Ayesha Dharkar - Guns 'n Roses

The Gods are smiling on Ayesha Dharkar. Bagging the best Actress Award at the Cairo Film festival has propelled her in to big league. She may have been in the business since she was ten, but Ayesha Dharkar has never been in the light as she is now. Known until 1998 as Anil and Imtiaz Dharkar's daughter, the 21-year-old is now making her writer-poet parents proud to be known as her folks!


The last time I met Ayesha Dharkar was well over two years ago at Bombay Gym. We chatted over tea and toast and she showed irrepressible enthusiasm to be working with Shabana Azmi and Zakir Hussain in Saaz. Last week was my second meeting with the spirited young actress. Same venue same food and Ayesha still all lit up. This time over her performance in Santosh Sivan's film The Terrorist, which has left critics struggling for superlatives, and earned her the best Actress Award in the Cairo film Festival. It's dreamy to step into her shoes. She's blazed an impressive trail from the age of ten right through her school days. Over the years, she has notched up an impressive repertoire of film and theatre roles, including Domnique Lapierre's City of Joy (co-starring patrick Swayze), Split Wide Open (Dev Benegal's new film) and Saaz to name of few. Talking to her was fun then, and was fun now, as Ayesha holds strong views on everything and is full of interesting tales and anecdotes. These delivered with great animation. Here are excerpts from a conversation with the new shooting star of Indian Cinema:

Q: How does it feel to be back home after months of touring film festivals the world over?
Ayesha Dharkar: I've been away for months and to be back, it feels like I want to stay in bed for three months (laughs).

Q: How does it feel to win the award?
A.D.: It feels good and also weird at the same time. It is a really small film, made on a budget of Rs. 14 lakh, and shot in 20 days. I've never worked in a film like this before. Everybody from Santosh, down to the guy who served us pongal every morning, they all really cared about the film. You know, I broke my leg, but still carried on, as we were desperate to complete the film in time for the Cannes film Festival. Unfortunately, we couldn't.

Q: What were your expectations from the film?
AD A.D.: There was a lot of passion involved in making the film. We didn't make any compromises whilst making the film, simply because we didn't know who our audience was in particularly. We almost expected the film to be buried. Suddenly, it gets picked up and taken to the Toronto Film Festival. So, Santosh and I trouped along to check out the scene. Then we turn up for the show and it was houseful. There were lines outside and a standing ovation at the end. That took us by surprise. The film started gaining importance. I remember at some time, Santosh and I were walking along the street in Toronto and literally jumping with joy and disbelief. See, when you are making a film, you just can't guarantee audience. Even big budget movies have fared badly. So we never made the film for any specific reason or result but because Santosh was obsessed with the subject and he had to make it.

Q: When were you approached for the role? Were you the original choice?
A.D.: Santosh had wanted to make this film for years and had approached numerous people. But according to him, he never found the person. Once he approached me, he made up his mind to go ahead with the film. For me, it was the dream role.

Q: Give us a brief outline of your character.
A.D.: It is based on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination and the plot revolves around a human bomb. It's not about the same girl, but about a terrorist. Most of us don't even know that the kind of people that get recruited into movements like LTTE, are children. They get recruited when they are ten and under and learn to handle explosives, mines and bombs. It is all inculcated in their ideology. The movie spans four days. A girl's journey from her camp to the assassination site. The film backwards and forwards to various events.

Q: What homework went in on your part?
A.D.: Most of it was through Santosh and the stuff he sent me to read. It was homework not only of the LTTE but of his way of film making. He is truly an auteur director at work. Santosh had a friend in the army who gave us a lot of information and details. When you work with Santosh, there is a lot of experimentation. We would do six scenes a day. Crazy stuff like that. He had just one camera, one screen and one trolley. And we'd get into a jeep and go shooting. Shooting in the wilds of Kerala was like one big adventure.

