You cannot understand acting without being empathetic – Meher Vij
The very graceful Meher Vij made her acting debut with the Bollywood film Lucky: No Time for Love in 2005. Since then the actor who has been part of several Hindi movies, TV serials and Punjabi films has mastered the art of balance. Instead of doing anything and everything, Meher has patiently waited for substantial roles like Munni’s mother in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Bani’s character in the Punjabi film Ardaas. In an exclusive conversation with Pandolin, the actor talks about doing only realistic roles, foreseeing a change in Punjabi cinema in the coming years and turning producer for a Punjabi film.
Did you always want to be an actor?
I’m from Delhi and since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be an actor. It is mainly because of my mother who wanted me to become an actor. She told me a few things when I was just 13-14 years old, which have been the most important and valuable words for me in becoming an actor. She told me, “When you get into a character, just think that you are that character”. It was as simple as that.
Tell us about your tryst with Bollywood and how did it all start?
I started with a film called Lucky: No Time for Love that starred Salman Khan and Sneha Ullal. I was almost a kid then. After Lucky, I took a break and did a Balaji show called Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil. Then I got married and again took a break. After a while I did Ram Milaayi Jodi where I played the main negative. Then again I took a break for two years which was followed by Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Bhajrangi Bhaijaan happens to be one of your most important projects. How did it happen?
I randomly got a call from Mukesh Chabra Casting Company saying that they wanted to audition me. I went for the audition and after a week, they told me that I was locked for the role. I was really happy. When I met Kabir (Khan) sir, I told him that I’d really wanted to work with him and it has been very blissful for me. It was such a nice experience to be part of the film.
What kind of a response did you get for your role in the film?
The best compliment that I got was that we couldn’t have felt the pain for the daughter had it not been for the mother. The reason we felt the pain was because the mother was so convincingly good. That’s why the entire track of the girl became so justified. And that means a lot to me.
Did Bajrangi Bhaijaan open more doors for you in Bollywood?
Yes, it did. Bajrangi has changed a lot for me. I’m doing more films now. It has opened bigger and substantial roles for me. Moreover, even I’d never wanted to play just any random role.
You have dabbled in TV and Bollywood and now ventured into Pollywood too. How and why did you choose to make this jump?
I wanted to do films. Well, basically it is not even about films. I wanted to do roles where I could do something. I kept taking a break from TV because I couldn’t really do much there as saas bahu shows were the only thing happening. Also, I feel that if your role is good, then you would enjoy it no matter what the medium is. I was not getting the kind of roles that I wanted, which is why I took so many breaks in between. When I got Bajrangi Bhaijaan I realized that this is the kind of role that I want to do. Normally, if someone has played a mother, people often make an image in their mind that they can’t cast her in any other role. But I didn’t care about that. I won’t mind playing a mother, a bhabhi or any other role if it has some kind of meat in it.
What was it about the mother’s role in Bajrangi Bhaijaan that made you connect with it?
It was about the pain. I’m a very empathetic person. And I think that without being empathetic you can’t understand acting. You need to be empathetic by nature to feel the pain of the character that you are playing. For this role, I felt the pain that was needed to justify the role. I felt that I could express and justify the emotional side of a mother.
How would you describe yourself as an actor? Do you follow method acting?
I didn’t think of any past experiences while playing the role (in Bajrangi Bhaijaan). I lost my mom to cancer, so that could be one of the reasons behind it but I didn’t do it knowingly. I just went with the flow. I’m not a mechanical actor. I cannot prepare for the scene before going to the set. It has to be spontaneous. In my case, it is more of improvisation and natural flow. I can’t plan things – neither in my life and nor while acting.
Coming to Pollywood, you have acted in only two Punjabi films so far – Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar (2014) and the recently released Ardaas. Are you selective about the scripts?
I have been offered a lot of roles but I didn’t find anything exciting. I need to be convinced (about the role) otherwise I can’t do it. Manjeet Maan’s Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar is very close my heart because of Maan Sahab (Gurdas Maan, singer-actor). Secondly, I was acting opposite my husband Manav (Vij), which was a big thing for me.
And Ardaas’s script was amazing. It was written and portrayed so beautifully. I always had this intuition that it will touch the audience’s heart. Something that touches people’s hearts makes your role stay there. And I know that my character Bani would have stayed in their hearts.
So be it Pollywood or Bollywood, is it always the role that makes you say yes to any film?
Absolutely! It is the role as well as my equation with the director. Also what exactly is the story and the crux of the film. See, a film like Ardaas said that one can live life positively. And I just liked the idea of it. Same was the case with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which is such an emotional story where Salman Khan’s character brings the little girl back to Pakistan, out of sheer love.
How different is the experience of acting in Punjabi films as compared to Hindi films?
I’ve loved every minute of working in Bajrangi Bhaijaan because it was a massive platform. But the kind of welcoming nature that one gets while working in Punjabi cinema – from the leading actors to the technicians, production guys – it’s full of warmth. I did not feel like a stranger with them as the comfort level was so good. I was amazed as I wasn’t expecting this from a Punjabi film. But I was happy at the same time because when you enter a set that has so much positivity around, you already know that the film is going to do well. I can’t really compare both the industries.
Is there something that you, as an actor, would like to change in Pollywood?
We can be more precise about what we want. We can be well prepared for what we are shooting. We can do group meetings where one can understand the vibe of the actor. There can be more concentration on the kind script that we are working on. Probably just that much and nothing else.
Do you think that Punjabi cinema doesn’t give much opportunity to female actors as it is dominated by singer turned actors?
I got a compliment from Gippy (Grewal, Ardaas’s Director) sir saying that I carried the film on my shoulders. He appreciated me being there. So I think that the times have changed. Punjabi cinema is evolving. In the next five years, we’ll see it on a different level. There will be more women-oriented films. Recently Neeru Bajwa’s Channo: Kamli Yaar Di, where she played the protagonist, did really well. Slowly more such films will be made in Punjabi cinema.
You started your career with television. Since TV has started experimenting with its subjects, would you be open to coming back to serials? If yes, what kind of shows would you like to be part of?
I will be interested, provided the role is good. I want to do realistic roles where one doesn’t have to dress up and sleep or where I don’t have to rudely talk to someone, which mostly happens in serials but never in real life. We don’t behave like a naagin in real life. Be it the role of a housewife, or office going person or a psycho, it has to be real.
A lot of Bollywood actresses are turning producers. Would you like to do something similar for a Punjabi film?
I would love to. I just wanted someone to ask me this question! That’s why I mentioned that in the next five years, there will be some change in Punjabi cinema. I do see myself producing something. Of course, the change won’t happen just because of me since I’ll be a small part of it. But on any given day, I’ll support content-based films. There are so many stories in the villages of Punjab. I want us to show what women go through. I want to produce films that have storylines like the film Ik Chadar Maili Si. You never know, we might take a Punjabi film to the Oscars one day (smiles).
What are your upcoming projects?
I’m doing two Bollywood films including Tum Bin 2.