Ananya Panday: I’m trying to be a better actor

Ever since 'Gehraiyaan' released, Ananya Panday has been on a career high. The 23-year-old star kid who made her Bollywood debut with Dharma Productions' 'Student of the Year 2' in 2019, earned critical acclaim for her latest outing in Shakun Batra's film. With her matured portrayal of Tia Khanna, Ananya has shown great potential to play deep, layered characters. With 'Liger' and 'Kho Gaye Hum Kahan' in the offing, the journey has just begun for Ananya who can't emphasise enough on the fact that she always wanted to become an actor. In this week's Big Interview with ETimes, the actress opens up on her big Bollywood dreams, the pressures and stress that come with her profession, how she handles negativity, her views on relationships, remakes and much more.

Did you always want to be an actor? Tell us when did you first decide that you want to be an actor.
Always. I don't know a time when I didn't want to be an actor. You know, I always joke that I popped out of my mom and I knew I wanted to be an actor. I've always wanted to be an actor. I've always been in love with acting and being on the big screen. So I've always wanted to be an actor.

When I started out wanting to be an actor, I was so excited because I had grown up watching Kareena and Kajol on screen. I wanted to be exactly like them. I was so excited to sing and dance, perform and act. I just wanted to be on the big screen. I would just go with the flow and do everything that my directors would tell me. But a lot has changed with 'Gehraiyaan', I have tasted blood in a way. I want to continue doing more work like this. There were so many magical moments between action and cut on this film. I felt free and liberated and that's a feeling that every actor has felt at some point. It's that moment of truth that you discover while working and I am craving for more of that now.

What kind of films would you like to be a part of?
As an audience, I like watching all kinds of cinema. So I don't want to put myself in a box saying mujhe yeh nahi karna, mujhe woh nahi karna. But I definitely know that going forward, I want to keep developing my process, keep making my craft better. Or I want to keep improving and keep working on myself. And I'm craving that moment of truth in any film, it could be in any genre of film. It could be in any kind of cinema, but I want to be very honest and truthful as an actor going forward.

How do you handle work pressure and stress?
I'm not very good at handling stress and pressure. I always pride myself on being this very chilled-out person. But sometimes, you know, I'm quite young. Also, sometimes it gets to me, of course, but I try to detach myself, spend time with my friends and my family, and ground myself in the real world. I like to do things that make me happy or make time for myself. As actors, we're so busy, we have so much going on. We are playing so many different characters that we sometimes forget about taking care of the person and the human that we are. So I try doing that as often as I can.

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What made you choose to work on cyber bullying as a part of your digital social responsibility?
I have a digital social responsibility, ‘So Positive’, which is awesome. It works towards creating a safe space on social media and a kinder environment. It began with addressing cyber bullying because I felt like it's such a prevalent topic, in our generation especially. So much of our lives has moved to social media and the digital space. There's so much negativity, trolling and this cancel culture. I felt like no one was talking about all of this. So my initiative was meant to start a conversation. And now, it's gone into the space of spreading kindness and being a good person. It all about being So Positive.

How do you look at your experience of working with young people when it comes to coaching and supporting safety on social media?
Before the pandemic started, I was actually visiting schools and colleges, meeting with the youngsters, and talking about the problems that they face on social media. And I'm hoping that, once things get better, I can continue doing that, because nothing can replace having a real-life conversation with people.


We're doing a lot more exciting things which are going to come up this year, but I'm just happy to meet people, talk to them about their stories so that they don't feel so alone. When something like this happens, you feel like it's only happening to you, and you're the only one in the world who's going through it. But then when you talk to someone and you're like, 'oh, it's happening to them, too' so that gives you the courage to talk about it, come out there get help if you need it.

Have you set any boundaries for your own social media efforts?
It's up to you what kind of boundaries you want to set, how much you want to share what you want to speak about, as long as you're not hurting someone else. I think you're free to do what you feel like.

In the short span that you've been in Hindi films, what have you discovered about yourself?
Sometimes I am really chilled out, but the next moment I can become really hyper about the smallest things. I am the kind of person who really enjoys being around their friends and family and it's really important for me to be surrounded by my loved ones. I could be just laughing and eating good food and watching films. It could just be reading a good book and I love traveling. I am goofy I guess, I try to be funny. I don't know if I actually am. I would like to say I'm an honest person. And I'm trying to be a better actor every day.

