From being a household name for her television characters, to doing big-banner feature films, Mouni Roy has come a long way in the entertainment industry. Identifying herself as a proud television actor, Mouni has enjoyed unparalleled success on the small screen, cementing her place in the big race, bagging off-the-chart TRPs for Balaji Telefilm’s Naagin. Her journey of close to 15 years has come with a fair share of highs and lows, working tirelessly for 20-hour shifts, breaking through the boundaries set for a television actor, back in the day to cementing a place for herself in an industry that has historically been bound by a small screen-versus-big screen divide. The actor will be seen next in the Netflix original, Penthouse, followed by the Amitabh Bachchan- starrer Brahmastra. We sit down with the actor, who’s recently been basking in the Dubai sun, to take a trip down memory lane.
What brings you to Dubai?
Well, I have my best friends here, the childhood friends I grew up with, that’s why I keep coming back to the city. Last year, I stayed here for seven months, I’m practically an NRI now (laughs). Somehow, I feel like I have a censor, the moment Bombay is getting into a lockdown, I somehow end up here. Back home, I had some shoots scheduled but suddenly, everything has been pushed indefinitely. Honestly, it’s a blessing to be here during this period. It’s so important to realise how privileged we are. I say thank you even before my feet touches the ground — to have a roof over my head, to have food on my plate, be surrounded by my loved ones. It’s a new world that we’re living in. Between that if I get to walk on the streets, go to a beach — it’s a blessing!
How do you think the industry is coping with the pandemic?
Like all other industries, ours has adapted to the new normal. I hear people were shooting in Hyderabad, Kashmir and other cities, when everything started opening up slowly. But the fact still remains that it is not very safe. Last year, I finished shooting for a Netflix film called Penthouse, which I finished in December. So, we’re all shooting and everybody is going on with their lives, but is it safe? Not really. And I’m a hypochondriac, I get very scared. Yesterday, in fact, was my 46th Covid test. While shooting, every four or five days I get tested. But art is something you can’t really disassociate yourself with. It’s about creating something — the body, mind and heart, it all comes together. Nobody wants to stop creating.
From television to films, you’ve been part of the entertainment industry for almost 15 years. How do you feel when you look back at your journey?
I’ve done everything. Reality shows, TV shows, dance shows. I think I’ve danced all over the planet. Having said that, I’m not a hindsight kind of a person. I’m all about today. What do I need to do today? But yeah, feels great. I’ve had my share of ups and my share of struggles. There are still those hardships that come and go. I believe that life is always going to be a rollercoaster ride. It is always going to be bittersweet. I always treat a situation like a situation, never let it become a problem. I try to be happy-go-lucky and take all my failures with a pinch of salt and celebrate all the successes. But now, in life, I try to follow this mantra called ‘na sammaan ka moh, na apmaan ka bhay’ (translates to: you’re not greedy for the praise or let down by the insults). It’s such a beautiful line. What if we could live our lives like that? You’re as much you as I am me, so there’s no comparison or competition.
You’ve seen unparalleled success in television that only a few TV actors have enjoyed. What made you want to venture into films?
I was very happy with how my career was going with Naagin and before that I did Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa. So, every TV show I’ve done has been the number one show at that point of time. Before I finished Naagin, I was offered some roles for movies and a lot of people asked me why I don’t do movies. But I’m a firm believer of being happy where you are, unless you can actually walk a path leading somewhere. I didn’t see any point in leaving what I had in television and doing a movie. I am a very proud television actor. But when I was offered Gold, it was helmed by Excel Entertainment, produced by Reema Kagti and Akshay Kumar would be my co-star. So, it happened at a time when I felt that is exactly what I wanted to do next.
Do you pay attention to the platform when you get offered a script or are you platform agnostic?
It doesn’t really bother me which platform the content will go up on. But as of now, I’m not focused on doing television since it’s really time-consuming. And I have done it for 10 years. So, over that decade, I’ve had no time for anyone, including myself and my family. Or even my health. I used to shoot 19-20 hours a day. So, I feel life needs to move to another phase now, where I’m conscious about the work I’m doing. I’m not in a hurry. I dislike the word ‘haste’. I’m okay where I am. But I’m not shy of hard work at all. There’s no shortcut to it. So, more important than the platform for me is the script and the character that I’m offered. Usually, 20-30 minutes into reading a script, I get to know if I want to do this project.
How did you sustain the laborious time schedules while working for television?
Just by being in the present. We had so much work to do, we couldn’t really think and ponder what life would be without it. The beauty of being in our profession is, we love our work. There have been mornings where I’ve woken up feeling like I’m so tired, I need three more hours. But have I ever woken up in the morning feeling like ‘oh I don’t want to do this’ or ‘I don’t want to go to work today’? Never. In fact, while shooting for Nach Baliye, I got a mild slipped disc doing one of the performances and was asked to stop performing for two months. But I did Jhalak instead. I shot for three months, having painkillers because that is just the passion I had. I waited for many years to be part of Jhalak and thank god, I did that season because ours was the last season with Remo sir, Madhuri ma’am and Karan sir. After that, I was on bed rest for three months.
What did you enjoy the most about doing television?
The opportunity to live the character for such a long duration, tapping into the nuances of the character on a daily basis. The love and the recognition that TV brings is unique. TV is predominantly for the masses, for the homes, it reaches everywhere. The kind of love I got for Naagin was unseen for me. I remember going to Thailand for the IIFA Awards and people there would talk to me in Thai because the show had been dubbed in the language and people had been watching it.
Is filming for TV different from filming web series for OTT?
Nowadays, even for television they use premium cameras. The team is hardcore. The only difference is the time commitment, which is a lot more for TV. But web space and OTT have done amazingly well last year. Web space has not only opened up different genres for the viewers but so much more work for the actors. I feel like talent is more recognised in the web space today. You can choose the kind of stories you want to tell.
You previously said that you’ve turned from a hopeless romantic to a realist. How has that shift come about in your life?
I am still a romantic, I’m a literature student, I have to be! But just being romantic is so much better than being a hopeless romantic — without the frills, without the aberration that hopelessness brings. You feel as if it’s a dreamlike state but it’s not. It’s just some façade that keeps feeding your brain. It’s almost like “it should be like this”, life should not be like anything. Life is what it is. It surprises you. No matter how nice the person you’ve met is, they’ll always be who they are. They can never be exactly who you want them to be. And if you have this mental list of things to expect, then you’re in for a lot of pain and unnecessary trouble. That’s what I meant when I said that.
Lastly, how was the process of shooting for your upcoming film, Brahmastra?
It’s one film, and I’ve seen parts of it, you have to watch in the theatre. It’s pointless to release it for the small screen. And we’ve all waited for so long, so we can wait some more. It’s a huge theatrical experience. The journey of filming was absolutely brilliant. One of my life’s most invigorating experiences. I worked with so many new people, new equipment, new sets, shooting in Bulgaria. The only thing is, I’m playing the villain, so I’m not really nice to anyone in the movie. Working with Ranbir, Alia and Mr. B (Amitabh Bachchan). Oh my god. Nagarjuna sir. It doesn’t get better than that!