She’s down-to-earth, she’s vivacious and she’s got an infectious, bubbly vibe. She’s also making her debut in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, where she stars opposite Harshvardhan Kapoor. That just about sums up Saiyami Kher.
Born and raised in Nashik, Saiyami Kher was an avid sportsperson while growing up. She is passionate about cricket, she’s played for Maharashtra and was also called to represent the Indian women’s team but she had already taken up modelling and chose the latter as a career.
Kher was not the only choice as the lead actress in Mirzya. There was another actress in the running but Kher’s sporty nature helped her bag the film. In a candid chat with Box Office India, Kher talks about how Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra has changed her life, the intense preparation that went into playing her part and future plans.
Did you always want to become an actress?
To be honest, no. Both my parents were models but then shifted to Nashik, where we own restaurants. Also, I am a hardcore sportsperson and, while growing up, that’s what I thought I would become. But the turning point came when I moved to Mumbai, to study in Xavier’s College, which has a very strong theatre culture and I got involved. Slowly, I developed a love for acting. I did a calendar shoot and things started falling into place.
And how did you bag Mirzya?
While I was modelling and auditioning, casting director Adol Mukherjee had asked me if I wanted to audition. I had no idea which film she had in mind and it was only after the audition that she told me it was for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya. I was like ‘Yeah, great!’ because they must have auditioned around a thousand girls and so I never dreamt I would bag the role. I forgot about it but then she called me again and said he (Mehra) wanted to meet me. So I did.
What was your first meeting with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra like? Did he brief you about the film?
It was a very formal meeting. I had never met sir before and I didn’t know much about him. He asked me about myself. No, he didn’t give me a brief of the film during that meeting but he did tell me what he was looking for.
And then… After that, I did 10 screen tests and I auditioned for six months. Finally, of around 1,000 girls, it was me and another girl. Sir had sent us both to Delhi, where we had to do some horse riding as the character is a very good horse rider. Every morning, we would practice horse riding for three hours, followed by acting classes with Adil Hussain and his guruji,Dilip Shankar. They are hardcore theatre actors. To be honest, those workshops changed me as they helped me grow as a human being. When we were back in Mumbai, I did a screen test and I was chosen.
When you were told that you had been chosen for Mirzya, how did you react?
I was excited and happy but I am the kind of person who is in control of her emotions. So it was actually my family who was over-emotional. My manager had come home to tell me about it and we all were sitting waiting for him to arrive. And, in full filmy style, he told me I had been chosen for the role. My sister had tears in her eyes. She called up my parents and they started crying. Everyone around me was going crazy.
How much did the acting workshops help you?
A lot, not only about acting but also about becoming a good human being. All these three men – Adilji, Dilipji and Rakeysh sir – have taught me so much. You know, when you are learning, there is a constant battle raging inside you. You have all kinds of emotions, and there are days when you are nervous, upset and happy. But after it was over, I realised that being a good human being is the most important than getting this role is important but even if didn’t happen, there was something else waiting for me. The workshops helped me become a more secure person.
What was the first day of the shoot like, facing the camera for the first time?
I am a history student, so I have a head for dates. Our first day of the shoot was November 10. When I went on the sets, I was fully prepared because I had auditioned for six months and rehearsed for five months; I was into the character already. Harsh (Harshvardhan Kapoor) and I did a lot of readings together and there were workshops. So on the first day of shooting, the only difference was that we were wearing nicer clothes and more make-up. Everything else was the same.
Tell us about Harshvardhan…
We were both rehearsing in Delhi and we did a lot of readings together during the workshops. Since he was from a filmy family, I had a few preconceived notions about him but when we finally met, I realised he was very chilled out. He is not at all filmy and that helped us bond easily.
Since I am a huge sports buff, there was a lot of discussion around sports on the sets. The great thing is that sir never made us feel it was the kind of place where we had to only prepare for the film. During the script readings, we would suddenly start discussing films, sports and random things. So he let us slip into our characters naturally, he allowed us to bond.
What was it like when you first saw yourself on the monitor during the shoot?
On our sets, Rakeysh sir never allowed us to look at the monitors. He too was rarely in front of the monitor and looked at us directly. If sir didn’t like a particular shot, he would take another.
Then, one day, he asked both of us to see what we had done… it was an intense emotional scene. He said, ‘I am breaking my golden rule, I haven’t even allowed Aamir Khan or Amitabh Bachchan to watch the monitor but I want both of you to see what you have done.’ That was the first time we saw ourselves on the monitor. I am a very critical person, so I pointed out some issues relating to myself.
What kind of response did you receive after the trailer released?
Everyone praised it on social media. For me, the biggest moment was when Amitabh (Bachchan) sir tweeted about the film. I am a huge fan of his and when words come from him, it was the moment. I kept looking at the tweet for 10 days!
With the film’s release date approaching, what is the feeling like?
I am excited but also very emotional. It’s my first film and my baby; once it releases, it will become the audience’s film. I grew very emotional on the last day of the shoot as I realised we wouldn’t be shooting or meeting each other any longer. Once the film releases, we all have to move on.
Have you signed your next film already?
Once I finished with Mirzya, I met Mani Ratnam sir for a bilingual film but that film got postponed. That was another moment for me, getting a call from Mani sir, whose films we have grown up watching. I haven’t signed anything after that.
The film talks about two different journeys of life. Was it difficult to play?
Not really because we shot differently. There were days when the emotional scenes would make you emotional in real life too. But that’s part and parcel of an actor’s life; one can’t take the characters home.