The model-turned-actress offers a sneak peek into her feature film debut Ittu Si Baat and how she had to unlearn her idea of beauty during her auditions
Last Updated: 08.25 PM, Jun 15, 2022
Gayatri Bhardwaj, a dentist by qualification, made her mark in the big, bad world of fashion with the Miss India pageant in 2018, where she represented Delhi and ended up as one of the finalists. Hailing from an academically-inclined Punjabi family, she was a typical nerd back in her childhood who saw fashion as an avenue to redefine the idea of beauty in the little way she can.
Having made her digital debut with Bhuvan Bam's Dhindora, the model-turned-actress is set to test her luck with a big-screen release, Ittu Si Baat on June 17. Ahead of the release, she tells OTTplay.com why she had tapped into her younger years to play Sapna in Ittu Si Baat, written and directed by Adnan Ali.
For someone who was a medical student and gravitated towards the fashion world, and showbiz later, what was your childhood like? What were your major influences?
I grew up watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham in my formative years. However, if I’ve to name a single major influence that drove me toward the fashion industry, it was Priyanka Chopra’s Fashion. I feel the film changed my life.
Fashion was an A-rated film; I wasn’t allowed to go to the theatres but I remember waiting for a time when my parents weren’t in the house and watching it. I rewatched it so many times later. The film pleased the younger ‘me’ who looked at herself in front of the mirror and wanted to walk the ramp and be a beauty queen.
And Fashion, as a film, depicted that the fashion world isn’t as rosy as it seems. Didn’t it affect you as a child?
Back in my ninth and tenth grades, when I was reasonably good at academics, my parents thought I would either study MBBS, become a dentist or turn into an architect. While my mother was open to me doing something creative, it was a clear ‘no no’ from my father. He felt it wasn’t wise of me to think of an unconventional career option, made me pack my bags and asked me to study dentistry in Pune.
There was one instance where I had slept through an exam because I ended up studying all night. I honestly knew that I wasn’t meant for dentistry and deserved something else. I completed my course but I was hellbent on making a mark in the fashion industry. My heart was in it. When you are so motivated about something, you only think straight and don’t look elsewhere.
My family tried to dissuade me because I was the only girl child in my family and didn’t have any Godfather in the glamour world. They still gave me a ‘go ahead’ because of the faith in their upbringing. I share everything under the sun with my parents and could go back to them for help even if things don’t go as planned. When my relationship with my parents is so secure, there was no stopping me.
All said and done, the fashion world comes with its own set of brutalities and confines you to a limited idea of beauty. How do you cope with that?
I was a nerdy kid for a long time in life, wearing spectacles, braces and honestly didn’t know my place in the world. I had a dusky tone, played a lot of sports due to which I got even more tanned and I didn’t fit the stereotype of a ‘beautiful girl’ by Indian societal standards. I felt unworthy and most boys would look past me without any reaction.
I grew up thinking that I need to prove to them I could look beautiful. Many don’t realise how impressionable young girls are, those who watch film stars changing something about themselves, for work. The idea of fairness being equated to beauty in the country was something that got to me. By the time I completed my dentistry and took up fashion, I was mature and level-headed. I’m thankful that I didn’t become a model in my teenage years.
The jump from the fashion world to films wouldn’t have come easy either, especially when the industry doesn’t think highly of model-turned-actresses...
Absolutely. It took me four years to unlearn the idea of beauty that I had developed during my fashion days. In pageantry, you’ve to represent yourself in front of the world and speak for yourself. In films, you need to surrender to a character and the director’s vision and keep everything else aside. If looks are your only focus, you’ll not be able to act.
The assumption of the industry that models can’t free themselves from this idea of beauty is right to a certain extent. Initially, for my auditions, I went with a lot of makeup while casting directors would want me to wash my face and appear as real as possible. It took me a lot of workshops and the lockdown phase to brush out my apprehensions about my looks with or without makeup.
It must have been relieving to debut with a digital project like Dhindora first, where there’s no risk of you being labelled a hit or a flop actress immediately.
It was a huge relief. The pressure gets to you when the camera zooms in on you in front of 200 people on set. For my initial scenes in Dhindora, I was nervous and my voice was so low that the sound guy in the crew had to attach two mics to my costume, for him to hear me. Later, when I got comfortable, he felt I was becoming too loud and had to lower my volume. (laughs)
Digital medium provides you with a safety net. Though the attempt is to garner more eyeballs, at least the finger won’t be directly pointed at you. You don’t get as conscious as feature films. Even in my second project, Ittu Si Baat, a feature film. I realised I shouldn’t burden myself with such thoughts. A film’s result depends on a lot of factors, the release timing changes everything. So many good Hindi films that were released this year have still not succeeded at the box office. The audience won’t settle for anything less than OTT and there’s pressure on cinema to live up to that expectation.
Ittu Si Baat is set in a small town, a world free from all urban complexities. The role is in stark contrast to your real-life personality.
I loved playing a girl who hasn’t seen the world and doesn’t know much about social media, and modern-day luxuries. Her desires are very small and she even gets excited by the sight of many Chinese headphones in different colours. She is mildly tech-savvy and yet there’s a lot of innocence in her. Her life revolves around that small town and this was so unlike me.
Playing the role boiled down to tapping into my younger years, and remembering how I reacted to small things during my teens. I laugh at the silliest, random things in the film and I connected with my younger self to fit into the role. In this film industry and fashion world where you tend to mature earlier than others, everything is sexualised at a younger age. So, the challenge was bigger. It reminded me of the innocence that I still carry.
The film is a story about two guys hitting on you and considering you ‘beautiful’ - seems like the perfect revenge plot for those who thought of you as ‘unworthy’ in your younger years…
(Laughs) It does feel like a revenge story. As kids, social inclusion is something that we desire the most and the main conflict is to understand where they belong. The motivation to prove that ‘I am a somebody’ has been driving me all these years and I didn’t even realise it. I pushed myself to achieve something that none of them around me had.
How did your co-star Bhupendra Jadawat and the director Adnan Ali help you in bringing Sapna to life?
My co-star Bhupendra comes from NSD and not for once did he make me feel inferior on sets. He was humble and honest, wording his suggestions well and helping me perform better. We’re good friends and our producer asked us to have an ice-breaker session before we went to shoot. I initially thought he was being too nice to me but he stayed the same throughout the shoot.
I owe this film to Laxman Utekar sir (producer) for believing that I could pull off Sapna. I went through two rounds of auditions for it. Laxman sir is someone who knows how to capture the eccentricities and the charms of living in a small town. In every film, he showcases a different mood in a town and I felt Ittu Si Baat is a great story to be a part of.
Audiences too are gravitating more towards rural stories and I thought it was a good idea to play a sweet, simple, innocent character for a feature film debut. The director Adnan Ali, who also wrote the story, was one of the calmest persons on the set and never raised his voice, always having faith in his team.
What do you think would draw crowds to watch Ittu Si Baat?
Ittu Si Baat is a film that everyone would relate to. When audiences go out to theatres, entertainment is what they seek. The concept-oriented stories are available to watch on OTT anyway. In Ittu Si Baat, Vishal Mishra has composed excellent songs. The songs are trending already. The film is a package of emotions, humour, and romance. In an age where love is accessible and casual and the intensity has taken a backseat, Ittu Si Baat will remind audiences of a ‘shiddat wala’ love story. I am excited to see how audiences would perceive this film.