What are your personal views about infidelity in relationships explored by your film 'Gehraiyaan'?
Honestly, the kind of person that I am, I emphasise a lot on loyalty and trust. So I don't think I would be okay with cheating. But, with this film, we’ve learned that we shouldn't be judgmental, if we don't know everything about a situation. So I would like to believe that I wouldn't know how I would react unless I'm in the situation. But if you asked me straight up, I would not be okay with it.

A lesson that you've learnt from previous films that you will apply to your career going forward…
I think the emphasis that Shakun Batra put on preparation before we started 'Gehraiyaan', we almost had 10 days of workshop for all of us, not just me alone. We had workshops together, we would have table reads. We'd have acting workshops, we'd have intimacy workshops, and Deepika was doing all of these as well even 15 years after she's been in the industry. Because as an actor, you have to keep learning and you have to keep growing. That's something that I want to take away from this film, which is the emphasis on preparation.


How was the experience of shooting in the middle of the pandemic and lockdowns?
We were one of the first few film shoots to start working, I think. At that time, and we still continue to take all the COVID protocols into consideration. We went out, the crew was with testing kits and masks and shields. So it was definitely very scary. We were getting tested very often. And as soon as we could get vaccinated, we all got vaccinated. So it was challenging at the beginning. But I think as a film set, we learn to live with it. And I think as humans also, we're slowly learning to overcome it.

Was it unnerving to have intimacy scenes and physical proximity while the COVID was still raging around?
I don't think it affected the intimacy of the film in that way because once we were tested, we made sure we were all in a bio bubble as well. Because we were all in Goa, and no one could leave and come back. So we knew we weren't meeting anyone besides one another. I don't think it affected the co-actors and the performances in that way. But it was a little unnerving to see only half of Shakun's face when he was giving direction.

How was the experience of working with an intimacy director and coach in 'Gehraiyaan'?
It made things much safer. As an actor, we felt much safer on the set, because things were done with a certain procedure and a certain protocol. On sets, we have an action director and a dance director. So why can't we have an intimacy director? And there's been so much conversation about the intimacy in our film, but actually, what we've tried to do with our intimacy director Dar Gai is to normalise it. We're not trying to be scandalous. We're not trying to sensationalise it. It's shown in a way to drive the narrative forward. And once people watch the film, they will hopefully feel the same way as well. But just from a safety perspective, it felt reassuring to discuss things like consent and boundaries in a scene because we've not had that before. We hope that is a start. We hope that more production houses also understand that intimacy directors should just be a part of the team, as any other technician is part of the team.


Which remake would you want to be a part of next?
You know, I'm hoping that we don't make any more remakes. I'm really happy with this. This path that we're going down where we're kind of telling an original, braver, complex story. So, I'm kind of in that phase where I don't really want to see more remakes.

Is it okay for Hindi filmmakers to be constantly remaking South films?

I think it's all one industry. It's pan India and I think it's the Indian film industry now. In the pandemic, we've had access to so much regional cinema. I am working with such great directors like Puri Jagannadh sir, and I think they know exactly what their audience wants. They create some different kind of magic as well. I personally don't know how I feel about remakes anymore.
What was your father Chunky Pandey's reaction after watching 'Gehraiyaan'?
He's watched it twice. He's my biggest cheerleader. He's so proud and so happy. And he's just happy that I'm happy because that's something he's taught me from a very young age, to just enjoy your work and be a good person. He's an extremely proud father.
You've formed a great rapport with Siddhant Chaturvedi. Are you looking forward to working with him again?
It was amazing. Sid, and I are good friends. I call us Tom and Jerry because we fight a lot. But then we also love each other a lot. He's a great actor, there was so much that I could just learn from him. I think the fact that we're such good friends also helps our chemistry in our scenes. I'm doing one more film with him, and I'm really excited to be back on set with him.

The Open Magazine of India by Artmotion Network (https://magazine.armotion.com/)

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