Aditi Rao Hydari has had enough. There is consternation inking the soulful reservoirs of her eyes, a fatigue born from being cradled as a fragile flower that will wilt at the slightest touch. “I assure you, I will be the one saving you in a storm,” she says crisply. Standing proud at 5’ 5”, the actor bristles with a vibrant virtuosity that she pours into her roles. She is the tragic Anarkali caged within a doomed love story in Taj: Divided by Blood, who can flip the doe-eyed ingénue on a dime to leap into the temerity required of Sumitra Kumari in Jubilee. Soon, she will be assuming her place among three generations of courtesans in Heeramandi.
Her eyes light up as she considers the latter. “Whether you are an actor or a viewer, it is a privilege to be a part of a world created by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Every day is a challenge, but it is a challenge filled with love, beauty and passion that is truly infectious.” It is this devotion to her craft visibly thrumming through her voice, coupled with her other-worldly looks, that perhaps makes directors gravitate towards her as the linchpin of elaborate period pieces.
“It isn’t easy inhabiting a world from a bygone era, but my biggest learning has been to steer clear of posturing—just because a movie is based in another era, people don’t start talking in slow motion or standing in a particular way. When your grandmother tells you a story about Aphrodite, you may not know of the deity, but there is so much nuance in her storytelling that you are whisked away into her world. My job as an actor is as simple as that,” she surmises.
It has been over a decade since she first set her sights on Bollywood with Delhi 6 in 2009, but Rao Hydari has found ways of keeping her child-like curiosity alive. “Every single time I walk onto a set, I am absorbing, inhabiting different worlds, trusting the people around me and surrendering to their vision while trying to keep that innocence alive,” she affirms. However, the passage of time has emboldened her to defy the tides of showbiz when she needs to. “When I first started my journey with Yeh Saali Zindagi in 2011, there was always pressure on me to walk into meetings with a full face of makeup and wear heels to fit into a factory prototype of glamour,” she rues.
Today, she is comfortable walking on the set in sneakers or skipping the all-essential airport look if she wants to. Her chosen sartorial insignia boasts of enviable ease, one that allows her to “look like I woke up like this, even if I am wearing couture.” Hers has been a hard-earned confidence over a laborious period of time, but as an icy downpour lashes the windows around our conversation, it is clear that there is no place Rao Hydari would rather be than where she is right now—showing up authentically as who she is. Except perhaps under a cosy razai, munching on popcorn and succumbing her senses to the heart-stirring ravages of a good romantic drama.
ELLE India Editor: Ainee Nizami Ahmedi Photographer: Prasad Naik Hair & Makeup: Mitesh Rajani Fashion Stylist: Sukriti Grover Bookings Editor: Aliza Fatma Brand Coordinator: Padmashree Saraf Cover Design: Xunayana Buragohain Words: Hasina Jeelani Assisted by: Vani Gupta, Jivika Setpal and Mahek Gada (styling) Production: CutLoose Productions Artist Reputation Management: Raindrop Media