Saiee Manjrekar made her debut opposite Salman Khan as the“masoom, sundar”Khushi in Dabangg 3.In a first in the industry, an actress is sharing screen-space with her parents — actor-director Mahesh Manjrekar and actor-producer Medha Manjrekar. In an exclusive interview with Bharti Dubey, Saiee opens up about working with her parents, Salman Khan the superstar and the experience of her first film.
The third instalment of the series, featuring the latest exploits of our favourite cop Chulbul Pandey, starring Salman Khan (Chulbul Pandey) and Sonakshi Sinha (Rajjo) — who reprise their roles from the previous films — introduces debutante Saiee Manjrekar as, “Humari baby Khushi. Seedhi saadhi, masoom, ati sundar.”
Speaking about her experience, a visibly elated Saiee, who plays Pandey’s first love interest in the film, said, “I’m very excited, I was a little nervous about it since this is my first film. I’m enjoying this moment a lot and never imagined I would receive this role. I think I hadn’t believed this was real and not a dream until the shooting was done. It’s obviously a dream debut.”
On being asked how she feels about making her entry into Bollywood with an ensemble cast, Saiee said, “I consider myself lucky that I’m starring with such big names. I remember being very nervous because as a child, I had spoken barely 10 words with Salman Sir!”
“Salman Sir saw that same innocence, that same masoomiyat in me as in Khushi,” said Saiee. The superstar had initially asked her to begin preparing for the role, and after a few look and screen tests, Khushi happened to the 18-year old debutante. Addressing the rumour of her elder sister (Ashwami) being initially offered the role, Saiee said, “When people got to know Mahesh Manjrekar’s daughter is doing it, they assumed her to be the elder daughter.”
And for the first time in Bollywood, a daughter will be sharing screen space with both her parents. “Shooting with my parents was special. I felt good that my mom and dad were with me in my debut film. Salman Sir made sure I shared screen space with them,” said Saiee. “They’ve always been a huge support to me. I am very thankful to them for making me the person I am today,” she added.
Given the strong acting lineage, Saiee’s exposure to the industry started early. Being Mahesh Manjrekar’s daughter had its advantages. The actress said, “I was exposed to set visits early on. I would observe how people would act on sets, how the actors would play their parts and how dad dealt with them.”
While star kids do gain early access to the industry, Saiee feels what they make out of that access and opportunity depends on them completely and not on their well-connected parents. “If the audiences don’t like me, they’re not going to want to watch me. When you are a star kid, you’re constantly being scrutinised under a microscope,” she added.
“Salman Sir as a person is also a superstar,” said Saiee.
There may have been some acting butterflies, but working alongside Salman proved to be comfortable.
“I was most comfortable shooting with him. With him being such a big star, you’d naturally feel a little intimidated to match his intensity and his energy, as a new actor. But not once did I feel it, with him constantly checking up on me and making sure I wasn’t feeling awkward. A reassurance always came from him.”
Working closely with Salman has taught her a lot. Referring to him as the most kind, honest and hardworking person she’s met, Saiee said, “It’s a big thing that I’m working on my first film with Salman Sir. I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s very hardworking even though he’s achieved so much. The way he’s made this movie so special for me, I can’t thank him enough,” said Saiee.
The experience of working on the sets of her first film was beyond expectations. “It was like a family on the set in a lively, fun ambience,” she recalled. She credits the support she’s received from family and friends for her smooth debut, saying, “Friends would accompany me on sets, sit through make-up and come and meet me if I didn’t have the time.”
Saiee’s interest in acting began from school with theatre classes in the 11th grade. Stage definitely helps, she agreed. “Initially I had a lot of stage fright. But after doing theatre I began feeling confident and that fear left me. I learned a lot of technicalities, dialogue tonality and that was very helpful.”
Making her parents proud is a special feeling. “My parents’ opinion has been important to me since I was a child. When both of them come and tell me that they’re proud of me, it’s a great feeling. I hope I can make them proud always,” she said.
The actress is grounded on her father’s advice that hard work pays off. “He just told me to work hard because you can’t achieve anything without it. When I was going on set, Papa told me something he used to tell his actors when he was directing: ‘Acting is reacting to a given situation’, and I’ve kept this in mind.”
Seeing herself on the big screen is going to be a revelatory experience for Saiee. “Ma always told me to act with my eyes. I didn’t understand what she meant till I actually did the film. I understood what acting with my eyes meant when I saw myself on the monitor.”
She recalls being extremely nervous during her first scene with Salman — one in which Khushi and Chulbul meet for the first time. “But after that first scene, I think I snapped out of my awkward phase and showed him [Salman] my true colours!”
While Saiee feels her artistic side has come out through the film, there’s another side to her that people who know her well are accustomed to — her “mastikhor, chulbuli” side. Talking about her idea of a perfect Saturday night, Saiee said, “I call my friends home, I play Hindi music on the speaker and I dance for them!”
Saiee is open to taking up a role in a Marathi film if the opportunity arises. “If I get a chance I would do it,” she said of Marathi films that are driven by “good-content”.