Elnaaz Norouzi on her new web series and why she loves Dubai
The 'Sacred Games' actress opens up about playing a bold role in 'Chutzpah', streaming now.
Born in Iran, raised in Germany and now conquering Bollywood and OTT one inspired step at a time, charming actress Elnaaz Norouzi was a ray of sunshine on a recent Zoom call to discuss her latest web series, Chutzpah, streaming now on SonyLIV.
We last interacted with Elnaaz when she dropped into the Khaleej Times office in February 2020 and recalling that experience fondly, the Sacred Games actress hoped she would be able to visit Dubai — one of her favourite cities — again soon.
Elnaaz who began modelling at a young age and then stepped into the world of Bollywood — which she had long been a fan of — floored us with not only her charm but also her candid revelations of what it was like to be part of an industry where, especially in the current scenario of the pandemic, work opportunities remain uncertain.
The actress who was part of crime thriller web series Abhay and will be seen next in Sangeen alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui, also opened up on her latest, and possibly boldest, role of a ‘cam girl’ called Wild Butterfly in Chutzpah, a series where five interconnected stories explore the dark side of the Internet and social media.
Excerpts from the interview:
Your new series Chutzpah released recently and from the trailer we see how the Internet and social media have become such a huge part of our lives and the series kind of explores the darker side of it all. How would you describe Chutzpah?
It’s all about what’s going on in the virtual and social media world, on phones, on laptops... basically it’s nothing that we don’t know about, because it’s what we are subjected to everyday. Even if you consider our interview right now, it’s through the Internet and the computer. All the stories in Chutzpah reflect real life — they are stories that you and me could have.
There is a story of a long-distance relationship, and one that talks about a controversial social media group; there is the story of a shy guy who is somebody else on the Internet. And, there is my story of Wild Butterfly, who in her real life cannot do any of the stuff that she does online. So it kind of shows us where the world is going so maybe we can open our eyes a little, but then it’s funny at the same time and has relatable stories for anyone who will watch.
What can you tell us about your role which is quite a bold one? Did you have any qualms about playing Wild Butterfly?
Of course there were reservations. Whenever you get to play a role or whenever you get a script like that in your hands, you’re just like, okay, how is this going to be made? How is this going to look? But then the director, the show runner, they were all there to clear the doubts that I had and of course the fact that the series was being made by Maddock Films Pvt. Ltd. made it a must-do one for me. I knew that it was going to be done well. With such big makers backing a series, obviously it wouldn’t look sleazy or it wouldn’t look like anything that I wouldn’t want to do.
What is the biggest takeaway from the series and also your character?
The biggest takeaway is obviously that whatever we do on social media and the Internet does affect us in our real world as well.
Maybe it will open the eyes of some people who do mean stuff on the Internet. There is a character who keeps meeting up with women and then blocks them and doesn’t want to talk to them anymore. Such men exist in real life as well. Sometimes, with whatever we do in life, once it is put in front of us and once we see what it actually looks like, we realize what we’re doing wrong or what we could change. So I’m really hoping that Chutzpah besides the fact that it’s entertaining and fun, could maybe help a lot of people realize what’s happening in the virtual world.
Staying with the subject of the Internet, in this day and age most stars use social media. As someone who is an active social media user — your videos and posts are quite popular — what are some of the pros and cons of this medium?
It’s so funny… a lot of people who know me from many years ago know I wasn’t active on social media at all. So whenever they talk to me now they’re like ‘oh my God you’ve become this social media queen!’ And I never thought that I would be called a social media queen!
I have become quite active on social media and I am having fun with it. I see the trollers, I ignore them; I see a lot of love and a lot of comments coming from all over the world and I enjoy them. Everything that we have can be used positively or negatively. And so it is with the social media world and the virtual world. So I think we just have to be a little cautious about what we do with it.
You’ve been a model for many advertising campaigns and have also walked the ramp. When was the moment that you decided you wanted to be an actress? Were you always a fan of Bollywood films?
To be an actress is something I wanted as a child. It’s just that I started with modelling. I have always been a fan of Bollywood movies. The reason why I came to India is because as a child I used to watch a lot of Bollywood and I was telling myself this is what I want to do, this is what I want to be.
So nothing really happened by chance. I really worked hard for everything that I wanted to achieve. I switched from modeling which I also really enjoyed, to my dream, which is acting.
