It's her twinkling eyes and beaming smile which catches your attention first when you meet her. Unlike most other star kids, Saiee Manjrekar (daughter of acclaimed actors Mahesh and Medha Manjrekar) was always away from the prying eyes of media, until news broke that the pretty girl is all set to make her debut on the big screen with none other than superstar Salman Khan in Dabangg 3.
In a recent chat with FilmiBeat, the Dabangg 3 actress opened up about her first big break, the advice given to her by her father, the pressure of carrying the legacy forward and of course, Salman Khan.
Excerpts from the interview.
'It Was My Mother Who First Got To Know That I Was Selected For Dabangg 3'
Q. Saiee, can we say that you were destined to play this role in Dabangg 3?
A. (laughs) I hope. I do believe in destiny a lot so, I think this is what destiny wanted for me and this is where I am today. But, I wanted to be an actor right from a young age because I have seen my parents be a part of this profession. So, more than destiny, it was also my wish to become an actor.
Q. How did your father react when he heard that you are doing this film because he was a part of Dabangg?
A. He was very excited that I was a part of Dabangg 3. However, it was my mother who first got to know that I was selected for the film. I was sitting with her when she received a call saying that I had been confirmed for the role after the screen-tests. Then, my father who was in the same room too got to know about it. He was very happy for me. He told me, 'Saiee, now we have to work hard. This has come to you and you have to prove worthy of it.
Q. Did he ever say that he is never going to put in a word for you when you told him that you wanted to act in films?
A. He never said that. He was always fully supportive of whatever I wanted to do. Even my mother for that matter. Right from a young age, she always told me to give my best in whatever I do. Her advice has always stuck with me and that's why I believe in hard work.
'I Thought I Would Be Intimidated By Salman Sir'
Q. Did he ever tell you that he will never recommend you for a film and you will have to do it on your own?
A. We didn't get that chance only. I remember telling my parents at the end of my 11th grade that I want to take a gap after my 12th grade and try acting. Both of them agreed with my decision and asked me to work hard. He would keep reading scripts for me and in April, I got a call from Salman Sir (Salman Khan) saying that they were considering me for Dabangg 3 and that I should start working hard and give screen-tests. That's how it all came together.
Q. Standing in the same frame with Salman Khan isn't easy. How was it when you got a chance to share screen space with him?
A. I thought I would be intimidated because he is such a big star and has that magnetic aura about him. But, Salman Sir, on a one-to-one basis is the sweetest person and you can be completely yourself with him. I was very comfortable working with him.
Q. You met him as a kid and recently, a throwback picture of you with him went viral. Did you ever express your desire to be an actor to him?
A. The character Khushi in Dabangg 3 is very sweet and innocent. When he was writing the character, I think he had me in mind. When they wrote Dabangg, I was much younger and then finally when they decided to go ahead with it, they told me that they had written the character with me in mind. They asked me to do the screen-tests and thought I did well in them.
Q. Are you happy that you are making your debut in Bollywood with Dabangg 3?
A. I am very happy that I got to debut on such a big platform with such experienced people from which I have got so much to learn from. Everyone has given me something to take back home. This whole film has been great not just because it was my debut, but also for being a good learning experience for me.
'If The Audience Doesn't Like My Work, I Will Work Harder And Make Sure That They Like It'
Q. Your father has been working in the film industry for a long time. Is he protective about you or has he warned or asked you to be careful about certain things in Bollywood?
A. Since a very young age, my parents have always instilled values in me because of which I as a person, would know my right from my wrong. They trust me enough to judge that. My father gave me tips and advice about acting and movies of course, but not warnings of any sort.
Q. You have an amazing legacy and your parents are good performers. What is it that you gather from their work and what do you think have you imbibed from both of them?
A. I feel both of them are very intense in their working which is something that I wish to do. I am a little young to be that. But, they are so professional and focused in their work. They are very hard-working people. I think all these things make them what they are and growing up watching them do all this is very inspiring for me.
Q. Getting launched in the film industry with a big film like Dabangg 3 amidst the cut-throat competition is a different thing. How are you prepping for that? These days, you have so many newcomers entering Bollywood. How do you plan to make your niche among them?
A. I think everybody has their own strengths, weaknesses and USP. They should capitalise on that and things will fall into places. Right now, there are so many new talents entering the industry and once they find their groove to play, then again as you said, it depends on how you prepare yourself. My father has always told me that the audience is the king. If they like my work and want to see more for it, then it's good. If they don't then, I think I will work harder and make sure that they like it.
'More Than Pressure, There's A Sense Of Responsibility That I Have To Make My Parents & Salman Sir Proud'
Q. Earlier, you mentioned that you always wanted to be an actress. But was there ever any plan B in your head?
A. Yes, when I was very young. I met my mother's friend once who was a neurosurgeon. I had no idea what that big word meant. He told me that he performs surgery on the brain. I thought that was very interesting and decided that I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I thought I will earn lots of money and buy a pink Rolls Royce for my mother. Soon. I realized that science wasn't my cup of tea.
Before that when I was about five years old, I was really plump and want never play sports and always sit at home watching cartoons and eat all day. My mother would ask me to go out and eat fruits and vegetables. To escape that, I told my mother that I wanted to be a sumo wrestler.
Q. With the film's release date inching closer, do you feel any pressure on you because you have a certain legacy to take forward?
A. More than pressure, there's a sense of responsibility that I have to make my parents and Salman Sir proud. They have trusted me a lot and I just want to make them proud and make myself worthy of their trust.