Meet miss lovely

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By Gypsy soul Niharika Singh on her journey from Bharat Mata to Alice in wonderland and why she doesn’t want to be the next Deepika
  • Published 14.01.14

Mick Jagger was blaring from the speakers at Virgose in Hotel Hindusthan International: “Oh everybody waits so long/ Oh baby why you wait so long” (Miss You, 1978) when t2 caught up with Niharika Singh on Friday afternoon. She has indeed waited long. Her first few films remain canned but no regrets there because Ashim Ahluwalia has given her a “fairy-tale debut” with the critically-acclaimed Miss Lovely. The actress (whose first role was that of Bharat Mata!) spoke to t2 about what made her character, Pinky, special in the Friday release that captures many aspects of the Indian C-grade film industry of the ’80s.

Before Miss Lovely you had done a couple of films that didn’t release. Were you apprehensive when Ashim Ahluwalia approached you?

I shot four films in the span of two years... between 2008 and 2010. And Miss Lovely was one of them. This one is not a response to the films that didn’t release. I didn’t grow up watching too much cinema because I was in a boarding school in Nainital and my parents weren’t that interested in films. We never went to the cinemas and didn’t have a VCR. It was books for me and I had a crazy imagination; I wanted to enact what I read. So I was performative by nature. My first role was that of Bharat Mata in nursery and I threw a tantrum because my father didn’t take pictures. Acting just happened… life happened.

So you didn’t get the feeling that this film could have turned out a low-end James Bond?!

I was actually excited reading the script. For me it was not the usual film script that comes one’s way. It was like a novel with layers and depth, complex characters, something that starts somewhere and ends somewhere… Though I was excited by that aspect, I wasn’t sure how the film would turn out. Ashim wanted to know if I had any inhibitions about the character. I had none because I loved the script. All I wanted to know was how he would make it. Then I watched his documentary (John & Jane, 2005), which blew me away. The motivation to make such a film vis-a-vis the usual romantic-comedy or suspense thriller is different. Most films in the mainstream space are made to generate revenues and one tends to compete with past records. It’s a bit like how capitalism functions and I don’t see cinema that way... at least not anymore. Miss Lovely gave me a sense of direction and I got to work with some amazing people.

Characters like Pinky come from a dark background and they take new identities to appear before the public. Was it easy to understand her backstory?

Since I have been a struggling actress, I know that space. Though I didn’t star in C-grade films, I can understand the struggle. I have seen the underbelly of the movie industry and fashion because in India the two overlap. I started with local shows in Dehradun, then I moved to Delhi and then Bombay. I know girls… with whom I had done shoots maybe 10 years ago… who now have different names... married to some industrialists. Then I know girls who got married, divorced and then tried their hand at films with a new identity. So I understand Pinky very well, her psychology, her complexity. Had I been a Kapoor daughter or something, it would have been different and perhaps difficult for me to understand Pinky.

And you had to visit some of the shady places where such films were shot?

Yes, we shot at real locations. A lot of the people in the film are from that space… C-grade… the whole milieu that was created while shooting the film almost became like that (the ’80s) even though it was 2009. It was like tourism for me! Really, it was like a new world for me. It was like Alice in Wonderland… I felt like Alice.

Does Miss Lovely make for a good debut film?

It’s the perfect fairy-tale debut film. It was supposed to be this small-budget film but then it went to Cannes (in 2012) and travelled all over the world. It’s now getting a theatrical release. This is a wonderful time for cinema.

You will now be under pressure to star in mainstream films…

I am not interested, honestly. I have done a few films but they didn’t work for me. I have seen a dear filmmaker, John Matthew Matthan (who directed Sarfarosh), kind of get squashed in this studio system. I have seen people suffer and absolutely demotivated to work. I have no interest in becoming a star for just a moment. You are going to look back 50 years down the line and none of these (cliched mainstream films) would make any sense... probably you would be embarrassed to show any of those films to your grandchildren.

Does that mean you are not working on too many films?

I have just done Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s film (Anwar Ka Ajeeb Kissa) with Nawaz. Nothing else. How many interesting directors are there in India? You can count them on the fingertips. I don’t mind doing just 10 films in my entire career.

If not films, how do you spend time?

I am a bit of a gypsy. I don’t have an address so to say. My mother lives in Delhi, my father in Dehradun, my sister is in Barcelona and I work in Bombay… I travel a lot. As far as travelling outside Bombay goes I loved Meghalaya and while shooting Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s film I visited Shimultala, which is a beautiful place. The dilapidated, forsaken bungalows are lovely. Then I have visited Tungnath, which is the highest Shiva temple in the world. And yoga camps.

So, you have no problem walking the streets?

I don’t think I am famous. I am not Deepika Padukone. Even if I step out there, nobody will bother me.

And you don’t want to be the next Deepika?

I don’t want to be the next anyone. I’ve stopped thinking about career. I don’t find it valuable; it’s transient. This business has a fickle nature.

This means to relax you listen to something more than Mick Jagger and his Rolling Stones?!

(Laughs) I like Hindustani classical, the sitar –– Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar, and a lot of electronic music with ambient sounds. I like the mixes by Windy & Carl.

Mathures Paul
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