'Exurberant, confident and focused'- these words aptly decsribe Mrunal Thakur who became a household name as Bulbul with Ekta Kapoor's popular TV soap, 'Kumkum Bhagya'. When it came to taking her first step in the world of films, the actress dared to take the unconventional route and picked up a film on global sex-trafficking titled 'Love Sonia'.
Her next, 'Super 30' opposite Hrithik Roshan is still having a golden run at the box office and now, Mrunal will be seen in John Abraham starrer 'Batla House', which is slated to hit the theatrical screens this week.
In an interview with Filmibeat, the actress opens up about the success of 'Super 30', her criteria when it comes to picking films, exploring the commercial space and if she would be all game to return to the TV space.
Excerpts from the conversation.
'Screen-space Isn't The Thing In My Head Right Now'
Q. Your last film 'Super 30' turned out to be a great success at the box office. Is the feeling yet to sink in?
A. I am very happy and proud that a film like 'Super 30' is reaching the audience and thankful to all the people responsible for making the film tax-free, so that it reaches as many as possible; not just in metropolitan cities but also in the rural areas. I felt 'Super 30' was the film which deserved to be told.
We have so many heroes in our nation. I am happy that films are being made on people like Anand Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar Yadav. I am proud to be a part of 'Super 30' where I got the chance to work with Hrithik.
Q. You began your career with 'Love Sonia', then 'Super 30' happened and now 'Batla House'. Your choice of films has been quite brave. Is that a conscious effort from your end or is it that things just fell into place for you?
A. There is no conscious effort as such. I think I am blessed to get these films. It was just like I was going with the flow. I believe in 'every opportunity is golden' and whatever I had, I tried and tested and auditioned for and if it's a yes from the makers' side, I immediately grabbed it. I want to be a part of projects, which connect with people.
One of my friends who is not from the industry told me that she was disappointed when she found me missing in the trailer of 'Super 30'. I told her I wasn't upset. Instead, I was happy because the story is about Anand Kumar. The moment a heroine comes in for no reason, it just becomes senseless. I told my friend, 'Yeh toh sirf trailer hai, picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.' (laughs).
I admire actors like Pankaj Tripathi and Irrfan Khan. The screen-space doesn't matter to me. What matters is to be a part of a good film. This is the initial phase of my career and working with filmmakers like Vikas Bahl, Nikkhil Advani helped me to explore as an actor. I learnt so many things from them. So, 'screen-space' isn't the thing in my head right now.
But, the only thing I want to do is to be associated with good films. I want people to talk about it rather than being trolled.
'I Am Yet To Figure Out What The Word 'Hit' Or 'Flop' Means'
Q. So, you don't want to be a part of out-and-out commercial films?
A. 'Love Sonia' wasn't a commercial film. I haven't yet realised what a commercial film is. 'Article 15' is also a commercial film where they are in the real space and at the same time, they have done commercially well. I don't understand the criteria on which a film is declared a 'hit' or 'super-hit'.
I have seen most of the films which the critics don't have good things to say about, also crossing 100 crore. So, I am still trying to understand and figure out what the word 'commercial' or a 'hit' or a 'flop' means.
'I Want To Do A Comedy But There Should Be Logic To It'
Q. What about doing a film where content isn't the king but it has a big name attached to it?
A. If I am not able to convince myself then how would I do the same to the audience? I want to do a comedy but there should be logic to it. I want to do a masala film but it shouldn't be like the first half is something else and the other half is something else. Even if it's a masala film, it needs to be a proper masala film. I want to explore cinema. 'Love Sonia' was a completely different film and so are 'Super 30' and 'Batla House'.
Before the film, I was unaware of what 'Batla House' was all about. I didn't know what happened in that encounter. To be very honest, after my research, I found out there was a bunch of bomb-blast series happening and after the encounter, they just stopped. I felt that I should do this film. There are many people like me in Mumbai and various cities who were not aware of this incident.
'My Generation Actors Do Not Have The Opportunity To Make Mistakes'
Q. With the bridge gaping down between commercial and content-driven cinema, do you feel you are blessed to be a part of two big films where you were not just reduced to a glam factor?
A. When I and John spoke about our journey in Bollywood during interviews, he mentioned that he could make mistakes. But, my generation actors don't have that opportunity to make mistakes. Either you are here or there. Fortunately now, we also have stories which are very well-balanced. With films like 'Super 30', 'Article 15', 'Batla House', the balance has been well-maintained.
Initially, people told me how I could be a part of a film which had an item number (Saki Saki) and I just told them to relax. When I personally watched the film, I felt that Nora's character in the film was very important to the script. It's just not me but also Nora's fans who will come and watch the film, which also allows this film just not only be in the real space but also balances it commercially.
Q. From an actor's perspective, is it easy or difficult for you to be non-judgmental about the characters that you play, especially when it's modelled on a real-life person? What's the head-space like?
A. That's where the research part plays an important role. Before being an actor, I am a citizen. When you are an actor, people idolise you. They look up to you. When a film releases and the audience watches it, they will learn something or the other. And my intention as an actor primarily is that people should learn good things because somewhere down the line, they are going to imply that in their lives.
When the series of bomb-blasts happened, it was very important for me to convince that whatever my character is going to play is something that I feel as Mrunal also. I don't want to do films with which I don't connect. I don't want to fool my audience.
'You Cannot Leave Your Characters Behind'
Q. After doing an intensely-challenging film like 'Love Sonia', how do you de-stress yourself?
A. As an actor, you always carry something or the other with you. I didn't know what sex-trafficking was all about. I was upset when 13-14 year girls were trafficked from India to other countries and vice-versa. It was very stressful.
But today, when I meet the girls again and look at their smile, the constant effort of making this society a better place and living life happily, it's something that gives me power. I will be meeting the girls from 'Apne Aap' when I will be visiting Delhi for 'Batla House' promotions. They are my energy. They are the only ones who de-stress me by saying that they are happy that I did a film like this for them.
I am happy that I started my career with 'Love Sonia' because I feel I am more responsible, educated and aware of this issue. In fact, because I am so inspired by Anand Kumar, I want to do something for the kids of sex-workers from red-light areas. Sometimes, they are denied their basic rights because of their parents' profession. We are currently working on it. So probably by September/ October, we will have a concrete thing planned. So, you cannot leave your characters behind.
'I Am Happy That Even Today People Recognize Me As Bulbul From Kumkum Bhagya'
Q. You started your career with television. Do you enjoy watching them now?
A. I enjoyed the first season of 'Naagin' which starred Mouni Roy. I am happy that even today people recognise me as 'Bulbul' from Kumkum Bhagya. I really enjoy watching reality shows because it's a platform for raw, young talent. I hope that good shows are being made. It depends on which audience you catering to. People in rural areas want to watch people flying and makkhi turning into a lady. But things are changing now. Audience which exists in the metropolitan cities is now turning towards Netflix and other digital platforms. So now, there's too much content. It's like a platter and it's up to the audience to watch what they want.
Q. If you ever get an offer for a TV show, would you be all game for it now?
A. It will depend on how big it is and how long it's going to run. If you see, the top-rated shows run for four-five years and I really want to explore. I did television and reality shows, Marathi films, an Indo-American film and commercials. Now, I have entered Bollywood and want to enjoy this space for a couple of years.
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