Mrunal Thakur… Her story is no less than a fairy-tale and it really is an inspiration to many.
She began her journey with some popular television shows including Star Plus’ Khamoshiyaan and Zee TV’s Kumkum Bhagya.
One day, after over 2,000 auditions, she gets selected for the titular role in Tabrez Noorani’s powerful feature film, Love Sonia.
In this critically-acclaimed movie, Mrunal plays an innocent girl who is forced into the vicious global sex trade.
Just in her debut film, Thakur exhibits a plethora of emotions and by undertaking such a heavy role in her first movie, she proves her high calibre as an actor.
Moreover, the 26-year-old shares screen-space with some major film actors consisting of Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadda, Rajkummar Rao, Demi Moore and Freida Pinto amongst others.
Overcoming all trials and tribulations, Mrunal has managed to make the transition from TV to cinema.
Now, the starlet is set to in more meaningful commercial Bollywood films with A-listers like Hrithik Roshan and John Abraham.
In her most candid interview yet, Mrunal Thakur speaks to us about her journey through the entertainment industry.
Let’s talk about your background. What prompted you to choose this line?
I was such a drama queen when I was growing up. I was so good at making ‘Bahanas’ (excuses).
I would just throw tantrums – for which my partners had a tough time dealing with, I can only apologise to my parents for that (laughs).
But one thing I realised that I was good at is emotions.
If someone gives me a script or a situation, I can feel and emote that.
This is when I realised at the age of 16 or 17 that I should try out acting as a career.
At that point, I was studying at KC College in Churchgate studied Bachelor of Arts Mass Media and a friend persuaded me to start auditioning so I could get opportunities after graduation.
I went for an audition (which was for the Star Plus serial Khamoshiyaan) and I cracked it at the first audition itself.
This is how television happened to me.
You began your career from television. How has this transition from small screen to the big been for you? Was it quite a big jump?
It is quite a big jump.
When it comes to television actors, they aren’t really considered for a film.
Filmmakers usually think that television actors are the over actors and go overboard.
But really, that’s only because the script demands so.
An actor needs a good director who can take out that talent and acting skills from you.
This transition was quite important for me because I was stereotyped as a ‘Television Actor’.
It really annoyed me because an actor is an actor, regardless of the medium.
I hate it when an actor is divided into a category, so my objective was to remove this tag.
I have to thank Ekta Kapoor for giving me a popular character like Bulbul in Kumkum Bhagya.
I never thought that people would love Bulbul so much.
There was a point where I had a narration with Ekta and she mentioned that “Mrunal, just the way you are, Bulbul is.
A Leo girl, stubborn and lovely at the same time. So just be yourself.”
When you are real in front of the camera, the audience connects.
A special thanks to Ekta for that.
How did you overcome hardships and rejections?
After doing Kumkum Bhagya, I had to do films and for which I went through a crazy number of auditions.
I got rejected even after I was almost signed for a project – it really broke my heart.
However, rejection is something that kept me going.
I knew for a matter of fact that if I have to stay in this industry, I have to perform – for which I need a good script.
Love Sonia was a good script where being 23, I had to play a 17-year-old and lose a crazy amount of weight – and adapt the villager body language.
One thing which my director Tabrez Noorani told me to unlearn everything from television and surrender myself to the role at hand.
Tabrez was against me doing script readings because when an actor does so, it becomes mechanical.
He wanted my acting to be organic.
Your debut Hindi film Love Sonia has created waves in India and on international platforms alike. You must be feeling so happy about this?
I wouldn’t see myself in London if Love Sonia had not happened.
Because of this project, I was able to travel abroad and it’s been non-stop!
I’m literally hopping from one country to another for film festivals or special screenings.
Due to Love Sonia, I also got to meet a lot of foreign press association members including the BAFTA members.
It’s lovely to be travelling with a film which really talks about your work and not everyone gets this experience with their first film.
How comfortable were you in entering Bollywood through such an unconventional manner like debuting in a hard-hitting film like Love Sonia?
I was very hungry when it comes to performing.
As such, when I go home, I shouldn’t be staring up at the ceiling thinking, ‘what am I doing?’
