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Nidhi Singh: Small-town girl to web-series star

Nidhi Singh on moving from Allahabad to Mumbai, the culture shock, Permanent Roommates, Bollywood debut... and, err, drinking water from the Ganga.

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Feb 17, 2017 18:45 IST
Poorva Joshi
Actor Nidhi Singh at the TVF Campus, Andheri.
Actor Nidhi Singh at the TVF Campus, Andheri. (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

A decade since she first came to Mumbai, Singh is now ready for her Bollywood debut

We’re back at The Viral Fever’s office in Andheri. We’ve been here so often that we now know our way around the curiously named cabins — King’s Landing, Friend Zone, District 13…it goes on. The office peon waves at us. Employees nod as if to say, “Oh, you again.”

Two of our previous stories — on actor-writer Biswapati Sarkar and casting director Nidhi Bisht — are on the office notice board, pinned over food menus and memos. “I’m going to replace them soon,” says Nidhi Singh (30), pointing at the clippings. She’s the only headlining actor from TVF we haven’t met yet. So much so, that her manager told us she had been “feeling left out”.

It’s probably true, because the interview goes on for over an hour. She shares anecdotes from her life: childhood misadventures, the move from Allahabad to Mumbai and the culture shock that followed, the successful web series, Permanent Roommates (average 3 million views per episode), and her upcoming films.

After the interview, she says she was fighting back tears at certain points. “Memories of my childhood, and the time I moved to Mumbai, are special to me. I haven’t spoken about them in a long time,” she says.

Read more: Meet Nidhi Bisht, the casting director who spotted leading web series stars

Allahabad to Mumbai

Singh grew up in Allahabad — the nerve centre of India’s relationship with religion. She says her house there is typically middle-class: deeply religious parents, and pictures of various gods and goddesses on the walls.

“But, they never enforced faith on me or my siblings. Sure, they’d make us sit for havans, but that was it. My father, in fact, would be annoyed whenever our relatives would insist on taking a dip in the Ganga,” she says.

Singh, herself, has never taken a dip in the Ganga. She did, however, drink from the river. She says she has no memory of what drove her to it. “It was right after the annual Kumbh Mela, and I think the charged-up environment got to me,” she says.

Understandably, that story does not have a happy ending. She was down with a stomach bug for two months. She says the experience taught her a vital lesson: to deal with the repercussion of your actions, however silly they may be.

It is probably that ability to take responsibility that gave her the courage to move to Mumbai when she was just 17. She was certain that acting was her calling, and moving to an expensive, alien city to pursue that dream was worth the risk.

Read more: Meet actor-writer Biswapati Sarkar, who pokes fun at Arnab Goswami for a living

The move, however romantic, couldn’t have been easy. The cultural differences alone are significant. Singh agrees, and says that the most annoying part was the space crunch. “I grew up in a bungalow with a cowshed in the backyard. Here, my life was compressed into a bunk bed and a cupboard,” she says.

Yet, Mumbai gave her what she wanted most: exposure to the entertainment industry. She graduated in mass media from St Andrew’s College, Bandra, and worked in the client servicing department of JWT Advertising. She pursued theatre on the side, and did roles in plays by Quasar Padamsee and Chandan Roy Sanyal.

Singh moved to Mumbai when she was just 17. (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

Newfound fame

It was via the theatre circuit that Singh met Nidhi Bisht, also a struggling actor and a theatre director at the time. The duo worked together in one of Bisht’s plays, Who Let the Dogs Out? (in 2014). It opened in Delhi. And as luck would have it, TVF founder Arunabh Kumar and writer Biswapati Sarkar were in the audience.

Singh was called in to audition for Permanent Roommates (PR), and the rest is browsing history. “The series happened when I was desperately looking for acting jobs. PR not only gave me professional stability, but also a role that excited me,” says Singh.

Singh plays Tanya Nagpal, a city girl juggling a clingy boyfriend, a successful career, and an impending marriage. The second season dealt with premarital motherhood and pregnancy-related complications. The series was such a hit that she often gets called Tanya in public.

Read more: Meet the man behind Mikesh Choudhary, YouTube’s favourite original character

The web series didn’t just stabilise Singh’s career. It catapulted her into mainstream entertainment, and the big one: a Bollywood offer. Singh has two yet-untitled feature films set to release later this year. “The first one’s a romantic comedy (alongside Saqib Saleem and Taapsee Pannu). The second is the opposite of that — a dark comedy on the legal system,” Singh says.

Despite Bollywood, Singh says she has no plans of leaving the web space or theatre. She wants to do plays, web series, ads, and films. She even did a short film recently: Lovey Dovey, by YouTube channel Madmidaas Films. The film has clocked over 1 million views. Based on the theme of Valentine’s Day, the film sees an army man trying to woo his wife, played by Singh. “This is what I left Allahabad for. It’s why I came to Mumbai,” she says.