New age Indian cinema embracing mature actresses: Ekavali Khanna

New Delhi, May 4 : She is not in her 20s, is a single mother of two, stays in Kolkata instead of the 'film capital' Mumbai, and gets to play diametrically disparate roles of a hooker and a conservative Pakistani woman. Clearly, actress Ekavali Khanna has broken convention in more ways than one in her film journey.

"The Hindi film world is amazing... If it needs you, they find you," Ekavali, who has three films -- "Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain", "Bioscopewala" and "Veere Di Wedding" -- lined up for release within one month, told IANS in an interview.

She feels fortunate to have been cast as very diverse characters right from her first notable big screen project, Nila Madhab Panda's "Kaun Kitney Paani Mein" in which she played a hooker.

And then, she was cast as a rustic widow in "Zed Plus", a modern Indian woman who accepts her husband's homosexuality with grace in "Dear Dad", and a conservative Pakistani woman who remains trapped in her regressive belief system in the Norwegian film "What Will People Say", among other parts.

"Good directors and good casting directors are concerned with your screen age, your potential as an actor and if your physicality is suitable to the character... They don't care whether you are a mother, or whether you live in Kolkata or Mumbai.

"I owe it largely to the imagination of the phenomenal casting directors we have in Mumbai now. They have tapped the versatility of my face and personality," Ekavali said.

What also helped is also how "completely false" is the notion that you can only make it as an actor if you start in your twenties.

"In fact, in films that are centered around the 'hero', the actress opposite him has little to do. Fortunately, in the last few years, writers are writing meaty, characters for women... Especially for the more mature actresses who are in their late thirties and early forties.

"Also, I feel that experience adds deeper dimensions to one's ability to perform, so things are changing... And unlike Indian television, where a 24-year-old is cast as the mother of a 22-year-old, new age Indian cinema embraces mature actresses in interesting roles," Ekavali said.

Acting happened to her at a time when there was complete personal crisis and chaos in her life.

"It was a time when I was struggling to hold myself together, and at the same time I was becoming aware of this need to unleash myself and move away from that chaos... In a strange way, pain and crisis helps you reflect and helps you realise your potential," said the artiste, whose first tryst with cinema happened via a student film.

She then embraced cinema and pursued it like therapy.

"I started blossoming... I was shooting, raising my boys alone, and spending every free minute learning," added Ekavali, who says Mumbai nurtures her mind and creativity, while Kolkata nurtures her soul.

In "Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain", which comes across as a breezy family entertainer with its heart in the right place, Ekavali plays a wife in a lifeless marriage, with the versatile Sanjay Mishra.

She has cameos in Danny Denzongpa-starrer "Bioscopewala" and the ensemble cast "Veere Di Wedding".

"There's a high in doing a cameo and being loved for it...If it's a small role, and people appreciate it, it has its own fun and satisfaction." On her way forward in the film industry, she says she finds it liberating to be able to exist without worrying about; "What roles will I get after this? Will I be accepted? Should I go all out and network better?"

"I don't think I can control anything. What I can do is give my work all I have... which is what I focus on." (Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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