My work should give me a good sleep and Love Sonia was a project that did that.
It was very important for me to be recognised as a performer rather than a commercial Bollywood actor.
I really admire Meryl Streep and I watched a couple of her movies whilst I was filming Love Sonia.
If you see Meryl’s graph as an actor, it’s versatile, she is known for being a versatile actress and I want to follow her.
Of course, I want to do commercial Bollywood films, but at the same time, I want to be a part of movies which are meaningful.
Once you prove to the audience that you can act well, then the journey becomes easier.
Now, you’re working on films with big stars like Hrithik Roshan and John Abraham. What has this been like for you as an actor?
If you see the films that I’ve been a part of, they all have a social relevance and are meaningful.
Films like Super 30 and Batla House are rooted somehow. I’m glad that I am doing ‘Bollywood’ but in a very balanced way.
It is entertaining but educating at the same time.
Hrithik and John are the sweetest people I’ve ever met.
Talking about Hrithik, he is very humble. He values everything and works really hard.
When I met him for the first time, I was like “omg, how is he gonna be? Is he gonna act starry?”
He is such a down-to-earth, humble man and he takes so much efforts to make sure that whatever is written in the script is performed/acted better.
He would even ask me for improvements to elevate the scene. I learnt so much from him.
What strikes to you the most in a script and project?
I always believe that the audience should leave the theatre with a message and shouldn’t think “oh god, what a creepy film.”
Whenever the audience watches my film, I want them to leave with a message, something in their mind which would make them happy or impact them.
Talking about my projects, yes they are socially related topics, but the Baahuali prequel series for Netflix is exciting.
Through that web-series, people will be entertained.
We’ve always seen a wonder-woman and superwomen in the west, but what about Asia?
We needed ‘Shero’ (a female hero) and so we have Sivagami.
Would you say that acting on a popular/rising medium like the web will enhance your career as an actor?
I really have to thank Netflix and Amazon Prime, it gives a chance to newcomers in being a part of it.
There’s this television actress who said to me that she had this dream of becoming the next Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit.
However, some kept telling her she’s not fit to become an actress.
She started with Television and she told me that she stops dreaming of films but because I see you making the transition from TV to cinema and the web, this encourages me to carry on.
I’ve always wanted to set an example but how I didn’t know.
So I guess this is it!
You’re now set to enter the digital space with Netflix’s Baahubali prequel. You must be excited about this?
Oh, I’m absolutely thrilled! Sivagami is not a normal girl.
In real life, I would never rule Mahismati kingdom… I would probably rule boys’ hearts (laughs) but not any kingdom.
I’m so glad I get to do so in this project
It’s so exciting that I get to learn horse-riding, Urumi sword-fighting (kalaripayattu).
This is what is exciting about the fact that there is always something new to learn and this makes me happy.
Listen to our podcast interview with Mrunal Thakur here!
Ramya Krishnan set a huge benchmark as Sivagami. What has been your method to play the role?
The best part about this series is that it depicts the beginning of Sivagami and she‘s a naïve girl in the beginning.
I always watch the Baahubali series and observe Ramya in it to see and imagine her situation for her to reach such a level.
I kind of build stories in my mind and there are imaginary scenes happening in my head.
Also, (as a reference point) we have a novel so I’m totally depending on that and the films.
I had a chance to meet Rajamouli sir and he narrated the story and background.
Deva Katta is directing the project alongside Praveen Sattaru. They keep on telling me stories, which is very important.
I do have pressure on my shoulders because the audience is really looking forward to me playing Sivagami.
I just hope I reach and live up to the expectations.
Since you are progressing in your craft, what advice would you give to all budding actors out there?
I would say to never give up.
There was a time when I gave almost 300 auditions before I got my first commercial.
I knew I was good at it. When you have faith in your talent and yourself, nothing and no one can stop you.
I believe that if something is meant to be, then it’s meant to be. If you give up, then nobody will stand by you.
The trick is to do something extraordinary and different that would make people notice you.
An actor needs to know what the plus point in themselves is and use that.
It makes us incredibly proud to see Mrunal overcome all hurdles and difficulties.
With this optimism and dedication, we are certain that she will only keep climbing higher on the ladder of success.