We read an interesting tweet from you a few days ago about how people thought doors were opened for you but you actually pushed them open. You’ve spoken in the past about being an outsider in Bollywood. What advice would you give to someone who is an aspiring actress?
There is never one formula for making it. I didn’t have a formula or a way. I didn’t know how it works. I just went for it. The only thing that really worked for me is persistence, no matter how many doors kept closing. I was one or two weeks away from beginning some films, and they got dropped! It could have brought me down, it could have made me decide to give up. But my discipline and my persistence I guess is something that has taken me this far.
Before Sacred Games happened, two of my big films got shelved. The films that were supposed to launch me just never happened. There were people who would tell me you have a one per cent chance of making it in Bollywood. And I was thinking, okay, one per cent is not much, so let me just pack my bags and go. I am glad I didn’t do that because I guess good things take time; that’s how long it took for Sacred Games and after that it took some time for me to get Abhay and then I did a Punjabi film followed by an international film…
Coronavirus was the worst time ever because my career was just taking off and I realised I have absolutely nothing in hand. No next project, and people were saying films aren’t getting made, series aren’t getting made. And I was stuck in Germany because I couldn’t fly back to India — what was I going to do?
I was getting offers to do reality TV at that time which were lucrative. Then again I told myself, this is not your dream, this is not what you want to do. You have to wait, you have to be patient. Then I got Chutzpah and Sangeen and I got this big song! So I would say just stick to your dream, even if it’s taking a little longer.
We read about how you auditioned for Chutzpah from Germany during the pandemic — it’s affected so many lives and has also badly hit the entertainment industry. What is your personal takeaway from the experience? What has the pandemic taught you?
Because of the fact that I am so far away from my family and I live in India alone, I would barely get any time to spend with my parents because I was always so busy and trying to make it here. So Covid actually taught me to take a break and it was okay to take a break because everybody was taking a break. Now if you ask me, when I have to give my all and when I have to really work hard to beat the competition, I cannot take many days off.
But what I understood is that it is okay to not be so hard with yourself. And I have always been very hard with myself no matter what I have been doing. The other thing I learned is just that everything will eventually work out. This too shall pass! If there are things we can’t really control, then we just have to live with them and let them pass, and make the best out of it.
During the pandemic a lot of focus came back on mental health. If you are down, how do you pick yourself up?
Honestly I do have a lot of days when I am down. Earlier it used to be a disaster; I would start crying and freak out. But I have learned that it’s okay. Today is a bad day. Today is the day where everything is going wrong. Not one good thing is happening. But tomorrow is going to be fine. And I think the acceptance that it’s just today or it’s just this week, makes it already better for you.
I had one of those days yesterday. Something didn’t work out because of the Covid rules and issues, and my entire plan for a month went for a toss. Something I was really excited for wasn’t going to happen and I was so sad. And I have people around me… I have friends who just pick up my call and tell me’ listen, you have this going for you, you have this and that, and you’re still upset?’ It makes me realise, they are so right. So I think a mix of knowing yourself and accepting the days that are not good as much as the days that are good. And a set of people who really love you and who can actually remind you of the good things.
I know some mental health issues are so severe and so big that we can’t help with these small solutions. But I think the minimal problems that we have on a day to day basis, can be solved like this.
Travel is something that has been greatly restricted by the pandemic. You last visited Dubai in February 2020. What are your thoughts on Dubai and what are your favourite things to do while here?
I had visited you guys — I remember I was at the Khaleej Times office! One of my friends had come from Germany just two weeks back for his birthday and I was so excited to come to Dubai because it’s right around the corner and then I realised there is a travel ban and you can’t travel to Dubai. So it was so upsetting because I couldn’t see my friend.
I go to Dubai so often and it’s been so long. I love Dubai. I have so much fun every time. There is so much you can do there that I can’t even name them. It’s not like ‘oh this one attraction is nice’ or ‘that attraction is nice’… literally everything is nice in Dubai! So don’t ask me what I love to do (laughs) … I just love being there! And the people as well.
I really hope that things get back to normal because travelling is so beautiful and it’s one of my hobbies. And if I can’t travel I am just so sad!
Lastly what would you like to say to your fans here in the UAE?
I am very happy to have fans all over the world and especially from the UAE. I am somehow very connected to the country because it’s also so close to Iran and there are so many Iranian people over there. And the culture is also very close to us Iranians. So maybe that’s another reason why I enjoy Dubai or Abu Dhabi so much every time. Thank you for giving me love and supporting me.