I am waiting – along with the team – for our April cover star in the studio in Lower Parel, her first film as a lead actress is the topic of discussion, and considering that her character has three distinct phases, we have no idea who to expect. When she strolls in, remarkably on time for those of us used to Bollywood’s regard for call-times, we’re pleasantly surprised by the no-frills sylph clad in denim shorts and shod in sneakers. And then Aditi proceeds to request a plate of boiled eggs, whites only.
In all fairness, she does disclose that she is on a rigid diet in preparation for a shoot that she can’t talk about. Our valiant attempts to guess what that is only prompt a Cheshire grin. Having lost her father just the previous day, we would have understood if she had chosen not to engage in conversation, but the pretty pixie settles into her make-up chair and has an easy dialogue with photographer, make-up artist and intern alike.
As Tanya works on her face, it is clear that Aditi needs very little foundation – her skin is just translucent and luminous – hackneyed words, but so true here. She knows how to make the best of it too, slipping discreet coloured lenses over her eyes, just to enhance the natural brown, not to mask it. From her wispy curls to her delicately manicured nails, she exudes demure femininity and from her bearing and gesticulations, you know it isn’t just skin deep.
She hasn’t had the typical career trajectory we have come to expect from our heroines these days. No pageant win and certainly no fashion week circuit. Trained as a dancer, Aditi was well on the way to being a fixture on the Bharatanatyam circuit, set to sojourn in London, when she received a film offer. A natural-born performer, she jumped in feet-first and hasn’t looked back since.
“I feel I still struggle….”
Having previously worked only in dance-oriented South Indian films, Aditi was cast in a small but memorable role as Rajjo in Delhi-6. The film was the beginning of a huge life change. She says, “I was very serious about dancing professionally in Delhi but once I did Delhi-6, I figured that unless you’re in Mumbai and people meet you for who you are and don’t just see an audition of yours, you are not going to get the work that you deserve or hope to deserve. I landed in Mumbai and was very overwhelmed by the city at first – it was frightening for me because I had just moved from a very protected space. I grew up surrounded by lots of aunts and uncles and friends and suddenly I was in a city where I knew nobody. I think you attract the right people and I am blessed that way. I love Mumbai, I love the energy, the people, the fact that it is so accepting. It’s still tough though. For somebody who doesn’t really have relatives in the industry, who doesn’t really know people in the industry, I feel I still struggle.”
“I wouldn’t slap somebody….”
Having played distinctly different characters, whether as a lead character or in a supporting role, it’s difficult to find the real Aditi by watching her films. Of this she says, “However different a character is from you, you need to put a little bit of yourself in, otherwise it doesn’t fit naturally. Shanti from Yeh Saali Zindagi is nothing like me – I wouldn’t slap somebody if I was angry and I certainly wouldn’t abuse them. In London Paris New York, Lalitha went through phases that I never went through – I never had to rebel to prove a point.”
Who then would be the nearest approximation of her, I ponder. “The closest in terms of my inherent nature might be Roshni in Murder 3 – she is delicate and feminine, and will do anything for this man whom she loves, and I’m very much like that. If I believe in something, I will do as much as I can, but I really have to believe and I don’t settle for something if it’s wrong. I don’t like to be taken for granted, and I think mutual respect is important. Unlike Roshni though, I wouldn’t pry into someone’s life, I wouldn’t even be in a relationship in which I felt the need to pry. So Roshni minus the trust issues would be most like me,” says Aditi.
“I’m quite stubborn….”
Speaking of rebellion she says, “I’ve never needed to be rebellious. I’m quite stubborn; if I want to do something I will do it. I went to a school where you had a lot of freedom and didn’t really need to rebel. We used to do silly, sweet things, but nothing really outrageous. I remember feeling ravenous before my geography exam and my house parent was out of town. I was always the one sent to the dining hall to ask for extra food because the staff indulged me. I went and got raw rice, tomatoes and eggs, making up ridiculous stories about why I needed them. I don’t know what that dining hall manager was up to, because he gave them all to me. I brought these back to the house, we all went into my house parent’s room and made egg fried rice. We had no idea what we were doing and managed to clog up the drain. We stayed up all night unclogging it and we attended our ICSE Geography exam with lots of fried rice in our stomachs but not having studied one bit. We would sneak out at night to the lake, not to meet boys, but to chill out and eat.”
“Fear doesn’t last….”
When she was around 11, Aditi moved to J Krishnamurti’s Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh and she speaks of the experience in glowing terms. “My mother told me to try it for a month and that she would bring me back if I didn’t like it. I think that’s what made me go there – I was a big mamma’s chipku. I was happy there – it was a lovely place. You had the freedom to do anything you wanted to, but at the same time it taught you to be disciplined for yourself, not for somebody else. Not to be disciplined out of fear, but because it will help you. That’s very nice because that’s what lasts – fear doesn’t last,” says Aditi.
If she hadn’t been so enamoured of dance, life would have been very different for Aditi. “I was hell-bent on being a doctor till I realised that if I became a doctor I would never be able to even go to a dance concert. As an actor you can do anything in the arts, as a doctor you are wholly involved in your work. Once I decided that, I wasn’t terribly interested in studies. I was at Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi, studying sociology but I was always travelling for dance so I was never actually in class. I did get good grades though – the years I didn’t study I came first or second and so in the third year I applied myself and studied hard and then I didn’t even get a rank,” she exclaims. Though education is important in her family, both maternal and paternal factions feature eminent educationists on the rolls, free-spirited Aditi never collected her graduation certificate from college.