Q: Can you relive your award night?
A.D.: After the Toronto Film Festival, I went for a whole round of festivals, including Paris and London. Then I got a job in Turkey with the BBC. I got a part in the Arabian Night, for children. My role is of the evil wife of a genie. It should be showing on BBC and ABC. So I got that job, then I came back to Mumbai. The next morning I got a call from a woman, asking me if I wanted to go to Cairo. So, spontaneously, I dragged along a friend. We packed our bags and left that afternoon. That evening we met all the festival people. The next night was the award night. We were up against big films like Jinnah. On the awards night, they started awarding our film one after the other and it bagged three awards - Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress. I've never been given an award before, so when they announced my name, it just seemed so surreal and bizarre. It was only later that reality hit me. Specially when I was mobbed.

Q: Will the film be shown in the city?
A.D.: I certainly hope so. Eventually, I think it will be shown at some point. Though I don't know how people will react to it. It is a very quiet film.

Q: What are your forthcoming projects?
I've been away for three months, so I haven't taken on any new projects. I am currently working on the Arabian Nights. I am going to London to meet my agent, Aude Powell, and that's when I'll know what's lined up for me. Just before I did The Terrorist, I shot for Dev Benegal's Split Wide Open. That should open sometime, mid-year.

Q: Would you negotiate a journey from parallel cinema to commercial films?
? A.D.: See, I've bee offered commercial film before. And nowadays commercial films are different. You don't have this divide anymore. Art cinema is not only about rural India. There is a gap, yes but its being bridged by films like Satya. I don't care if a film is commercial or not. I look at the role, the director and the cameraman. I couldn't do an all out masala movie. A person like Govinda does all this and gets away with it, because he looks like he's enjoying it. He's so comfortable in whatever he does. I couldn't wear a parrot bra and wiggle. I enjoy watching it, but I wouldn't be able to do it. That's why I admire someone like Kajol who's been able to strike the right balance.

Q: Are you also looking at theatre?
A.D.: I'd love to, but if you do theatre you can't travel. An actor like Rahul Bose can manage it, because he's so hardworking and completely mad. I'm quite lazy. I'd love to do theatre, but once I am back.

Q: Is success overwhelming?
A.D.: The award is a good boost to the ego and it's wonderful. But, yes it is overwhelming, because people suddenly have high expectations from you. The other day, someone spoke of me as an established actress, and that, was frightening. I'd be happy working the way I am right now, all my life. But all of a sudden everyone wants to know what my next project is. And that takes on a huge significance because they are expecting another award. And that's not what I really want. I just want to keep working and do stuff I really want. Till now I've worked in obscure films, most of which weren't even shown in the country. That was all right, because no one recognised me and it meant that I could still travel second class by train. I could continue doing my happy little jobs. I like that nobody really knows me but finds me vaguely familiar. But losing this is a great fear. I don't want all this attention.

Q: Do you have your future planned out?
A.D.: I don't want to plan and nobody has asked me either. In that sense I am too short sighted. Planning entails growing up and charting out your life. I just don't want to do it. Once you start planning, you're thinking about an image and that means digging your own grave. When I look at a film, I know I'm going to enjoy doing it, however big or small it is. I want to have fun. It maybe is a stupid way of looking at things, but it's worked for me so far. I have been in this business for 12 year and am wise enough to know its pitfalls. One day you're there and the next, you're down in the dumps. I've seen enough of hypocrisy and flipside and I know the reality. So, it's best not to get carried away by the good or the bad of it. I am not too taken up with it.

Q: How does a non-working day run for you?
A.D.: I am obsessed with films. I'm very boring. If I am not acting in a film, I either watching a film, reading about films or thinking about films. Otherwise it's meeting up with friends. The Mumbai party scene doesn't appeal to me, because I hate the music they play here. I enjoy partying more when I am in London. On the whole, I am not a party person. To be honest, I've always been an outsider. I could never identify with people my age. Either I have my nose in a book or my face in a screen.

Q: What are you looking forward to most in your life?
A.D.: Wow, there is no way that I can answer this question, without letting away a secret. Things are going good for me. Work is looking good and I've met someone whom I really like. I don't want anything big to happen, I just want more of the same.