'Gehraiyaan' changed me as a person, says Ananya Panday

The relationship drama is out on OTT soon


Ambica Sachin

Published: Wed 2 Feb 2022, 6:56 PM

Last updated: Thu 3 Feb 2022, 3:50 PM

"I am a stalker and I am shameless about it,” announces Bollywood’s quintessential millennial, Ananya Panday, referencing her social media proclivities.

At 23 she is on the cusp of an eventful career with some unorthodox movie/character choices including an unconventional debut in 2019’s Student of the Year 2.

The Bollywood insider, courtesy actor dad Chunky Panday and mum Bhavana (who made her OTT debut in 2020 with the much-talked about reality show Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives) went on to appear the same year in yet another unusual choice, Pati Patni Aur Woh.

The dark comedy Khaali Peeli (also starring Ishaan Khatter) followed and it is clear Ananya is not here to tread the tried and tested path to stardom.

“Honestly there was no plan,” avers the actress over a Zoom conversation. “I just knew I wanted to be an actor as soon as I popped out of my mom and I’ve always been attracted to strong, complex, grey, powerful female characters in whatever way and that has reflected in some of the choices that I have made, be it SOTY, Pati Patni, Khaali Peeli, Gehraiyaan now or even the films that I am shooting,” she says.

“They are real, relatable characters and growing up we really looked for female characters on screen that we could identify with. As a young girl, even when I was 12 or 13, I’ve been conscious of how I want to see myself represented on screen. That’s been something I’ve been mindful about and honestly that’s what I am attracted to. It is not part of a plan, it’s actually what comes from inside.”


‘Everyone is flawed’

It’s probably also what drew her to the role of Tia Khanna in Gehraiyaan where she plays a girl confronted with heartbreak when she realises her fiancé Zain could be cheating on her.

The Amazon Prime Video drama (out on February 11) directed by Shakun Batra boasts an ensemble cast including Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Dhairya Karwa, Rajat Kapur and Naseeruddin Shah. Ananya is naturally “overwhelmed” with the response to the trailer of the relationship drama that sees her delve into unchartered territory.

And while some of the emotional depths plumbed in the movie may be a bit alien to the youngster, she is eager to embrace the new. “It would be unfair to say I have gone through what Tia has in the film — I’m really young, most of my relationships have been those high school crushes, holding hands in a class and all of that, so I’ve definitely not been through that.

"But a lot of Tia’s characteristics are similar to how I am as a person. Shakun actually mentioned that even before I was cast in the film he thought that I would be very similar to Tia, which is pretty crazy because I am! Her loyal side, her loving side, how she’s dependent in a relationship, her insecurity — I’ve experienced those emotions — not at that scale maybe, so it was a journey inwards, exploring those feelings that I have fleetingly gone through to really dive into it.”

But Ananya is also clear that it was not just Tia but all the characters that attracted her to Gehraiyaan. “I liked the fact that the movie was not a judgment, it was an observation of modern complex relationships. They weren’t villanising anyone and at the same time I liked the fact that everyone had their grey side, everyone had a dark, ugly side to them and that is how sometimes humans are.”

She goes on to add that people show different versions of themselves to those around them. “I like that Gehraiyaan shows all the layers of that. Every character is different in front of different people in different situations and that is quite refreshing and relatable to see.”

The movie, which was filmed mainly in Goa, saw the cast and crew thrown together in the midst of a pandemic — something that helped them bond better. Ananya admits her expectations from the movie were high right from the beginning and “the fact that those have been surpassed has made it even more special and enriching because it was a dream for me to work with Shakun.”

“He was on my wish list of directors to work with. The experience changed me not just as an actor but as a person,” she explains.

“Every person I have encountered on this film — be it the primary cast of the film, be it Deepika, Sid, Dhairya, Nasir Sir, Rajat sir, the writers, the ADs, the DP, the editor — has helped form the person I’m today. Because we were all thrown together in the middle of a pandemic, we shot together for 2 months in Goa and we couldn’t help but become family, so it’s really changed the person that I am.”

What’s love...

Going forward Ananya has her kitty full with Liger starring Southern heartthrob Vijay Deverakonda and Kho Gaye Hum Kahan with Siddhant Chaturvedi and Adarsh Gourav. But right now she just wants to enjoy the moment with all the plaudits coming her way post the trailer release of Gehraiyaan.

With the movie streaming in ‘the month of love’, she admits that it may not be the best Valentine’s Day film to watch, “because it is not a love story. It is about complex relationships; about how 4 people are when they are thrown into a situation, how they react to it. Honestly, we aren’t looking at this film through rose tinted glasses — we are not glorifying or endorsing anything, we are not passing any judgments for sure. It depends on the audience, what they want to take away from this.”

While the movie has been tagged as exploring the intricacies of modern day relationships with all its complexities, Ananya says, “there is no right or wrong in a situation like this. I am curious to know the conversation that stems from the views that they (audience) have on this film.”

For a millennial, Ananya’s stance on romance and love is pretty practical. “Growing up Bollywood and especially Dharma ruined what love is supposed to be,” she says with a smile, “because they built up this image of someone who is going to come and sweep you away and maybe fall madly and helplessly in love. But for me the idea of love keeps changing. I have finally decided upon love stemming from friendship and communication, that is my stance on love right now.”

So she isn’t exactly the type to go stalking her boyfriends on Insta unlike her profile on the social media platform that has her proudly proclaiming herself to be a ‘Serial Chiller’ and ‘Private Investigator.’

She is only happy to elaborate... “I am the biggest stalker ever! If you give me a name and you want to find out information about someone — for example if any of my friends liked a guy and said, listen, I don’t even know his last name… I can find out (with a shrug of her shoulders) his janampatri (horoscope), his nickname! I go so deep into it — into the gehraiyaans (depths) — I see their aunts, cousins and I remember things also! I am a stalker and I am shameless about it!”

Working with Deepika Padukone

Gehraiyaan sees Ananya co-starring with an experienced actress like Deepika Padukone. The duo who play cousins share a lot of screen space in the movie and during the media interactions ahead of the release have been seen indulging in a lot of light hearted banter.

The young actress avers; “Deepika has set the bar very very high for all of us. Just the actor that she is and the choices she has made in the past, the characters she has picked up, have given a lot of aspiring actors the courage to go out there and it also gives writers and filmmakers a lot of confidence that people want to see characters like this.”

She goes on to add, “As an actor Deepika has inspired me a lot and it was a blessing for me to play off her on screen and react to her and it helped my performance a lot as well.”

At the same time the young actress is also clear that Gehraiyaan is not a woman oriented film — “the fact is that complex female characters can coexist with complex male characters, that is how life is.

"We all go through it and our complexities and decisions affect other people. The most attractive part of the movie for me was how real and grey every character was — how flawed every character was. No one was being judged in any way.”

Gehraiyaan is out on Amazon Prime Video on Feb 1

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