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Bollywood star's daughter on making an unconventional debut with OTT thriller

Avantika Dassani says her 'all shades of grey' role in Mithya is a risk she hopes pays off.

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Sun 20 Feb 2022, 3:10 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Feb 2022, 4:57 PM

The nepotism debate is one that has been doing the rounds in Bollywood for a while and is off and on a hot topic on social media. But ask Bollywood actress Bhagyashree’s daughter Avantika Dassani, what she thinks of it all, and she matter-of-factly replies, “We are a country built on family legacies.”

In a candid Zoom interview with City Times about her OTT thriller Mithya, Avantika reveals why she opted for an unconventional debut platform and role, how belonging to a film family inspired her as an actress, and why being a ‘star kid’ doesn’t necessarily mean you will get big opportunities or succeed.

In Mithya, Avantika plays Rhea Rajguru, a disgruntled student who is accused of plagiarism by her Hindi literature professor Juhy Adhikary (Huma Qureshi), an accusation that sets in motion a deadly chain of events. Who is lying and who is telling the truth? Avantika is chilling as the supposed femme fatale in this 6-part series, streaming now on ZEE5.

To opt for a role with grey shades is a bold choice for any newcomer, especially one whose mother made her debut in Maine Pyar Kiya back in 1989 - an unabashedly romantic big-budget Bollywood caper boasting famous names, loads of drama and memorable songs.

Mithya, by stark contrast, is a dark and unsettling story that, judging by its trailer, doesn’t portray any of its leads in a particularly flattering light.

Bringing in the plot twists

Avantika called her character Rhea Rajguru “exclusive”.

“Every time I come on screen you know something’s about to happen. You know something’s about to go down! Rhea is the girl who brings in the plot twists to the story. So that’s what got me really excited about her character, and (I am) very pumped up to have Mithya as my debut project. Rhea’s impulsive, she’s a little reckless, she’s someone who does things and thinks about them later. She’s had a lot happen to her in life, and that’s what has made her who she is today.”

Avantika as Rhea Rajguru in Mithya.
Avantika as Rhea Rajguru in Mithya.

She said her debut role was “exciting and a challenge” and hopes to become known as an actress willing to take risks. “That’s what got me keen on playing someone who is all shades of grey. I resonated with the idea of doing something that would sort of get me out of my comfort zone, not be boxed in and put into a particular category like, say, every other newcomer.”

However, she admitted she is open to doing a conventional Bollywood film like a romcom or drama. “I would love to, but Mithya is a risk that I’ve taken hoping that it will pay off.”

A “fantastic cast and crew” were what helped take the edge off shooting for her debut project, as well as the fact that some of her toughest and most intense scenes as Rhea were shot first. 
“In my first two days of shooting we shot pretty much the climax sequences - they are the longest scenes I have. What you’ll see in episode five and six is what I shot on day one and two. So I was kind of thrown into the deep end when Rhea is her full blown self. And while it was really difficult to take that on, I think what it also did on some level is take off the pressure.”

Actor Parambrata Chatterjee (who plays Neil Adhikary, Juhi’s husband) recently shared a picture of himself, Huma Qureshi and Avantika chilling on the sets of Mithya. The evident camaraderie made her debut shooting experience “so much fun and so easy”, shared Avantika. “Everyone made me feel really comfortable and welcome. I was bullied, I was ragged a lot, but that’s what family feels like. If everyone is just very ‘appropriate’ and ‘correct’, it’s not going to feel like home.”

When work is a passion

Avantika’s brother Abhimanyu Dassani made his debut in 2018 with the action-comedy Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and her mother Bhagyashree was recently seen on the big screen in Thalaivii. Coming from a film background, what was the moment she decided she wanted to be an actress?

“I was very interested in performing arts and the creative space in general as I was growing up. Every time I would watch a movie and fall in love with a character, I would dress up like that, raiding my parents’ closets and wearing and walking around in those outfits, getting into my mom’s make-up - finishing bottles of her powder and get myself yelled at for the mess that I created (laughs).”

She admitted that while studying business and marketing was an “interesting” space for her, when she began working, she “wasn’t really happy or very passionate” about what she was doing.

Rhea's character in Mithya is 'exclusive', says Avantika
Rhea's character in Mithya is 'exclusive', says Avantika

“Somewhere down the line I began my workshops and started the process of becoming an actor and I realized how much I love it. And if I can turn around and call that work and get paid for it, why the hell not!”

But did she get any special opportunities because of who she is? Jumping into the seemingly never-ending Bollywood nepotism debate, Avantika said, “There’s no denying that everywhere we look, every nook and corner… political, business models, everything is built on this (family legacies). I have friends who are doctors and lawyers, whose parents are doctors and lawyers.

"So I think the idea is that when you’re growing up you get an ideology and you see a different side of that occupation. My mother and brother being in Bollywood, someone will have a conversation with me and have a cup of tea with me… they respect my mother and brother, they’ll meet me and say ‘hi’ but that’s the extent of it. No one is going to offer me a project or put their money on me based on that, if they don’t think I fit a character or they don’t think I’m worth it.”

And even if one does get a foothold through their ‘influence’, it’s not necessary the gamble will pay off, believes Avantika. “We’ve seen this happen time and again. There have been so many people from the industry who haven’t had a very flourishing career.”

This is why, she emphasized, she chose OTT as a launch platform as it came with “no frills”.

“It’s all about the content. I would want people to concentrate on Avantika the actor more than anything else.”

Millennial take on social media

Whether they’re sharing fitness videos or fashion photoshoots or exotic travel pictures, most stars nowadays go all out on social media for maximum fan engagement. As an up-and-coming actress, Avantika admitted she harbors a “love-hate” relationship with it.

“For my generation it (social media) started off at a later stage so luckily I grew up without having Instagram and we were allowed to be kids, make mistakes, have fun - not the way it is today. I really cherish that; I’m so happy because I feel social media affects the way you look at yourself and the world. We’re increasingly seeing the level of mental pressure and anxiety it causes. I’m no Superman - it affects me as well and it gets you into that zone every now and then. I love watching memes and funny videos and staying connected to friends around the world. But I wish we could have a slightly healthier balance with it!”

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