The actress talks about her emphatic journey from Kumkum Bhagya to Sita Ramam, playing Sita Mahalakshmi in her Telugu debut and tells why the romance genre needs to revive all over again
Last Updated: 06.27 AM, Aug 07, 2022
Mrunal Thakur left her home in her mid-teens to pursue a career in the entertainment industry in Mumbai. From being an unpaid fourth AD on set to making her television debut with Kumkum Bhagya to finding her footing in Bollywood and foraying into Telugu cinema with Sita Ramam today, the actor has come a long way. Mrunal didn’t find quality work after her Hindi debut Love Sonia and even had nervous breakdowns, going through several phases of self-doubt. All of that is a thing of past now.
“After Love Sonia, I was washing dishes daily, doing my laundry and wasn’t getting anything interesting. I was waiting to get that one film that will break all the records. The moment I signed Sita Ramam, I have been bombarded with offers. I am not sure if I’ve to do Hindi, Telugu or Malayalam or Tamil films. This is my breakthrough film. It’s a matter of pride that an upcoming actress gets to play something like Sita Mahalakshmi. I can proudly say this is my journey and I own it completely,” she says.
In her job as a fourth AD, Mrunal remembers times when she was entrusted to gift-wrap articles in shots and ensure continuity. “Looking back at that and seeing how far I have come, I feel the journey has been beautiful. There are times I wanted to give up and my parents wondered why I was sitting idle. I turned 30 last week and Sita Ramam is probably my best birthday gift. I now pick stories strike a chord with the audience and I truly want to be known by the character I play.”
She was shooting for one of the final schedules of Jersey when the Sita Ramam offer knocked on her door. “I was genuinely surprised that a director like Hanu Raghavapudi, who is known to tell stories on a huge canvas, would approach me for a film. We happened to meet at a cafe in Mumbai in a crowded place but it didn’t have the right ambience for a narration. We moved to an office and the moment he started telling me the story, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
Apparently, Hanu Raghavapudi’s narration was so animated that he moved across every corner of the room and she had to change the direction of her chair constantly, listening to him with rapt attention. Nag Ashwin had met her at a film festival in Melbourne and she was to be cast for another film produced by the makers of Sita Ramam. “It was Ashwini Dutt (garu) who insisted I play Sita,” Mrunal states.
The Telugu connection to her career began with Jersey (in which she played a Telugu girl) and the role offered her a glimpse of what to expect from the language. “I remember Gowtam Tinnanuri sir (director of Jersey) was so happy when I broke the news to him. He told me that Jersey would be my crash course in Telugu. He was confident that people were going to love me in Telugu. While I learnt Telugu from him, I helped him better his Hindi by the end of the shoot too.”
Sita Ramam is the first film in her career where she’s going all out with her ethnic wear and the project helped revive her fondness for Kathak. “I love the dance form completely and Brindha master was working on the choreography.” The film comes as a breather in her career amidst a flurry of intense roles. “I wanted to take a break from the many serious roles and let the viewers soak in the romantic space, go back in time and cherish those happy memories with their wives and girlfriends. There’s so much romance within all of us.”
Interestingly, one of the reference points for the portrayal of Sita was a character from Kumkum Bhagya. “I have derived inspiration for Sita from Madhu Raja’s character in the show. She always sits straight, is graceful and presentable. Her language is so ancient and poetic. Despite the film being set in the 60s, Sita is very adventurous and takes drastic steps. Even I, as Mrunal, may not be as brave as Sita for her times. She has grace and is a rockstar in her own right.”
Mrunal opines that the romance genre in the current era has a larger purpose too. “The circumstances in which we live amidst today - the pandemic, the wars- people have stopped appreciating each other and don’t take the efforts to sustain their relationships. This is a film where people acknowledge efforts and appreciate bonds. As humans, we all live for validation. Beyond the romance, Sita Ramam is about war, comedy, mystery, music - it’s a complete package.”
Is Mrunal a true-blue romantic in reality and does she believe in writing letters to her loved ones? “Oh yes, I am the kind of person who always writes letters to people. You always need an outlet to express your happiness and I do it through a letter. I have even travelled from India to Europe to meet a boy; that’s how romantic I am.”
The first thing that Mrunal plans to do after the release of Sita Ramam is to post all the behind-the-scenes footage of her song shoots amidst the snow. “There are lots of stories waiting to be told. I had to do my mudras when it was -10 degrees and we were shooting when it was -22 at Spiti valley. People were falling on the sets. They were gasping for breath as the camera was running backwards. On a serious note, when you see the grand visuals on screen, it’s absolutely worth it. It’s all in the mind after all. I trained myself to perform well.”
She admits that choosing her roles after Sita Ramam isn’t going to be easy. “Sita is a role that I’ve completely fallen in love with. I want to be careful about my next move. I already told (Ashwini) Dutt sir that I would need his help to choose my roles. I am dependent on him. I also need to resonate with the character first.” Her next releases are Peepa, Gumraah and Pooja Meri Jaan. “Pooja Meri Jaan, which I’ve finished shooting recently, is a breathtaking story. Every Pooja in India will relate to it,” she signs off.