Comedy czarina

Kriti Sanon has kept the audiences rapt with her effortless comic timing, becoming the favourite of filmmakers for this genre, writes RAJIV VIJAYAKAR

We knew she had what it takes even in her first film, Heropanti, five years ago. She then went on to do Dilwale, Raabta, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Luka Chhupi with song cameos in Stree and Kalank, and two Telugu films, one of which, Nenokkadine, marked her debut ahead of Heropanti.

Today, with just this select movie arsenal, Kriti has sailed effortlessly into the topmost star bracket, and along with Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif, has a slot among the post-2010 heroines next only to Alia Bhatt. From her five lead role films in Hindi, she has had a success ratio of 80% with Dilwale crossing the 100-crore mark despite not recovering its huge investment.

By a coincidence, maybe, most of her Hindi films have been laced with humour, and in her last two hits, Bareilly Ki Barfi (at that time, its leading man Ayushmann Khurrana was having a flop run) and Luka Chhupi (with Kartik Aaryan being just one super-hit old), she was not only the biggest draw but also a solo heroine. But then, were all these aspects really coincidences?

Comedy is tough

“If you see all my films, the comedy has been of diverse kinds,” she says pragmatically. “And yet it is my job to do a film convincingly. In Arjun Patiala, which is my first spoof comedy, the humour is of a different kind. Yes, it’s a bit over-the-top, but this kind of comedy is tougher. It’s about how you make the humour believable. Sometimes we are serious within a film, but the scenes make the audience laugh. While doing all these films, I hope that I have got things worked out alright.”

She adds that she was lucky to have fabulous actors around her in every film, and hopes that unknowingly, she has picked up a lot from her Housefull 4 co-stars Akshay Kumar-sir and Riteish Deshmukh, who she says are simply incredible at comedy. “Even in a film like Bareilly… it was great to have accomplished artistes like Mohammed Zeeshan Quadri and Seema Pahwa around. A lot of stuff in Arjun Patiala, like some of the punch-lines, arose as a give and take reaction. Comedy is like that!”

Even in Arjun Patiala, her role as a reporter (her first in Hindi after her debut Telugu film) saw her go into the depth of her character. “I worked on the body language. A reporter has two sides, the one I have to show between ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’ and the one I have to feel in between. Small-town reporters also behave in a slightly different way. I also went online to study bloopers, and used a few of them!”

Kriti also remembers the time many people she knew, including her own friends, were wondering how she could play a small-town girl with her glam image from her first two Hindi films. “Twenty minutes into reading the script, I knew that a role like Bitti Mishra may not come my way again. I went to Lucknow and interacted with college girls for a while, and they opened up to me — even about their boyfriends. I recorded them to absorb the flavour. Luckily, Ashwiny (Iyer Tiwari, the director of the film) stood by me though so many people she knew expressed doubts about me as a choice.”

Method to madness

But then, do we see all this as a stepping-stone to be a method actor, we ask. She laughs and replies, “I think I just try to figure my method and see what works for me. I have never done workshops or theatre. During the shoot of an emotional scene for Heropanti, I remember I had a fight on the phone with someone and was almost in tears. People have said that for such sequences, an actor must revisit an emotional memory. I tried that and nothing happened. Then I went into the mindset of my character and what she had gone through, and I got it right. That is why it is better to be within the zone of your character. In Bareilly…, I realised I unknowingly started talking like my character.”

Coming back to comedy, how funny is she in real life? A thoughtful pause, and she says, “Well, I am not a sad person for sure! There are days when I just come out with one-liners or some jokes, and people tell me, ‘You seem to be in form today!’ But I definitely do like people with a sense of humour! That is so needed in today’s stressful cribbing-heavy world!”

By the same token, Kriti is also happy that all her movies except one have done well. “That gives me the confidence that maybe I am going on the right track. I go by my gut-feel and like to vary my roles, so that’s the only formula in a world where there are so many mediums of entertainment and people may not like average stuff any more. I am glad it has happened like that. It also opens the door to better offers.”

Explaining her way of choosing movies, she says that her character’s length is never important. “What I avoid is any role that can be deleted from a film without making a difference. Someone asked me why I am working with Ashutosh Gowariker-sir when his last three films have not worked. But for me, it has always been the story and my role. The magic of his Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar, two of the longest Hindi films I have watched, cannot be forgotten. He still has that magic in him. Hits and flops happen to anyone.”

She adds that even Ashutosh told her, “You have this thing for comedy!” Her character of Parvatibai in the movie is the only light touch in the war-heavy film. “Every time she comes on screen, you will smile!” promises Kriti. Unlike almost all actors of her generation, Kriti has been brought up on Hindi films, being what she herself describes as essentially, “A simple middle-class Delhi girl.” She reveals that she began to watch English films only after she became an actor, and even today, does not watch many of them.” Does that explain her high box-office average, we ask. “I don’t know!” she says thoughtfully. “Maybe I will select a film that will not work tomorrow. But then maybe that is why I am a ‘massy’ person. On the other hand, there are so many massy films that I have not liked.”

Role reversal

The actor is happy that a lot of female-oriented films are being written. She has herself turned down some 10 offers, but the fact that they are being made, makes her glad. One such film she has accepted is Rahul Dholakia’s next, a thriller in which she plays a media professional, which is being produced by Sunil Khetarpal, who co-produced Badla. “There is a lot of scope here, and I am glad they have trusted me. However, it is also scary that I have to carry the film. There is no one else to blame if it flops!” she smiles.

We also heard that she will be doing the Hindi remake of Mala Aai Vahhaychy! (I want to become a mother), the National-award winning 2010 Marathi film based on a real-life story on surrogacy that will be directed by her Luka Chhupi director Laxman Utekar for the same producer Dinesh Vijan, who is also the producer of Raabta and Arjun Patiala. “I don’t know,” she says. “I am signed on for some more films with Dinesh. Why don’t you ask him?”

Admitting that it is superb to be in the top bracket, she openly expresses admiration for Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt and adds, “And PC
(Priyanka Chopra) is someone who I have admired for a long, long time.”

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