The actress with the girl next door image, is thrilled to have bagged the ace badminton player Saina Nehwal biopic while she is in the midst of completing the other one, Haseena: The Queen of Mumbai, based on Dawood Ibrahim’s sister Haseena Parkar.
Gearing up for the release of Half Girlfriend (12 May), adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s novel, Shraddha talks to Firstpost on the exciting phase of her career her love for cinema, and her closest rival, Alia Bhatt. Excerpts from the interview:
You have upped the glamour quotient for Half Girlfriend.
My character, Riya Somani comes from an affluent background from Delhi. She’s one of those girls who blow dries her hair, wears designer clothes and travels in big cars to college. She is the most popular girl in college with every guy wanting to date her. While everybody thinks that she is happy and has everything in life, she is not. She gets happiness with simple things like getting wet in the rains, for example. She meets Arjun’s character Madhav Jha and likes that simplicity in him.
Your character is a basketball player, and you are seen shooting hoops in the film. Was it fun?
It was both, fun as well as challenging. In school, I used to play basketball but I was a substitute player so I was called only if someone was injured or tired or unwell. That was the fun part in the movie, and now I can say that I have become a decent basket ball player. Training for that was really hard, I trained for almost a month.
And what about badminton since you will be soon doing a biopic on Saina Nehwal?
I loved badminton. I am sure most of us have played the sport in our residential complex, in our building compound. However good or bad, and I have some amazing memories of playing the sport in my building compound.
It is really very strange how I will be playing the former world number one badminton champion.
So what kind of prep you will be doing to play Saina Nehwal?
Basketball is just part of Half Girlfriend, but here the entire film will revolve around badminton as that is the crux of Saina’s biopic. I will have to train for a while. It is not going to be just for a month but for at least few months. The preparation for this film is going to be very, very challenging. It’s probably going to be my most difficult film till date. I can’t wait to learn from Saina herself. She is going to teach me the sport.
Have you met her?
I have spoken to her, we have exchanged messages but I am looking forward to spending time with her.
With films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom, MS Dhoni…the standards for sports biopics has been rising. Do expectations make you anxious?
Absolutely. That’s why it is so important for me to give good time before the shoot of the film so that I can prepare well. I will have to train a lot. I am scared and excited at the same time.
Some time back you were juggling between the two characters – Haseena Parkar and Riya Somani. How difficult was that?
That was quite tough. While I was shooting for the Haseena biopic I had to do the dubbing and promotions of Half Girlfriend. Haseena and Riya Somani are two very different characters. It was definitely challenging in its own way to juggle back and forth from both the characters and to get in and out of two worlds, especially since it is for the first time that I am playing a grey character (in Haseena).
The reaction to the first poster was quite overwhelming and I hope people react to the teaser the same way. When you watch the film, you will know what Haseena went through in her life: losing her loved ones, her son, her brother dying right in front of her. It was quite difficult for me to feel those emotions.
It must have been tough shooting with those prosthetics for Haseena?
Yes, it was, but eventually it became a part of Haseena. But I had tried to gain weight for this film, and I did gain but everything went to one area (points towards her stomach). I have to get rid of it now for the Saina biopic. I was trying to gain weight on my arms but it didn’t happen. I was hoping that I gain weight on my face little more but I couldn’t get the desired results. Prosthetics helped and it gradually became part of my character. It was needed when my character is in her late 30s and 40s.
Do you believe in half girlfriend relationship?
Yes, I do feel that it exists. Now there is a movie been made on it, but my friends and I have experienced the situation when something is holding us back to commit to a relationship; I like this guy but I have to focus on my career; I want to be with him but I can’t. It is something halfway. But in certain situations, it is really sad that two people who like each other are not able to spend their lives together.
What is more challenging for you, fictional or real life characters like Haseena and Saina?
With Saina, because she is a living legend and youth icon, I will have to speak exactly like her, my body language will have to match hers and I will have to try to look like her. To be true to the real life person is challenging in its own way. While playing a fictional character, you can interpret it in your own way and add your imagination and thoughts.
Have you read Chetan Bhagat’s book?
I had started reading the book and I told Mohit (Suri, director) but he stopped me from reading any further and told me to read and connect with the script instead because he had made some changes. I have read just about 50 pages.
This is your third film with Mohit. Both of you have given big hits like Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain. How was your experience this time round?
Mohit knows me a little too well but it was his wife Udita who pointed out few things that set us thinking. One day when I went to his house, Udita said that we have done two films together in which I had played the girl next door coming from a middle class family, from humble beginnings, so how will I play Riya Somani? How will the audience accept me?
He told me to incorporate the body language of high society girls from Delhi and made me meet some of those girls.
I was supposed to observe them and adopt their style and mannerisms, how they speak and stuff. And while I was talking to them, slowly my body language changed and I was sitting cross-legged, lady-like just like those girls. I found that whole process very interesting.
You began your career with films like Teen Patti and Luv Ka The End which were complete failures at the box office. How do you look at your journey and career now?
Fridays can change an actor’s life and similarly Aashiqui 2 changed my life overnight.
From Aashiqui 2 till now I have had back- to- back releases. I feel grateful that I started off with failures because it teaches you, whereas with success everything moves smoothly and then we don’t strive hard to make efforts. You learn the most when something is not going right. I went through a tough time but it taught me a lot.
Saina had once said that she would want Deepika Padukone to do her biopic if it’s ever made. She had said that Deepika’s father has been a badminton player, that she had seen her playing badminton, and she played well. She would do justice to the role. What would you say to that?
I am not aware of that. But I think Saina is quite happy with me too (laughs). I hope not to disappoint her. When I was offered Saina, I was very scared and I had asked the makers if they were sure about casting me. It is a massive effort to put and huge expectations to live up to. I will do my best. I hope people like my interpretation and effort as Saina.
You are one of those actors who have created a space in singing as well. Off late there’s been a debate with certain singers having a problem with actors turning to singing. As someone who has been on the other side as well, what do you think?
Whether it is singers, actors, directors, lyricists, or the media…we are all interconnected. We are all part of a creative medium. We have a large responsibility to support each other and help each other grow. If an artist has a dream to become singer, actor or dancer, then nobody has the right to object. It is better to be in a supportive environment
Your contemporary, Alia Bhatt is a big draw, and she has a huge fan following. Is she a threat to you?
I get inspired from her because she is doing such good work. It is very important to not only support each other but it is also important to celebrate the other person’s success.
Tomorrow, if I am offered a film with Alia, I would love to do.
How is Arjun Kapoor as a co-star?
He is very eloquent and an expressive guy. He’s got this inherent innocence which is heart-warming.
So where do you see yourself five years from now?
I don’t know beyond Saina. I’m going with the flow. But at present I am really excited about the Saina biopic.