A few years back, Sonali Sharmistha Mohanty was studying engineering in a college in Odisha but her heart was not in it. For a long time, she was fascinated with the craft of acting but did not have the courage to confide in somebody about it. After finishing her studies, she decided to follow her heart and pursue acting as a full-time profession. The girl from Odisha is now in Mumbai and moving slowly but very steadily towards achieving all her dreams. In this interview, she talks about her eventful journey in the entertainment business so far.
You managed to complete a few projects in the last couple of months.
Yes, I did a couple of projects in Odisha including a short film. During the lockdown, I was there for three months waiting for things to get back to normal. Soon, I realized that the pandemic was here to stay for a long time. I did not want to spend more time waiting in Odisha and thus, headed back to Mumbai.
How did you get into acting?
I have been working professionally as an actor since 2017. When I was in college pursuing my engineering course, I participated in many co-curricular activities like dance and theatre. Acting in plays opened up a new world for me which I had not seen before. After getting into engineering, a lot of people realize that this is not something they want to make a career in. That is exactly what happened to me (laughs). I was passionate about acting but had no idea how should I go about it. I did a short acting course in an institute in Odisha. During that time, I interacted with a couple of other people who were interested in acting and realized that an actor has better career prospects in a city like Mumbai where a massive film industry like Bollywood is based. I did not have the courage to express this in front of my parents. I tried for anchoring opportunities in Odisha. While applying for the job of an anchor in a regional news channel here, an executive from the channel suggested that if I am interested in acting, I should not get into another space like anchoring and focus on my primary goal of becoming an actor.
Did you manage to find a way to move to Mumbai then?
Yes, going to Mumbai became an ambition and I made an elaborate plan to make that happen. My relatives were living in Pune. I lived with them for a couple of days. Then, I went to Mumbai and started looking for a PG accommodation. I told my parents to let me stay in Mumbai for some time under the pretext of looking for a job. When I was in Mumbai, I got to know about different things related to this profession like auditions, workshops etcetera. I also got in touch with a few theatre companies and joined one of them. Along with some of my friends, I made a couple of videos for YouTube and acted in them as well. I started auditioning for different projects and got the opportunity to act in a couple of TV serials. I also got an opportunity to assist on an independent film. I started watching world cinema and that opened up a new world for me. I did a couple of TV commercials for Rasna with Kareena Kapoor Khan, Central and State Government ads and several other TVCs for Kotak Mahindra Bank, a Sri Lankan scooter brand, Royal Asian Paint. I have played the lead in several episodes of ‘Crime Patrol’. I played a small but important part in the show ‘Luv Kush’, &TV’s ‘Pyaar Ka Papad. I will be seen in a cameo in Epic Channel’s ‘Kohinoor’.
What are the challenges you faced after coming to Mumbai?
I have grown up in a village called Nanpur which is in the Jajpur district of Odisha. When I came to Mumbai, I was overwhelmed by how big and crowded the city was. I come from a place where most people are quite conservative. When we used to meet people, we would greet them with a ‘hi’ or a ‘namaste’. Here, in Mumbai, hugging each other while meeting is quite common. I hail from a different kind of a social background, so it took me a while to get used to these things. I was lucky enough to find a lot of good friends in the city. I was not a very social person but when you work in this industry, it is important to keep meeting people from your profession. I went through a learning phase in Mumbai. I am still learning.
A lot of people who are from Odisha struggle with Hindi when they go to work in the entertainment industry in Mumbai. Did you face that too?
Yes. One of the first projects I got in Mumbai was a mythological show. I was not aware of things like nukhta in Urdu. I was given elaborate dialogues to speak and it was very difficult. I asked my teacher to help me with pronunciation and getting the diction right. On the sets, they prompted me and that helped. After that, I worked very hard on my language. I read a lot of books and did workshops specifically to improve my language.
Recently, Bollywood has come into the spotlight for a lot of wrong reasons and attracted a lot of negative reportage. How was been your experience in the entertainment industry?
Every profession has its positive and negatives. I do not think much about something like nepotism as all of us help our friends and relatives in some way or the other. I think the digital boom has changed things. If you see shows on the digital platforms, you will realize good actors and not necessarily stars getting the opportunities. It is a very good time to be in the entertainment industry.
What, do you think, is your strength as an actor?
I am a good listener. As an actor, you need to be flexible and willing to play any kind of role. You have to go through the right process.
What is that one advice you would like to give an aspiring actor?
Patient is the most important thing especially in this profession. You also need to be prepared and work on your craft every single day. It can take one day or ten years but if you are passionate about your work and are persistent, your efforts will definitely pay off one day.
What is the plan ahead for you?
I do not wish to do television. It is a good medium but consumes a lot of time. I have acted in two independent feature films which are yet to release. I got offered a couple of parts in commercial films but they were not interesting enough. I want to play challenging roles in films or in the web space. I hope to make my state Odisha proud through my work.