After doing a cameo in the Hindi feature film ‘Maai’ a couple of years back, Monal Gajjar recently announced her arrival in Hindi cinema with the Satish Kaushik directed ‘Kaagaz’. In the last couple of years, Monal has worked extensively in Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu films, Now, after receiving accolades for her performance in ‘Kaagaz’, the actress is looking forward to doing a lot of work in the Hindi film industry.
In this interview, the actress talks about her experience of working with stalwarts like Satish Kaushik and Pankaj Tripathi in ‘Kaagaz’, journey in the entertainment industry, participating in ‘Bigg Boss 4’ (Telugu), passion for dance and more.
After working in Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu and Tamil films, the Hindi cinema audience discovered you in ‘Kaagaz’ which started streaming on an OTT platform a while back. Wasn’t ‘Maai’ (2013), which you had a cameo in, the first Hindi film you featured in?
Yes, ‘Maai’ was produced by my uncle Subhash Dawar. It was a very small role and did not have much of a graph. I would consider ‘Kaagaz’ to be my debut in Hindi films.
A couple of weeks back, you were seen in a very glamorous avatar in the song ‘Rambha Oorvasi’ from the Telugu film ‘Alludu Adhurs’. It was a sharp contrast from the role you played in ‘Kaagaz’. Throughout your career, you have picked a wide variety of roles. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes, I always wished to experiment with different kind of roles. Thankfully, I did not get stereotyped as an actor and got the opportunity to play different kind of roles. I think an actor should be open to doing all kinds of roles. Mostly, after you make your debut, it takes a while for people to assess your acting skills. Actors don’t get meaty parts very easily. I am glad that I got the opportunity to play a strong character so early in Hindi films. A lot of actors get that one film where they can truly showcase their acting skills quite late in their career. I feel very fortunate that I got that opportunity in my very first Hindi film.
How was it working with a veteran actor and director like Satish Kaushik?
Satish sir is the reason I did ‘Kaagaz’. He believed in me and saw Rukmini in me. For an outsider, getting an opportunity in Bollywood is very difficult. Nobody from my immediate family is has been a part of this industry. I feel extremely grateful about the fact that Satish sir gave me the opportunity to work on this film and somebody like Salman sir gave his name to it. A lot of times, smaller films struggle to reach out to a wide audience. Salman sir’s association with the film helped it get a lot of attention.
You were paired opposite Pankaj Tripathi in the film and most of your scenes were with him. Is there any quality or trait that you picked up from him?
Pankaj ji is a very keen observer. He notices the smallest of things happening around him and uses it in his performance. I have always been a very keen observer too. That is the reason I wanted to become an actor. I learnt a lot from Pankaj ji during the course of working on this film.
You are from Gujarat. You worked in different regional film industries and now, doing Hindi films as well. I was watching an interview of yours in which you spoke extensively in Telugu. In ‘Kaagaz’, you played a woman from the interiors of Uttar Pradesh and your diction was extremely clear.
I never did a formal course in acting. I am a good listener and a keen observer. I think these are some of the qualities that have helped me sharpen my skills as an actor. In Gujarat, the dialect is different in different regions. Whenever I would go to a particular region, I would try to pick up the dialect spoken in that area. I pick up languages very fast. When I participated in ‘Bigg Boss 4’, I worked very hard on learning Telugu. If you want to connect the audience in a particular region, getting the diction right is very important.
You had stated in an interview that while you were in the ‘Bigg Boss’ house, you were making a sincere effort to get along well with everyone but your efforts were going in the wrong direction.
Before I participated in ‘Bigg Boss 4’, I could understand Telugu but could not speak it. Apart from me, all the participants were fluent in it. Inside the house, you are not permitted to speak in English or any other language. So, whenever I would speak in English, I would get reprimanded. Because of that, I started speaking in broken Telugu. I was eliminated from the show in the fourteenth week and by that time, I was speaking Telugu fluently.
Not too long ago, you had a stable job in a bank. How did you get into acting?
Actually, I was not working on a full-time basis in the bank. I was just seventeen then and I was a part of the consultation unit of the bank. One day, a friend told me about a modelling competition that was happening in Ahmedabad. To participate in that competition, I had to give 2-3 photographs and fill up a form. The next day, I got some pictures clicked and went for the auditions. When they looked at my pictures, they started laughing. I realized if I wanted to be in this industry, I needed to groom myself. I worked in the bank for two more years and saved up on some money. During this time, I gathered some understanding about the modelling and entertainment industry. When I felt I was ready, I started modelling. Shortly after that, I started getting acting offers.
You have been a judge on the Telugu dance reality show ‘Dancee+’. Is dance something you were passionate about while you were growing up?
Being a Gujarati, I have been doing Garba all my life. I have not had any special training but I guess I always had a sense of rhythm. That helps me pick up different forms of dance very fast.
What is the next step for you as an actor?
I have been listening to a lot of scripts at the moment. I might sign something very soon. I am focussing on doing projects in Hindi and Telugu.