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Nargis Fakhri on her Bollywood comeback with Shiv Shastri Balboa

This interview was first published in The Telegraph Online by the same author.


After a scintillating debut opposite Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar and a handful of notable films, Nargis Fakhri disappeared from Bollywood. She returned to the big screen last Friday in Ajayan Venugopalan’s Shiv Shastri Balboa, co-starring Anupam Kher, Neena Gupta and Sharib Hashmi. We caught up with Nargis about her comeback and her future plans.


What made you decide to be part of Shiv Shastri Balboa?


I was lucky enough to receive the script of Shiv Shastri Balboa. I was in New York during Covid. When I read the script, I absolutely fell in love with the story. It was so original, so different and so relatable. That was key for me.


I play Sia, a bubbly, independent girl who is half-Indian half-American and lives in Pennsylvania. She wants to marry her boyfriend Cinnamon Singh (Sharib Hashmi). There’s a bit of a conflict with her family regarding that. In my journey with Sharib, we end up intertwining with Elsa (Neena Gupta) and Shiv Shastri Balboa (Anupam Kher) and we end up helping them and going with them on their journey. It’s a very interesting adventure. There’s lots of laughter, crying and suspense.


Anupamji said that this is a film about happy people in unhappy situations. This film touches upon a lot of points in life and has many layers such as racism, loneliness and finding passion again to keep going. It shows that all of us can find a hero within us.


How was the experience of working with Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta?


I was a little nervous because I had never met Neena ma’am. I had worked with Anupamji in Main Tera Hero (2014) but I was still nervous. When you are working with such seasoned actors, you want to do your best. You don’t want to mess up your lines and do something stupid. You hope that they don’t laugh at you. I was pleasantly surprised that both of them were warm and welcoming. I also loved the fact that they gave advice. They were so helpful in creating a nice atmosphere.


Is it difficult to emote in a language that is not your first language?


It is not difficult if I have workshops and rehearsals. Obviously, when I read a Hindi film’s script, it’s written in Roman letters. So, while rehearsing, memorising and working through it, I will translate it. I have to understand it in my way, where I am from, and how I grew up and then connect it to the character. No matter what character we play, there’s a piece of that character in us.


You debuted in Bollywood with Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar in 2011. What were your takeaways from the film?


The journey of Rockstar was a wonderful experience. I would like to give a lot of credit to Imtiaz Ali as he is an extraordinary director. I cannot even imagine working with anyone else for my first film. I guess for him, I was a big challenge because I didn’t know anything. There were other barriers too such as not knowing acting and Hindi. There was a lot of work that all of us put in. I wish I could work with him again. As much as I would love to work with him in Hindi cinema, I’d love to work with him in English. That would be quite interesting.


You were quite natural in Madras Café (2013) and the less popular Banjo (2016). But you didn’t get to play such characters after that. Why?


Madras Café was based on true events, and my character in Banjo was real. I think maybe I do well with reality. My other films such as Housefull 3 and Main Tera Hero were over-the-top, big-budget fun films where you are supposed to be larger than life.


I got a lot of offers back then. But I think because I worked with a team of people who carved out my journey, they had a different kind of vision for me. Today, the length of your character doesn’t matter as long as it makes sense in the film or series and has an impact. Back then, it was more like who you were working with, who the director or producer was. Are they the ‘it’ people? So, I didn’t really get to choose what I wanted. But I am very excited to be back here because OTT provides different types of roles. Now it’s all about the content, which is amazing.


Have you been receiving offers now?


2023 has got off to a wonderful start. I was working in the US, UK and Dubai. Now, I am back in Mumbai. I have two films that I will start shooting for in the next couple of months.


Do you want to move to Mumbai for the next few years?


Yes. Maybe for more years. I was here for eight-nine years. Then I took a tiny break. Then Covid happened. And now I am back.


What kind of roles do you want to play in the future?


I love variety. There’s no other job in the world that allows you to be so many different people in one lifetime. So, I am open to all sorts of roles that expand my mind, give me life experiences and help me grow as a person. Whether it’s gonna be a doctor that’s working in the ER or a maid who’s murdered her employer, I am okay with exploring as long as I get to be creative.

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