The actor speaks about portraying Mrinalini’s character on-screen, working in Hindi, career choices and more
After a great 2021 in which Regina Cassandra got rave reviews for many of her Tamil films — such as Kasada Thapara, Nenjam Marappathillai and Mughizh — the actor is now set to make her web-series debut with upcoming SonyLIV Hindi-language drama Rocket Boys.
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Following the intertwined lives of nuclear physicists Dr Homi J Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) and Dr Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh) as they spearhead the conception of the Indian Space Programme, the biopic-drama features Regina as the legendary danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai, who was also Vikram’s wife.
A recipient of both the Padma Shri as well as the Padma Bhushan, Mrinalini’s contribution to art is still evident at the prestigious Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, a place Regina claims she still “felt Mrinalini’s presence in” when she visited the establishment in Ahmedabad.
Excerpts from an interview:
This is your first web-series and it’s in Hindi, a language audiences aren’t accustomed to seeing you in. How comfortable were you during the shooting?
I should actually thank my mother for this, as she was the one who pushed me to take up Hindi as my second language in school and college. She made sure that I learnt the language, and look, it has paid off all these years later!
However, I haven’t really conversed much with anyone around me in Hindi, so during the show, my southern accent would creep in; I’d pronounce khaana as kaana and so on (laughs). I was quite finicky about getting the diction right, so that took a little bit of work.
Did you have an idea of Mrinalini Sarabhai’s career as a dancer and her marriage with Vikram before the role, or did it involve a lot of research?
The thing is that Mrinalini wasn’t just any classical dancer; she was a legendary proponent of Bharatanatyam who used her fame to spread awareness on so many relevant issues, back in the pre and post-Independence era.
She initiated conversations on what was happening in the country nationally and internationally, made it respectable for people to be dancers, and embedded them into our cultural zeitgeist.
When I visited her academy in Ahmedabad, I could feel her legacy still shining through, which her daughter Mallika has taken forward admirably.
All of us had a pretty good understanding of these characters’ backgrounds; how Mrinalini played a very pivotal role in Vikram’s achievements, the ups and downs of their complicated marriage, and how she handled them. All of them were also public figures with political connections, which meant they really had to work on balancing their careers with their personal lives… there’s actually a lot to learn from them.
Acting in a show, as opposed to a feature film, gives you time to really get into the skin of a character, especially when it’s based on a real person. But what were the challenges?
It wasn’t just about portraying how she looks, but also understanding who she was as a person. That meant going down to the nitty-gritty aspects like knowing her favourite song, or which God she paid tribute to through her performances.
Regina makes her web-series debut with the upcoming SonyLIV drama
We figured out the kind of jewellery she liked to wear, and that she loved wearing green outfits and sarees… so you see me in a lot of green sarees. Most of all, I had to perform like a seasoned dancer; someone who’s taught so many other professionals and made their careers. Representing that on screen took some doing.
Do you feel that the supporting cast has been given adequate importance too?
I do believe that the writers have done a fabulous job of doing all the characters justice. When we went to shoot, there was a lot of time spent talking about the scenes with Abhay Pannu (director) and figuring out the chemistry between Vikram and Mrinalini. Before they became such pioneers, the two were just young kids falling in love and caught up in a beautiful romance. Being able to bring in those aspects was really enjoyable for me as an actor.
My team deserves a lot of credit for getting me this fantastic role, and I also have to thank Nikkhil Advani and Siddharth Roy Kapur for trusting me with it.
You have quite a diverse line-up of upcoming titles, the stand-out of which is Soorpanagai, in which you play an archaeologist. Considering you are a major fan of adventure sport, was the role easy for you?
Not really (smiles) Maybe if it were a sports drama, then it would really be in my comfort zone. I just want to keep doing different work; the times that we are in, nobody can complain about shortage of work as there’s something for everyone.
Recently, your ad for a liquor brand was the subject of much debate online. What was your takeaway from that incident?
It’s not like I’m asking everyone to go drink with a gun to their head. All I did was support a brand, something which any entrepreneur would do. I don’t think there was anything wrong in it at all.
Rocket Boys will premiere on SonyLIV from February 4, 2022