Mrunal Thakur on Love Sonia: Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao were like my two pillars
Bollywood has been welcoming many popular talents from television of late, and joining the bandwagon is Mrunal Thakur of Kumkum Bhagya fame. Mrunal plays the lead role in the Indo-American film Love Sonia (releases on 14 September) made by Life Of Pi producer David Womark. Then, early next year she will be making her big Bollywood debut opposite Hrithik Roshan in Vikas Bahl-directed Super 30.
Earlier too, Mrunal’s name was associated with prominent names because while she was following her Bollywood dream, she had auditioned for many films and one out of them was Salman Khan's Sultan. She had also auditioned for Yash Raj Films' upcoming Diwali big ticket, Thugs Of Hindostan. However, things didn't work out for Mrunal, who is finally making her international debut in the film that brings to light the issue of global human trafficking. She plays a village girl, who is trapped in global sex trade in the film that also stars Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Freida Pinto, Richa Chadda, Demi Moore and Anupam Kher among others.
Dismissing rumours that she turned down Thugs of Hindostan because she did not want to sign a three-film contract with the production house as it would have affected her international career, Mrunal says, "There was no three film deal. Sultan and Love Sonia happened around the same time. For Love Sonia, I had become like a skeleton, like a stick. Do you think I would pass off as a wrestler? How could they have cast a skinny girl? Besides Sultan and ToH, there are more films that Yash Raj will make. This is only the beginning for me. We were only auditioning but I got the chance to meet Aditya Chopra. Today, my confidence can be attributed to the grooming process that the casting directors put me through for all these films. Earlier, I was like a tomboy. They helped me get out of that. I don’t have any film background and getting an opportunity to meet them itself was great,” she adds.
While most actresses would want to make their debut with glamourous roles in commercial or romantic entertainers, what prompted her to start her career with Love Sonia? “I wanted to do a film that would impact people’s heart; they should come out feeling, ‘Oh my god, does all this actually happen in our society?' Also, I want people to remember me for my work. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a light-hearted, or a dark film, what matters most is that I got a titular role with such an amazing cast,” says Mrunal.
While she was busy with her television assignments, Mrunal was called for the auditions but the journey wasn’t easy as there were around 1500 to 2000 girls to compete with, and it was only after six rounds of auditioning and several months when she was told that she will be playing Sonia. The actress stayed near Sonagachi, the red-light district in Kolkata to study the body language of the prostitutes and to research for the film as well. “Even when I knew that I was locked for the role, I came back crying looking at the whole process of preparing and shooting. My mother was also scared. Which mother would want to see her daughter as a victim. Tabrez (Noorani, director) showed me the footage of girls from brothels and sent us to Kolkata’s red light district to do our research. It was so disturbing when we heard their stories. They had to serve 30 to 40 clients a day. Men would hit them, take away their children and blackmail them. Pimps would give drugs to the victims and when they got addicted, they would manipulate them. I also visited their homes and was dumbfounded to see their bed elevated on bricks with clients sleeping on the upper level while their husband and kids slept on the lower,” said Mrunal sounding aghast.
There were many more hard-hitting facts that she learnt during the shoot that numbed her. “Girls get trafficked through containers too. They put a lot of diapers, oxygen cylinders to conceal the women are already drugged. Nobody really cares if they are alive or dead. When the girls are finally sold, the same night the doctor stitches their genitals and sell them again as virgins to get more money,” says the actress, who now wants to take up the cause and educate more women. "I want to make them aware because most of the girls that I met at Sonagachi told me that they had come to meet a guy and went on a vacation with them and at the end of it they were sold. I want to tell them to not to trust anybody and raise their voice if they feel something is wrong."
“I had to look like a village girl and we had the best makeup artist, Virginia Holmes. The process included, drying out my lips to tanning my body to three shades darker and to not grooming my hair. The scene with me as a 17-year-old girl being sold to a 60-year-old man was one of the most difficult ones to perform," she says, adding, “The director has a detailed vision. He has researched on the subject for over 10 years and was very firm in what he was doing.”
Obviously, matching up to her co-stars, some of them being stalwarts, put a lot of pressure on Mrunal, but her four-year television experience, and that too, on daily shows, made things a bit easy for her. “Now I feel glad that I started with television because every day I used to toil really hard, working on daily soaps. Television helped me deliver my lines, just that the two medium are very different," she says.
Mrunal continues, “Initially, I was afraid to do scenes with Freida and Richa because I had no idea what it was like to work in the Bollywood industry. But on the first day when Freida came to me and said, ‘I was exactly like you a decade back’, I felt better. These senior actors would help me with the scenes. Even today, if I have to make decisions, I drop a message to Frieda, or call Richa,” says Mrunal, who would just observe her co-stars. “Manoj (Bajpayee) sir and Rajkummar Rao were like my two strong pillars. Manoj sir helped me with my dubbing and showed me where to take pauses. Rajkummar would just surrender himself to the director saying, ‘Brief me and I will be in the character’. I would just observe them between takes. I would make sure that if Tabrez was taking Manoj’s close up shot, I would sit on the monitor and just capture what he was doing. Merely watching them helped me a lot. With such great mentors on sets, nothing can go wrong,” she says.
Mrunal was also quite taken aback with Demi Moore’s dedication. “Most actors usually sit in their vanity vans when they aren’t shooting but Demi made sure that she stayed on sets while we shot the entire sequence. In between the scenes she would share her and her former husband Ashton Kutcher's association with the victims and the NGO they are associated with,” says Mrunal.
After putting television on backburner, Mrunal is anxious about her movie career and is keen on working with Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and Shoojit Sircar. “Now I’m waiting for Super 30 to release and probably then the real race in Bollywood would begin for me. I want to experience new things. I have done commercials, television, films and I would like to experiment more, probably do a web series. Language is not a barrier, only the concept matters,” she says.
Updated Date: Sep 12, 2018 11:50:23 IST