“I come from an orthodox Kashmiri family where becoming an actor was never an option. In fact, my parents were even hesitant to send me to Delhi for college but somehow, I convinced Papa. So, when a friend suggested auditioning in college for a role in a serial, my immediate reaction was, ‘No!’
Upon insistence, I decided to give it a go and the casting directors loved me!The next day, I found out that I was selected to play the lead!
On an impulse, I moved to Bombay without informing my parents; I was barely 20; the production people helped me find a place. It took me weeks to muster the courage to tell Papa about it. He was livid. Mom’s friends and relatives cut ties with our family; it was tough.
But by then, my serial had gained popularity, so I didn’t want to give it up. After weeks of cajoling, Papa finally said, ‘I’ll allow you to continue only if you complete your studies.’ 7 months later, my parents moved to Mumbai to be with me.
I’d shoot all night, study during the breaks, then fly to Delhi to give my exams. The family stress was constantly looming– I’d tell Mom to not bother about what others thought, but it wasn’t easy for her. We’d argue a lot. But year on year, my serial was the number one show in the country; I fell in love with the camera–the awards were a bonus.
After 8 odd years, I decided to move on to something new– reality shows like Big Boss and Khatron ke Khiladi came my way. When I started out, I used to have the ‘no shorts, no steamy scenes’ policy but over time, I realised that I should be making my own rules.
And just when my parents had gotten used to me being an actor, I told them that I was seeing Rocky. It came as a shock; everybody in our family has had arranged marriages. But I was sure– I gave them time to accept us and now, they love him more than me!
And after the reality shows, I was finally able to break the stereotypical ‘bahu’ image. the TV offers poured in– I even played a negative character. And then, I took a risk and quit TV to do movies.
I was over the moon when I made my debut at the Cannes film festival last year; I felt so proud to represent my country abroad. The way the entire film and TV industry came to my support, humbled me.
This year, I moved onto OTT platforms– The movie script demanded a kissing scene, so I sat my parents down and discussed it with them. I said ‘yes’ only after they understood that it was needed for the role; my movie went on to become one of the most watched films on the platform.
It’s been 11 years since I first faced the camera– The little girl growing up in Srinagar would’ve never imagined walking Cannes. But it’s a series of difficult choices that has gotten me where I am today. From Srinagar to Bombay, from being the first actor in my family to dating somebody out of the community to giving up easy money at my peak, I’ve proudly carved my own way.”