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Cover Story
May 26, 2016

Getting To Know Athiya Shetty

Text by Zaral Shah. Photographed by Rohan Shrestha. Styling by Nisha Jhangiani. Assisted by Shweta Navandar. Make-up and hair by Subhash Vagal. Location Courtesy: Essajees

Brimming with surprises, dreams and candour, she speaks about her first steps towards fame

When Athiya Shetty told her father Suniel (Shetty) that she wanted to be an actor, they had just finished scouting for potential colleges and were halfway around the world. A passionate theatre performer since her school days, the young girl had loved being in the spotlight for as long as she could remember. “That was my biggest high while growing up,” she reveals. And, she finally made her silver screen debut with Hero last year.

A few months after her first screen outing, when I meet her in Mumbai, at the Essajees warehouse, my first sight of Athiya is that of a tall girl leaning against a car, sporting a white blouse, ripped jeans and sunglasses. She is casually watching the world passing by, awaiting the nod from the team to get on with the shoot. A quick introduction leads to our conversation that soon continues in the cool confines of her SUV where we retreat to, to beat the heat of the morning. She is around my age — give or take a few months — and I realise that the New York Film Academy (NYFA) alumnus who confidently flirts with the camera is really a young debutante seeking to set her imprint on the world.

Our chat is peppered with giggles. Through our exchange I learn that even though she is just one-film-old in the industry, she has already learnt some valuable lessons from her time as an actor here.

But, her surname warrants an obvious question and that is one of the first that I put to her. I ask her what does being Suniel Shetty’s daughter mean to her? What is the importance of her legacy? Athiya says, “My dad has always been extremely loved in the film industry. He has great relationships with everyone…I hope to walk upon his path because he’s always emphasised the importance of respecting the people that you work with. I want to ensure that his goodwill remains intact. To me, that’s important.”

Like most daughters, she was closer to her mother (Mana Shetty) while growing up, even though she admits being equally influenced by both her parents. “My mother has been my best friend,” she smiles. “But now, since I’ve started working, I’ve grown closer to my dad because we talk about a lot of things that we never used to talk about…. I think as you grow older, you have different bonds, and my bond with my dad has become much stronger.”

An ardent Kajol fan, a part of the inspiration and influence to be an actor also came from watching a lot of the superstar’s movies. “There was no particular moment when I knew that I wanted to be in the profession. While growing up, I loved watching films, no matter what language they were in or genre they belonged to. I adored the idea of watching a movie and that motivated me to become an actor. Also, when I used to watch Kajol come alive on screen, I wanted to be like her, like every character she’s played.”

About her alternative career options she animatedly continues, “If not an actor…I would have been a waitress in New York! It’s always been my dream to work in a little cafe there….” With a little prodding from her manager, she adds, “I’d work in the cafe and make enough money to eventually own it one day. I love the Big Apple and would do anything to move to the city,” she finishes.

Excerpts from the interview….

“Because I spent time in New York, I was used to thinking in English. On my return I had to learn to think in Hindi because that is when you can improvise in a scene or take your character forward. When I came back from NYFA, I did a lot of workshops with Mukesh Chhabra (a casting and acting workshop director, and actor) because it is very different here. When I decided to join the industry and signed my first film, my parents were very happy and excited. They told me to work extremely hard and, more importantly, to go on the sets and enjoy what I do.”

“I will never forget my first day at work; it was extraordinary. It was very special because my parents were there. My mom gave the first clap and my dad was behind the camera. It was a surreal moment after which I remember going home and telling my parents that night that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I’d never been so happy and when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.”

“Growing up, I did not watch many of my dad’s films, because he did a lot of action movies initially and it was only later that he started doing comedy. I used to hate it when he would get beaten up on screen. A film of his that I love and can watch over and over again is Hera Pheri.”

“In the short time I have been in the industry I’ve learnt how to be confident. That is something you don’t learn from a book, it is something you experience and feel. My time here has made me surer of myself and more certain of who I am and what I want.”

“People think I’m really shy and quiet but I’m not. Once you get to know me, I’m quite crazy. You just need to connect with me really well because it takes a lot for me to open up to people.”

“After Hero, I’m starting to experiment a lot more with my personal style. I’m trying to express my personality through the way I dress and I think that’s really important. Boyfriend jeans and blazers are men’s trends that I love because I like that whole
boho-chic look.”

“My relationship with exercise and fitness is a love-hate one. Most days, I hate it more than I love it, but I know it’s an important part of the profession that I am in. So I manage to work out five days a week. I also take full advantage of and am proud of the fact that I can eat whatever I want.”

“I’m obsessed with TV shows. So whenever I have some leisure time, I’m always watching one. You can give me a show and I could watch a season in a day. I can never get bored of Friends and I love Grey’s Anatomy.”

“I don’t de-stress. If I’m not stressed, I stress about stressing, and I actually like that about myself. It keeps me going. But in general, I think one of the places I can relax in is the gym.”

“I’m looking forward to being on lots of different sets, absorbing everything like a sponge, and being happy with the work I’m doing.”

“I think you have to find perfection in your imperfection. It is extremely important to be true to — and to be — yourself. I don’t know what I want to achieve, but I know that I definitely want to achieve a lot.”

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