'I believe in understanding the heart of the character' : Niki Aneja

Riding motorbikes and jumping over walls was the norm for actress Niki Aneja until she chose to take up modelling and acting, instead of aspiring to become a pilot.

Niki's striking resemblance to Madhuri Dixit got her noticed in the ad world. The ad stint was soon followed by movie offers. But the 70-mm experience proved disastrous for Niki with
Mr Azad - her first and last movie, co-starring Anil Kapoor - turning into a dud at the box office. Films have been out for her ever since, unless of course, a Shyam Benegal film comes along…

TV, however, turned out to be the medium that made her. Today, Niki has etched a place for herself on the small screen as a fine actress, an absolute contrast to the tomboy she once was. Audiences readily recall her roles in
Seahawks on DD-Metro, as Simran in Piyaa Binaa, Pooja in Gharwali Uparwali, and Indu in Patang, even though this last serial was pulled off air midway.

Niki has been out of circulation for the last four months following a horrific accident on the sets of Gharwali Uparwali that left her bed-ridden for nearly two months.

Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Harsha Khot met this versatile actress who is poised to make her presence felt again with two forthcoming serials. She is closely involved with serial maker Nandita Kothari's upcoming project whileKhauff, a thriller, will go on air on Sahara TV at the end of October.

How and when did you take up acting?

I began acting eight years ago, although I had planned on becoming a pilot. It started with modelling, with my brother (Parmeet Sethi) suggesting that I try my hand at modelling to make some money during college vacations. I soon had offers from Danabhai Jewellers, Ponds Dream Flower talc, Siyaram and lots of others.

The first person who made me aware about acting was Mukul Anand. We were shooting for a Pepsi ad. I had to hold a bottle of Pepsi, swirl it and mouth the catch line. That particular action caught his attention and he immediately stopped the camera, approached me and said that I looked like Sharon Stone. He asked me if I had ever thought about acting. He said I was meant to sell more than a product. He said: 'You need to sell a character, you need to act' and those words 'sell a character' played on my mind.

Pahlaj Nihalani saw me in one of the ads and noticed my resemblance to Madhuri. He approached me with a lead role inMr Azad opposite Anil Kapoor. I was surprised. I really didn't want to act. My father owned film studios, and we were well connected within the industry. But I did not like the industry atmosphere much. It was only on Pahlajji's persuasion that I did the film. It did moderately well but I was completely put off. I realized I was not comfortable in this scenario where there were too many compromises right from the dance director's level to the director's level. I decided then I would never do commercial films again.

'I am against taking scripts home, because I don't work on them. I have to be around my colleagues while they are discussing their character with the director.'

A scene from Patang aired on DD-Metro (Channel Nine Gold)

When did you decide to take up television?

Television came later, a while after I left the film world. I took up television because I couldn't go back to flying as the education rules had changed by then. I was

psychology student, while they wanted a commerce graduate. I had been getting TV offers for some time, and decided to take them up.

What do you look for in a script?

What kind of roles do you take up? I look for characterisation. By the time I did Gharwali Uparwali, I had already proved myself as an actress, having done many serious roles. The Gharwali Uparwali character had to be very impetuous and funny. I make sure my characters in each serial are not similar in any way.

In Samander, I played a strong woman taking on the entire family, financially as well as emotionally. In Piyaa Bina, I was a character loaded with a past. In Baat Ban Jaaye, I played myself while in Sea Hawks, I played a naval doctor. You normally have directors approaching you with great stories but the characterisation is similar. I always make it a point not to do such roles.

I essayed the character of a call girl in Chocolate, a telefilm directed by Vivek Agnihotri. It was Zee's first telefilm. The role of this rock actress who is also a call girl worked wonders. It did require me to show cleavage because that was what the character required. I'm willing to do these things for the script, but I will not simply bare my body and dance.


A scene from Samandar aired on Zee TV
'It (the character in Chocolate) did require me to show cleavage because that was what the character required. I'm willing to do these things for the script, but I will not simply bare my body and dance.'

How has it been ever since you took up acting?

I feel I am growing in the field every year. As I became familiar with the camera, the inhibitions got less and less.

Anchoring shows also helped. I got an opportunity to meet people of different wavelengths, people who follow different cultures. It opened my mind. Talking and interacting with people while doing Patang helped me to understand relationships better.

Do you draw your approach to acting from real life?

I wouldn't call myself a meticulous actor or a method actor. I treat characters opposite me by relating them to someone I know. So it automatically becomes easier.

What was the transition from training to be a pilot to a TV actress like?

I wore only jeans and T-shirts in college. The first time I bought myself a mini skirt was when I started modelling. Earlier, I used to be happy to get under cars, fixing motorbikes, opening videos, playing around with the television picture tube.

My behavior changed slowly as my career took shape. The bandannas I wore gave way to more feminine scarves, my footwear changed from boots to sandals. My friends refused to let me go along with them for our regular motorcycle rides after the changes!

The transition started with modelling. Working with Lubna Adams and Hemant Trivedi was a funny experience. My stride was like a man's, so they gave me high-heeled sandals to wear. They would put a book on my head and ask me to balance it as I walked.

I remember when I first wore an evening gown. I was feeling so conscious that I wore a jacket over it. That was hilarious. I would ask myself if the change was worth it and the answer would be - yes.

Did you have to work on your voice? There has been an interesting change from Sea Hawks to Patang?

No, I didn't have to work on my voice. Just working with people like Mehr Jesia and Rachel Lopez made me conscious of the importance of appearing sensuous and feminine.

Observation has been my teacher. As compared to Sea Hawks, the role in Patang is so mature. I was 22 when I did Sea Hawks and 27 by the time I did Patang. So there was this whole tenure of growing as an actress and as a person.

'A part of me is still a tomboy. Of course, the years have made me tougher. I don't give in easily to harsh situations.'

With Mansi Joshi and Mukul Dev in Gharwali Uparwali aired on Star Plus

Has this brought any change in your personality?

A part of me is still a tomboy. Of course, the years have made me tougher. I don't give in easily to harsh situations.

Which character did you enjoy playing the most?

Indu in Patang. Indu is a sober character, yet there is a child inside her, hurt by her failed love marriage to a professor, 20 years older than she is. The role required me to play a teenager moulding herself into a 35-year-old, quite a complicated thing to do. After her marriage fails, she comes back to the environment where she grew up but cannot relate to the teenager she had once been.

Partha Mitra wanted that to be seen and felt on screen and I hope the effect came through. Every emotion that I expressed had to be controlled.

Do you prepare for a character beforehand? How do you sketch the character?

I am against taking scripts home, because I don't work on them. I have to be around my colleagues while they are discussing their character with the director. On the set, I watch colleagues acting, and react accordingly.

For instance, in Patang, after Indu goes back to her house and her brother gives her a stern look, the director might have expected me not to scream back, but to handle the situation in a mature way. But I said, why not? Indu had had to grow up because she was married, it doesn't mean that she has to behave like a mature sister.

I don't believe in understanding the basics of a character. I believe in understanding the heart of the character. Understanding her body language always works. Since I am a psychology student, it makes things easier for me.

I enjoy my work so much because I'm getting a chance to be someone else and understand things from their perspective. It is not what everybody gets to do. I get to live life.

For instance, in Chocolate, where I play a character of a Rock star whore, I did not wash my hair for three weeks. The character had to appear such that at first glance, people should think - 'Oh, that bitch!'

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