Our November cover star Kiara Advani is fiesty, glamorous and stands up for herself against all odds
Great looks, talent and professionalism. Is it any wonder that Kiara Advani is the star of the hour?
Preeti, Preeti. It was late in 2019. Kabir Singh had been released and Kiara Advani had gone to a Delhi college to promote her new film, the crazy comedy, Good Newwz. “Girls, boys, everyone was chanting my character’s name from Kabir Singh. I knew then that something fundamental had changed,” she recalls. Very few female actors are remembered for the characters they play, from Simran to Poo to Geet. When they are, they become movie stars.
It hasn’t been easy for the 28-year-old. Along the way she’s done many things–faked an orgasm to the tune of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in Lust Stories (2018), farted uncontrollably in Good Newwz (2019) and drunk-danced like no one is watching in the forthcoming Indoo ki Jawani. With her clear-eyed authenticity and innate talent, Kiara is building a loyal audience which has come to expect honesty from her portrayals of a young urban Indian woman. She may be battling her own private demons as she does in this year’s Guilty but is also capable of standing up for herself against all odds, as she eventually does in Kabir Singh.
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It is this combination that has stood her in good stead as she has been through the swings and roundabouts of a movie career. Acting is in her DNA with the late Saeed Jaffrey being her grand uncle. With an aunt who was once Salman Khan’s girlfriend and Juhi Chawla a family friend, you could argue that the family was peripherally connected to Bollywood. But it was never enough to guarantee a break. She tested for The Student of the Year, which launched the career of her namesake Alia Bhatt (Alia is the name Kiara was born with) and for parts put out by Yash Raj Films. She got neither. Fugly, meant to showcase the talents of Anil Kapoor’s nephew Mohit Marwah, was her first film. The film didn’t make an impact. Neither did Kiara. “The phone didn’t ring,” she says, and it stayed that way for a year.
Kabir Sadanand, Fugly’s director, recalls her fondly. “We had been casting for Fugly for a while and had not really found what we were looking for,” he recalls. “Kunal Shah who was casting for us suggested we should meet Kiara. When Kiara walked in, a look was exchanged amongst my entire team! And then a text from them to me while I was sitting with her. She had the character brief down to a tee-from the exact to the effort taken to get the tone right. It was a given: she was “the one”,” he says. Kiara has since become family, he says, and it’s rare to find such super talent, looks and a heart that is genuine, cares and respects people. He still treasures the letter she wrote to him on the release of the film.
Her journey has been incrementally very successful. Playing Sakshi Dhoni in Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni (2016) and starring in Bharat Ane Nenu (2018) with Mahesh Babu in Telugu, she was building her showreel till the orgasm scene in Lust Stories in the episode directed by Karan Johar put her on the map. Then came a cameo in Kalank (2019) so she could dance with her icon Madhuri Dixit and finally Kabir Singh. Kiara Advani had arrived, albeit in a role that polarised audiences.
There were those who adored Preeti, and those who thought she epitomised the worst of what patriarchy expects from its women–docile acceptance of a man’s declaration that a woman is his “bandi” (a word that simultaneously means girl and captive). Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga cast her purely on instinct.
“There’s a certain innocence and honesty in her which was important for the character. Preeti was less words and more feeling. Her intensity was in what she felt and said through her expressions. That’s what Kiara brought to the role,” he says.
He believes Preeti’s character is relatable and real for the young women, because it’s a primal instinct for a girl to feel ‘protected’ with her lover. ”Every girl secretly wants to belong to a man, it’s a universal truth and this feeling of belonging is mutual. The surrender in a relationship and the angst therein was honest. The fierceness of Preeti was in her silence and tolerance. Her love was as mad as Kabir and yet diametrically opposite to his ways,” he adds. That’s what made the love story what it was for the young people.
And that’s what makes Kiara’s characters work. In Good Newwz, her Moni seems a happy go-lucky Delhi Punjabi, a loud velvet-clad twin to screen husband Diljit Dosanjh. Until she talks about her miscarriages to Kareena’s sympathetic Deepti, and you see the vulnerability. She had to tap into the same paradoxical sentiments for Guilty, to play the conflicted Nanki, in a sharp social comment on the #MeToo movement by Ruchi Narain.
Coming up for her next is Laxmii, Indoo ki Jawani, Shershaah and Bhool Bhulaiya 2. Abir Sengupta says he couldn’t have asked for a better actor to lead his first Hindi feature in Indoo ki Jawani: “She brings in a lot of positive energy, dedication and commitment towards the film.” Even for readings and discussions during pre-production, she was mostly early in office.”
A student of Cathedral School, Kiara never had a Plan B. It was movies or nothing. She graduated in media studies from Jai Hind College and started her auditions. Now that she is in a position to choose, Kiara knows she has to not merely work hard but to work smart. “How I navigate is the real test,” she says, sounding far more mature than her 28 years. What keeps her grounded is her family and friends from school. Ishita Advani, a lawyer, is a former schoolmate, cousin and yes, 4 am friend. They talk about anything and everything.
It gives Kiara the security to experiment, to not judge the characters she plays, and also to learn to separate. “When I was shooting for Kabir Singh, I was on another planet. It is hard to disconnect,” she says. With time, she is becoming more confident. “Nanki in Guilty was so inconsistent and incoherent but Atul Mongia, the acting coach, really helped me fully become her,” she says. For the first time in her short career, she didn’t need anyone’s validation. She was enough.
As she moves ahead, negotiating even more complex characters, such as the still unmarried Dimple, the love of Captain Vikram Batra’s life, in Shershaah or the judgemental, opinionated Ghaziabad girl in Indoo ki Jawani, she fills the growing gap in the film industry between good looks and great talent. Not everyone can pull off the spectacular silliness of the Burj Khalifa song in Laxmii as much as the raw rage of Nanki in Guilty.
Photographs: Taras Taraporvala; Styling: Samar Rajput; Art Direction: Pinky Akola; Hair: Amit Thakur; Make-Up: Lekha Gupta; Production: P Productions; Assisted By: Rupangi Grover, Bhavisha Singh (Styling); Artist coordination: Hypenq PR; Talent manager: Jubin Rajesh Desai, Viniyard Films