PRIYASHA BHARDWAJ was busy doing her corporate job and traveling wherever her job took her before foraying into the entertainment industry. After spending years in Delhi, the girl from Guwahati, Assam moved her base to Mumbai in 2019. Within a short span of time, Priyasha has managed to play important roles in successful web shows such as Aarya, Mirzapur, and Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo (SBAF).
In a candid conversation with SAMEER SALUNKHE for CINE BLITZ, Priyasha talks about being a jack of all trades, her journey as an actor so far, filming challenging scenes in SBAF, and much more.
What is something that you learned early on about working in the entertainment industry?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: The first thing that I learned was that being mediocre and average gets you more work. I was an average student in school and I used to think that I’d remain average forever. But what helped me in this industry was that I knew the basics and that was enough to step in front of the camera.
I started my journey with advertisements. How to express within a few seconds and tell a story… I got those parts because of being average. I might be wrong but sometimes I feel like being mediocre is good at the beginning. You can neither be too hoity-toity nor a novice. So, yeah, knowing a little bit of everything – being jack of all trades – was enough to get an entry.
But now that you’ve ‘tasted blood’ with your performance in SBAF, are you now striving for excellence?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: I have done the easy stuff. I still do it sometimes for bread and butter and to meet more people because I love meeting new people. I have studied psychology and it keeps happening with me subconsciously – dealing with people, understanding people, imbibing from all these people on a daily basis which I can probably use in my performances someday.
I got a lot of work because of ‘She is a fresh face’. But my actual struggle begins now. The biggest challenge for any actor is how to not bore the audience and it is damn difficult. I can’t risk boring the viewer. I’m still figuring out how to surprise the viewers with my next role.
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Playing Young Savitri in SBAF must have been emotionally challenging and draining for you, especially the rape scene. How was that scene handled while filming it?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: Let me first tell you an incident. I had a meeting with a director who had seen the show and he wanted me to test for a character in his upcoming show. He said, “Congratulations on Saas Bahu… brilliant work. What expressions in the rape scene!” And he made that ‘Waah!’ gesture.
I said a formal ‘Thank you’. But when I was returning home, the thing he said kept ringing in my ears. I was not giving expressions. The character and I went through stages of emotions.
Director Homi Adajania and I discussed and broke down the scene. First, I’ll feel shocked because she has just lost her husband and now there’s a strange man on top of her. Then she will go through physical pain because those men are really making her feel that pain. After that, she will go through an emotional meltdown. I was not giving expressions. I don’t know any other way of performing that scene now.
The scene where Young Savitri and Donze (Mark Bennington) are lying in bed was my first ever intimate scene where I barely wore anything. But Homi made sure that, on set, there were only those people who were required. He put beautiful music on so that the tension was reduced. When there’s this much understanding and wisdom only then actors can perform comfortably. The intimacy coach was looking after me and Homi also kept asking me and Mark whether we were alright.
There was another scene where Dimple Kapadia recalls her romance with Donze in her younger days. So, in that flashback scene, there’s Mark and I lying on a bed. Homi had an image in his mind for a shot from the top. So, he just came and lifted my leg and adjusted the way he wanted. Trust in that touch is so important. He was doing his job and trusting me that I’ll do my job and that scene has come out so well.
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What has acting in shows such as Mirzapur, Aarya, and Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo done for you?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: Acting in these shows has given me an identity. I came to Bombay with no identity. My parents were worried about what I was doing because I changed so many professions. They had a doubt about how I would manage to do it. Today, they can say with pride that “She did it”. They now understand the reason why I was ‘ziddi’ to pursue this field.
Also, I have gained confidence through this journey. I used to be an underconfident, introverted person. When I got to express myself in front of an audience through the voice of a character, I got a lot of validation as a human. Priyasha has gotten a lot of validation through Soundarya (Aarya), Jamuna (Mirzapur), and Young Savitri (SBAF).
What do you look for in a role that you’re auditioning for or you’re being offered?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: I go by what I don’t want to do because that’s a shorter list. What I want to do is a long list [chuckles]. What I didn’t want to do and what I rejected when it came to me was to play the wife to the lead of the film or the show who is easily 20 years older than me. Other than that, work is work. Nothing is stopping me unless the character is very boring.
For example, Jamuna in Mirzapur Season 2. There was a scene that had Rajesh Tailang, Sheeba Chaddha, Amit Sial and I sitting around a dining table where I was the ice-breaker because the other three characters were not comfortable interacting with each other. Unfortunately, that scene got edited out.
There was another scene where Amit Sial was beating a goon and my character went and saw what he was doing. It was a 2–3-minute scene, but it gave me something. The character was written well and I performed it in a certain way and people remembered Jamuna. I was lucky to have gotten that part so early in my career. That was actually the first series shoot I did.
Although your foray into acting happened much later, were you a movie buff from the beginning?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: I don’t watch a lot of movies. But when I watch a movie, I keep playing scenes in my mind that stay with me. I want to relive those moments or emotions. It’s been like that since childhood.
My mom used to watch a lot of Hollywood movies so I started watching those. I used to watch actor-focused movies. I wouldn’t miss a Johnny Depp film or a Leonardo DiCaprio film. I used to love watching Nicolas Cage – there was something about his eyes! I liked Mel Gibson movies too. And of course, there was my love for Shah Rukh Khan movies.
Do you have a wish list of filmmakers that you’d like to work with?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: Yes, of course, I want to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vishal Bhardwaj, Vikramaditya Motwane, Anurag Kashyap, and Zoya Akhtar. When I was working in Delhi, I hadn’t even thought about it but now that I am working in the film industry, I can’t wait to work with them. Earlier, I didn’t have that confidence whether I’d be able to play a character. But with the experience that I’ve gained, I’m ready now.
What are your upcoming projects?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: I shot for a TVF show titled Court Kacheri which should come out soon and so should Mirzapur Season 3.
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Lastly, do you miss Assam?
Priyasha Bhardwaj: I don’t have to miss Assam because I go there quite often. In fact, now I feel like going there more often because I feel something like roots calling me. Earlier, I wanted to go to big cities and prove myself. Proving it to myself has happened to a certain level. But now I feel gratitude for where my roots are. I go to Assam once or twice a year and I meet my relatives because I have spent my childhood with them.
We celebrated Durga Puja in our family and on Saptami or Ashtami we used to organize a cultural evening. I was trained in Kathak and would recite Shlokas too. A lady among the relatives appreciated my singing and said, “Remember, you’re special.” That lady is no more but I think of her in my prayers. She had noticed a spark in me as a performer. There’s a different spark that comes out the minute I’m in front of an audience.