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Exclusive! Naina Ganguly: Malli Modalaindi is a story that reflects the reality of modern-day relationships

The Vangaveeti girl is excited to be trying her hand at a rom-com for the first time in her career with ZEE5's Malli Modalaindi

Exclusive! Naina Ganguly: Malli Modalaindi is a story that reflects the reality of modern-day relationships
Naina Ganguly
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 09.59 AM, Feb 08, 2022

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Whenever directors approach actress Naina Ganguly for a script, they either give her serious, intense, author-backed or tomboyish characters or offers to play a woman of steel but the Kolkata-born was taken aback when the makers of her next, Malli Modalindi, to stream on ZEE5 on February 11, approached her for a comedy. And when she realised that she would be playing a lawyer for the first time in her career and be paired opposite Sumanth, thinking twice about it wasn't an option. 

The Ram Gopal Varma find, who debut with Vangaveeti, has been picky but has managed to grab roles with meat and substance, be it Johaar, Charitraheen or Parampara, carving her niche in both web shows and feature films. In an interview with OTTplay.com, the actress opens up on Malli Modalindi, her sportive interests and what it takes to stay in the hunt in a competitive industry. 

First steps into the industry...

I am the youngest of the three sisters in the family. I never dreamt of a career in films and none of them I knew had any connections within the industry. I always had a thing for sports in childhood, enjoyed playing, dancing, yoga, performed consistently well in most school events. Acting was never part of the plan. When I told her I wanted to shift my base to Mumbai to try my hand in films, it was strict no from my mom. 

I had requested her to give me at least one chance to prove myself and promised that I would return to Kolkata if I couldn't make it big. I was very young, didn't know anyone in Mumbai and it was natural that she was scared for me. Looking back at this incident, mom is proud that I've made a mark in showbiz.

Naina Ganguly
Naina Ganguly

Wasn't left with any option but for acting...

Given my physical agility, I was fascinated by how people get trained in military services. However, knowing of the strict regime, the need to wake up every morning, the childish worry of being tanned, I took a backseat (laughs). I thought of many options - medicine, a career in sports but nothing materialised. If only I wasn't a girl, I would've made a career in cricket.

Playing a traditional Telugu girl in the first film Vangaveeti

When I came to Mumbai, I only knew about Bollywood. I didn't even know that multiple industries existed in the South. Among 200 girls at the audition, I was selected and I genuinely didn't know what about me impressed Ram Gopal Varma. I had no clue about Telugu but RGV has introduced such a vast lineup of actors over the years and he knew how to extract worthy performances from them. He groomed me in the best way possible and whatever I'm today, I owe it to him!

Naina Ganguly in Vangaveeti
Naina Ganguly in Vangaveeti

Landing the first project in her mother tongue - Bengali

Acting remains the same wherever you go and language was never an aspect that bothered me. My mom was particular that I always do a Bengali project. Going back in time, I want to thank myself for picking up a web show when so many in the industry were looking down upon it. Honestly, if it was an opportunity to work on television, I wouldn't have said yes because there's fun playing the same role for such a long time. 

When I got Charitraheen, I did it because I couldn't let go of an opportunity to do a Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay's adaptation. You need to be lucky to get that. I didn't see if it was a web show or a film. I even got an award for the first season and saw OTT as an opportunity to reach out to a wider section of people. It was among the most viewed shows, registering bigger numbers than Hindi web series. What more could I've asked for?

Establishing a base in South Indian cinema

I was launched with a Telugu film, later did Hindi and branched out to other industries soon. Honestly, if there's one region that I am most comfortable with work, it's South cinema. Whenever I get a Kannada or a Telugu film, I am all the more cautious that I do good work and see what opportunity the role presents me as a performer. Be it Johaar, Vangaveeti or Parampara, my conviction paid off.

Fulfilling her sports ambitions with her role as an athlete in Johaar...

I was very close to missing out on the film due to date issues but the director Teja Marni was insistent that I take it up. I didn't get any time to prepare for the role. I almost landed at the location only a night before the shoot. It's not easy to play a sportsperson at all. I had to run under scorching heat in Vizag without wearing my shoes and my leg was bleeding but I still had to give the take with a band-aid. Many still ask me if I underwent training for Johaar and I had to tell them that there was no time at all. The passion I had for sports since childhood helped me pull it off.

Balancing multiple industries and a look back at her journey to date...

Honestly, if I had stuck to doing Telugu films, I would have done a lot more projects. I manage my time between four industries - Kannada, Telugu, Bengali and Hindi - and I am very careful with my choices. I don't have a life beyond cinema. The only friend I have is the camera and the place where I spend most of my time is on sets, even more than family. That I had to work very hard to come this far makes me feel responsible to sustain the momentum. I took a break from work due to a few commitments but I really missed films even then. I always have the drive and hunger to make it big in films. I feel at home when I'm shooting and hop on from one set to another. 

Naina Ganguly
Naina Ganguly

Playing a lawyer in ZEE5's Malli Modalaindi

I must thank my producer Charan for offering me the film. He had apparently watched my earlier Telugu film and brought me on board. I cherished the opportunity to work with a big actor like Sumanth. They trusted me to play a lawyer and I was genuinely surprised with the offer. I never imagined myself playing a lawyer in my career and I had a great team - from Sumanth to director Keerthi Kumar to the producer - whom I would love to collaborate with, time and again. They managed to bring the best out of me. Even if I goofed up on the set or made any faux pas, Sumanth sir was quite cool and chilled about it, which made me feel comfortable.

The USP of Malli Modalaindi

It's a story that's a reality of many around us today. You never know when people like each other, marry, part ways and move on. As you may have noticed in the trailer, the film has a wacky premise. The hero falls in love with the divorce lawyer of his ex-wife. I am so glad it's making people laugh and so many are looking forward to its release. About the release on OTT, I believe my job as an actor is to do my role well and know when it's releasing. I don't interfere in the other decisions, it's the producer's money at stake and he would obviously want to choose a medium that's financially viable for him.

Naina Ganguly
Naina Ganguly

Pulling off comedy on-screen and being versatile

It's easy to have a good laugh and be funny off the camera. However, getting your comic-timing right, making the audiences laugh is very difficult. Yet I would say it's similar to how you internalise an emotion and sob in front of the screen. Making the audiences believe what you're doing is the biggest challenge. Every style of acting - be it realism, comedy or melodrama - is difficult in its own way.  

Whenever I get anything like Johaar or Beautiful, I've always played author-backed characters and not the quintessential heroine roles. Most of the directors end up giving me tomboyish, intense roles where I've to shed tears at some point. Whereas in real life, I am very funny and bindaas (at least that's what people tell me). There's a time for everything and I'm gradually trying to prove that I can excel in all kinds of roles. I'm happy that all my appearances are as different as chalk and cheese. There's no common thread at all. Even in the future, I want to be cast on the basis of my performances and not looks alone.

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