Aditi attributes her mother, a classical musician herself, for her individualistic demeanour. “My mother is a very gentle soul – she never raised her voice or her hand and a gentle rebuke was all it ever took to set me straight. She never tried to control me but let me make my own choices,” she says.
“I was a complete nautanki….”
“I grew very fast so I was one of the tallest girls in class eight and then I just stopped growing. For a while I wanted to be a model, but then I stayed petite. I always had this little heroine-type keeda in me. Not that I used to say it out loud, but I loved it when other people said it. They would say ‘you should be an actress, you should be a model’ and I would make all the correctly demure responses but actually I was dying to be one! It was very obvious, even though I tried to be cool about it – I was a complete nautanki,” says Aditi.
Refreshingly, her mother wasn’t an overbearing stage mother. “We didn’t have a TV at home so I would watch Hindi movies only at my neighbour’s house. I remember watching Amar Akbar Anthony and being blown away. My grandmother found me one day, singing and dancing to some cheap number while my mother was performing her riyaaz in the next room. She was horrified and scolded me. My mother heard the commotion and came running, she started laughing because I was dressed in some ghagra and a parandi. Once she confirmed that I wasn’t really singing or dancing badly, she just let me be,” she says.
“I was obsessed with Bharatanatyam….”
Aditi has always been passionate about her dance, holding on tenaciously till she was allowed to learn. She recounts, “When I was four, I told my mother I wanted to start dancing. It was my choice – I wasn’t forced to go to class. My dance teacher took one look at me and told my mother I was too tiny to be taught, so my mother decided to take me back only when I was older. But I was obsessed and instead of going out to play, I would make my nanny take me to the Bharatanatyam class and I would sit there and just watch. I did that for a month and would sometimes sing along with the teacher, so she finally called my mother and that’s how I started dancing. I was the youngest in my class.”
As she talks about dance further, her voice thrums with the deep respect she has for the art. She says, “I don’t do it every day – I do pick up my book and do some abhinay occasionally, to cheer myself up. I go once a year to Chennai to visit my guru Leela Samson and work with her. A lot of people ask why I don’t dance professionally. Because you need to be doing it every day. When I decided I wanted to be an actor I decided I would do it every day. I can’t sit in Delhi and do it sometimes. For a performing art you have to be there fully, mind, body, soul. That’s when you also feel happy. Dance and music will never be separated from me because they are literally life forces and I’ve grown up with them. Now I realise how much they help with my acting.”
“I don’t talk about my relationships….”
Cool and collected, Aditi has never been romantically linked with her co-stars or made a spectacle of her actions. Until recently, she has been reticent about her relationship with her father and her sometime marriage. A week before we were to meet, a prominent Mumbai newspaper featured her at her most candid. We found her a tad more close-lipped though. “I don’t want to talk about my relationships. I have not talked about these things for a reason. I feel our interviews should be about work because once you get into personal stuff it never ends for me. Relationships of any kind, whether they’re with parents, grandparents or boyfriends, are sacrosanct. I’ve never spoken about my father. I thought this once I’ll put it out there, in the newspaper, so everybody knows and that’s it. I don’t mind speculation. People can speculate till they go grey. My God, the kind of stories there are about me on Wikipedia – somebody is my grandfather, somebody is my grand uncle. Where they get all this information from, only God knows. I haven’t said it.”
“I’ve been all over the place….”
With a tough few weeks just passed by, she looks in sore need of relaxation. “Just the fact that I can get a day off is a big thing for me. This last year has been non-stop with work, my father being ill, my mother’s been travelling a lot. I’ve been all over the place. It’s the first year that I’ve been this busy. I love yoga so at any given point you’ll see me stretching. Pictionary, Taboo, music, reading. A trip to my family home in Kihim, near Alibaug, with friends and family and cousins is most fun. Good food, face packs, massages,” Aditi says, of her favourite ways to relax.
Family and friends keep her head proportional to the rest of her body. She says, “I just like hanging out with my friends. I value my time with them. They’re not from the industry so they keep me very grounded. My youngest uncle was in town recently and he never watches Hindi movies, so when he called me and said he wanted to watch Murder 3, I called my friends and asked them to join us. I was faced with a universal ‘Are you mad?!’ I had to emotionally blackmail them into watching a movie I was starring in!”
“I’m growing to like fashion….”
For Aditi, playing dress-up started early on. She says, “As a child I was always fascinated by saris and ghagra-cholis and my grandmother’s cupboard was the most fascinating for me. She wasn’t terribly into clothes and jewellery, but she was lucky enough to possess the best of everything so I would pull it all out and drape myself in jewels. Her sister even made me a tiny pre-stitched sari, years before they became popular, that I loved to prance around in.”
Aditi has lately been seen in a mix of Gaurav Gupta, Anju Modi, Rohit Bal, Gauri & Nainika, AM:PM and Payal Singhal, earning rare positive reviews from Indian celebrity bloggers. In a town where it’s normal for just about anybody to have a personal stylist, Aditi, shockingly, has none. “My manager Rajit Kumra and I met a lot of designers for the last round of promotions. When people send me stuff, it often doesn’t fit me, so I pick my own looks, but I have a lot of help. I used to find fashion overwhelming earlier, but now I’m growing to like it. I don’t like to be boxed in so I may wear super-short dresses or floor-length anarkalis, but it needs to have a touch of the delicate to work for me.”