Amrita Rao on playing Meenatai Thackeray

Amrita shares screen space with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the Bal Thackeray biopic that releases on January 25

By Priyanka Roy
  • Published 14.01.19, 8:33 PM
  • Updated 14.01.19, 8:33 PM
  • 4 mins read
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Amrita Rao in her Meena Thackeray avatar A still from the film, Thackeray

Amrita Rao — the star of films like Main Hoon Na, Vivah and Jolly LLB — returns to the big screen with Thackeray, where she plays Balasaheb Thackeray’s wife Meena. t2 caught up with Amrita for a chat on being the intensely private Meena and sharing screen space with Nawazuddin Siddiqui who plays Thackeray in the biopic that releases on January 25.    

Priyanka Roy:

The trailer of Thackeray has elicited diverse reactions. What have people been telling you?

Amrita Rao:

Right from the day of the trailer launch, everybody I have met and spoken to wants to watch the film. They are really excited. I just hope we meet all the expectations. People have really taken to my look in the film. In fact, the first person to message me this morning was Farah Khan, who I worked with in her directorial debut Main Hoon Na. Her reaction was, ‘Oh wow! How beautiful!’

Priyanka Roy:

What were your thoughts when you were first approached for this role, because potentially it’s a difficult part to play?

Amrita Rao:

 I take my time before committing to a film. For any part that I have been approached with, the immediate reaction has never been, ‘Oh my god!’ It’s always been like, ‘Okay, let me see what this entails and what I can do with it’. When I was approached with this part, I wasn’t even aware that a film on Balasaheb Thackeray was being made and that Nawazuddin was already on board to play Balasaheb. Even before they started shooting, the makers had shot a special teaser and they WhatsApped it to me. Then Mr Sanjay Raut (the film’s producer) sent the film’s director Abhijit Panse and Rohan Mapuskar, the casting director, to me for the role. They gave me a reading and Abhijit Sir just closed the script and told me, ‘We are taking it for granted that you are doing the film. You are a part of the family and you are Meena tai Thackeray’. And I was like, ‘Okay, if that’s the level of confidence you have in me then I will definitely do it’. For me, it was no longer about just saying ‘yes’ to a role; it was more like saying ‘yes’ to an honour.

Priyanka Roy:

What was your understanding of her before the film?

Amrita Rao:

My earliest memory of Meena tai was in school. I remember the day she passed away, announcement was made and we were given the rest of the day off. For a kid to suddenly get a day off in the middle of a school day is a big thing! (Laughs) It was a day I remember very vividly. Then of course, I have grown up around Shivaji Park and a few years ago, a statue of Meena tai was set up there, and that’s remained in my mind. And now I am playing her… it’s surreal! 

Priyanka Roy:

Very little is known about Meena Thackeray. What was the most challenging bit about playing her?

Amrita Rao:

The biggest challenge was to come across as Meena tai on screen and not as Amrita Rao. There were hardly any references to playing her. She was very private and not only did she never pose for the media, she didn’t have a single home video… there was no personal footage. It was a little difficult for both Mr Sanjay Raut and Mr Uddhav Thackeray to get me any reference points.

The only thing that I had, and which helped me immensely, were a couple of candid clicks of hers. Since she wasn’t posing for those pictures, her actual expressions could be seen and her body language was very natural. I tried to pick that up. I went through a lot of interviews of Balasaheb, all of which were more about his politics, with no mention of Meena tai. I finally chanced upon an interview of Balasaheb’s sister Sanjeevani Karandikar and she spoke about Meena tai, briefly though. It was how she was as a wife, a sister-in-law and a daughter-in-law and that gave me a gist of her personality. Of course, there were a lot of inputs from Abhijit Panse who had interacted with Maa Saheb (Meena Thackeray).

My understanding of her was a woman who was always there to hold on to the family, was all-sacrificing. When there was someone like Balasaheb in the family who had such a huge public portfolio, I think a lot of responsibility was on Meena tai’s shoulders. And I identified with that space because I have seen my mom do that for me. I got into acting at a very young age and my mom travelled with me everywhere. She had to balance her other duties with travelling with me and being with me constantly. 

Priyanka Roy:

What was it like sharing screen space with a talent like Nawazuddin Siddiqui?

Amrita Rao:

A good co-actor always brings out the best in me. For me, acting is all about reacting, especially since I am someone who hasn’t had any formal training in acting. I think Nawaz actually helped me become a better actor.

Priyanka Roy:

Will we see more of you on screen now?

Amrita Rao:

I’ve been in the industry from a very young age, though I have done selective work. It’s amazing that even after so long, people feel that I retain the same freshness I came in with. And if they want to see more of me, then it’s a compliment.

I think I am looking at things I haven’t done before. It’s great that we now have various digital platforms; we are now not only restricted to 70mm, but can be part of content that’s meant for all kinds of audiences. It would be nice to reach out to them and work within my comfort zone, but also venture out of it. I would like to go back to the space I started out from… go back to being Sanjana from Main Hoon Na, which is more me. It’s my job to convince the audience that I am still Kamala from Welcome to Sajjanpur or Poonam from Vivah.

I am frequently asked if this film will mean the start of a new innings for me. I’ve not planned it that way, honestly. Even this film wasn’t planned. I just want to go with the flow. 

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