Shivaleeka Oberoi says she never met grandfather, producer Mahavir Oberoi: ‘My journey has been that of a complete outsider’
In an interview, Shivaleeka Oberoi opened up about her second film Khuda Haafiz, being an outsider in Bollywood and her journey from being an assistant director to an actor.Updated: Aug 14, 2020, 07:18 IST
Shivaleeka Oberoi, who made her Bollywood debut with Yeh Saali Aashiqui last year, considers herself an ‘outsider’ in the industry. Though her grandfather, Mahavir Oberoi, was a producer in the 1960s, he died when her father was a teenager. “I have only heard stories about him producing a film from my parents, and that too, only after I ventured into acting,” she says, adding that she has made it in films entirely on her own, working her way up from being an assistant director.
Currently, Shivaleeka is gearing up for the release of her second film, Khuda Haafiz. The film, which also stars Vidyut Jammwal, revolves around a man’s quest to find his wife when she goes missing under mysterious circumstances in a foreign land.
Excerpts from an interview:
Not many know that you signed Khuda Haafiz even before Yeh Saali Aashiqui released. How did that happen?
My debut film was supposed to release in July and it got pushed to November, so I had eight to ten months with nothing to do. I am not someone who can sit idle at all and I started auditioning again. The casting for Khuda Haafiz was on and I went in for a brief reading. I heard ‘based on true events’ and my character brief, and I was sold. I auditioned for the film and I gave a couple of look tests. Kumar (Mangat) ji, the producer, happened to see my audition. I was called to meet him and I was so surprised because he showed immense faith in me, even though he had not seen anything of my first film. It meant so much. My perception completely changed and I just knew that this insider-outsider divide only exists till the time your talent speaks.
I gave a couple of more look tests and I happened to meet Faruk (Kabir, director) sir after that. He narrated the entire film to me, I read the script and I was really blown away with the way it was written. A month later, they got back to me and they told me that I’m doing this. I got to know just 20 days before I was supposed to go and shoot. I had 20 days to prepare so I basically gave my life into this. It’s a huge responsibility and a lot of pressure to crack a particular role that is based on a true story. Nargis is a character I relate to very well but she is also quite different. She is a very simple girl-next-door who has never stepped out of Lucknow. For me, who has travelled the entire world and is so bubbly, I had to completely tone myself down.
Were you disappointed when Khuda Haafiz was snubbed by Disney+ Hotstar during the press conference to announce their line-up?
Vidyut had tweeted about it and I actually happened to read it the same morning. I saw the line-up the night before and I definitely felt ‘Why is Vidyut not a part of this?’ Because everyone was representing their own film. There was a little bit of disappointment, but at the end of the day, the OTT platform did have a conversation with the team. I don’t know what the conversation was, to be very honest, but I’m just happy that our film is releasing. I always thought that I would have at least one release a year and luckily that is happening even though there is a lockdown going on. There’s nothing more important than the audiences deciding how your work is. This is the maximum reach that we can get, and at the end of the day, this is for the best.
Do you have any regrets that Khuda Haafiz could not release in theatres?
Definitely, there is, because we kind of envisioned it that way. Throughout the filming, we kept thinking about how this shot is going to look on the big screen and how we can treat this for the big screen. The film is made for the big screen but knowing that there is no certainty about when the lockdown will end, I’m happy that there’s a release.
Your grandfather, Mahavir Oberoi, was a producer. Was it easier to get into Bollywood, given that you had some kind of connection?
Not at all, I have actually never met my grandfather. He passed away when my dad was barely 17 years old. I have only heard stories about him producing a film from my parents, and that too, only after I ventured into acting. After I completed my graduation and I started giving auditions, that is when my parents actually showed me a black-and-white poster of my dada’s film Sheba and Hercules (1967). We had no connections in the industry.
My dada must have had connections with actors and producers back then but then he passed away very early. It’s not like my dad had any connections, he built his life on his own because he lost his father at such an early age. My mom has been a teacher for 25 years and she has been the headmistress of a school. There is nobody who has really helped us in any way. I have always told my mom that if I have to do anything in terms of acting, it’s going to be on the basis of the connections I make. My journey has been that of a complete outsider. I do know that it is on me and it is quite difficult to make it and even get your debut film, but I feel the hard work pays off.
With Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the insider-outsider debate has been reignited and it is believed that those from film families have an unfair edge over outsiders. Do you believe that?
I feel that whether you’re an outsider or an insider, there should be equal opportunities given to both. There should be an equal platform where everyone can show their talent and irrespective of the person being an insider or outsider, they should be given a particular film based on their talent. We have quite a few people from outside the industry who have made it big, like Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao. Vidyut is a huge inspiration and he has made whatever he has on his own terms. Then you have Ranbir Kapoor, who is super talented and an insider. I feel that my journey has not been an easy one, being an outsider. The opportunities are lesser, recognition comes only after you are two-three films old. Those are the negative points of being an outsider but there are many positive points if you make it big. I focus on working hard and I know that what is mine will come to me.
You have worked as an assistant director on Kick and Housefull 3. What did you learn on the set?
A lot. I think everything that I have actually learned behind the camera has shaped me to be what I am today. I feel that I wouldn’t have been here if I had not assisted on those films. I never had a designated goal as an assistant director. I used to do everything, from rehearsing lines to giving cues to giving the clap and calling the actors. So I have been in close proximity with all of the actors on set. I have learnt so many things that an actor does in front of the camera. Akshay (Kumar) sir is the best example of characterisation. No two films or characters of his are the same and that is the quality of an actor - versatility - that makes you in the industry. There were more experiences that I learnt from, like, coming 10 minutes late on set can affect everything because there are 300 people working on a set. Salman (Khan) sir was very, very kind. He did not know that I wanted to act till the last few days of the shoot of Kick. I was quite happy that I got to work with them and so early in life. I was barely 17 when I was an assistant director.
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