so we need to go all out and explore,” says the actress.
When she’s shooting in Mumbai, her evenings after work are usually spent with her pet cat Billoboy Thakur (who also has a dedicated Instagram page like his celebrity parent). “He is the only boy in my life right now. He is my little furball who I come home to. My Billoboy is my cat, dog, my lion, and sometimes he behaves like my mother and father as well. He is so protective and caring, at times he acts like my boyfriend. In fact for my character in Thadam, I have taken so many cues from Billo, the way he walks, looks at me and communicates with me. I feel he is my teacher and my therapist. Irrespective of what time I come back from work, he is waiting for me at the door. I think adopting him during the pandemic was the best decision of my life. He is a street cat and I just think we must all definitely adopt instead of shop for pets. They take away all your stress!” concludes the actress.