Shivani Raghuvanshi is pretty, petite with a zeal to be a ‘star’ -- a stereotypical Yash Raj Films product. Her debut film by the same banner is anything but.
Titli is as far from commercial cinema as it gets. Neelu, her character in the internationally acclaimed film, barely wears make up, adorns simple clothes and shows complex emotions.
With the ‘unconventional’ producer-duo of Aditya Chopra and Dibakar Banerjee, the movie is a far cry from what the 24-year-old thought her launch into the industry would be.
When I ask her about how she reacted when she got the role, she outrightly admits “Dibakar (Bannerjee) sir ke naam ne toh mujhe excite hi nai kiya tha! I was like okay, unka film hai? YRF only excited me”.
The one aspect about Shivani that you would find refreshing is that she never talks in platitudes. Perhaps its the newness to the profession that has kept her from becoming jaded yet.
She confesses that she “never understood” the kind of gritty realistic cinema that the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Bannerjee are famous for. But after doing a film like Titli she feels she has become a better actor and can now do any kind of role that comes her way.
Coming from a middle class background, Shivani’s first few weeks in Mumbai had been an eye opener. Sharing an incident about a party she had attended, she says that she had kept a fast due to shivratri and seeing girls with cigarettes in one hand and a wine glass in the other on such a “holy occasion” had shocked her to the core.
“Maine toh apni puri life mein Dilli mein sirf do ladkiyon ko hi smoke karte hue dekha tha, it was like a whole new world for me”.
She laughs thinking about herself two years ago and the way her whole thought process has changed in this short time.
Shivani was in the ninth grade. She entered a movie theatre, saw Madhuri Dixit dance to ‘Hum pe kisne hara rang dala’. She couldn’t sleep for a week after that. The elaborate costumes with magnanimous sets filled her mind. And her fate, as they say, was sealed.
When Shivani came to Mumbai, she had already come to terms with the amount of struggle that was required to bag a good role with enough screen space to get noticed. What happened was a different story altogether.
After getting noticed in a Vodafone advertisement, Shivani was called to audition for the role of Neelu in Delhi. Passing the initial rounds, she went through a workshop with other shortlisted candidates.
“I never took the workshop seriously. I kept laughing through it which frustrated some people a well... but I think my nonchalance actually worked in my favour. When you are not pressurized about something, you end up doing a better job” she says.
Almost gave up
Perhaps the most harrowing episode during her shooting for Titli was the kissing scene that takes place in a discotheque. Shivani had to act as if she were a bit drunk for the scene and so the director, Kanu Behl, asked her to take a few sips before shooting. The idea was to calm her nerves as well, since she was obviously worked up about the sequence.
For Shivani alcohol didn’t have the desired effect. She ended up breaking down and flat out refusing to do shoot the scene. It wasn’t just her first kiss on screen, it was her first kiss ever and to do it with a man she had no romantic inclination for just made matters worse. On top of all of this drama, she wouldn’t listen to anyone on set.
The person who finally calmed her down and made her do the scene was the last person she had expected.
She made a call to her mother crying about how her family would be shamed if she went ahead with it, how she didn’t want to let her parents down or have them become victims of salacious gossip. Shivani’s mother replied by reminding her that at the end it was her dream at stake.
“She calmly said don’t do it, come back if you want and do a normal job but remember that you will be giving up on your dream”
Shivani recalls her first real Bollywood party. It was famous casting director, Mukesh Chhabra’s birthday bash. She was escorted by someone from Titli’s PR team and was constantly advised to keep her outward emotions in check and “to not act like a wannabe”. “I remember Aditya Roy Kapoor walking by and I was overcome by his good looks but I had to make sure I didn’t show how star struck I was actually feeling.”
It was when Dia Mirza entered the party that Shivani couldn’t control herself any longer. “I told the PR person, I am going over to meet her regardless of how it makes me look. It was Dia Mirza after all. She had made me wish that I was a guy so I could go upto her and propose marriage!.”
The second incident when Shivani was in an “awkward zone” was at Titli’s premier. “All the hot actors were around me. From Aditya Roy Kapoor to Varun Dhawan. Varun even came upto me to ask if I was feeling nervous.” she recounts.
For her the most overwhelming moment was when after the premiere, seasoned actors came up to her and congratulated her on her acting.
“To tell the truth I was so overwhelmed, I could have cried at the time. Neha Dhupia came up to me and without uttering a word, she just hugged me.”
Watch: Titli trailer
Eye on the prize
Shivani’s dream is not just to be known as a ‘good character actor’ but to garner fame and popularity enjoyed by the likes of Deepika Padukone.
She wants to try her hand at direction at some point in the future. For the time being she is focusing on her upcoming film Leader, an Imtiaz Ali production, in which she stars opposite Rajat Barmecha of Udaan fame.
She ends by saying “everyone comes in the industry to be a star and those who say otherwise are just lying”