After winning two National Awards for her performance in films like Makdee and Iqbal, Shweta Basu Prasad went missing from the entertainment industry. The actress chose to stay away from the limelight and focus on studies. The actress is all set to make a comeback on TV with Balaji Telefilm’s historical saga Chandra Nandini. In an exclusive conversation with the TimesofIndia.com, Shweta opens up about her career, childhood, life and the infamous prostitution controversy.
Why did you stay away from Bollywood even after doing films like Iqbal and Makdee? How it feels to be back?
Yes, it is a come back but I was never out of work. I didn’t act out of choice and did come back also out of choice. I acted in films like Iqbal and Makdee as a child actor. I got offers from filmmakers like Rajkumar Santoshi and Madhur Bhandarkar after Iqbal but my parents prioritized my education. So, I did my graduation in journalism and plus 2 in Mumbai from R. N Poddar college Mumbai.
As a child actor I have done quality and big work. Acting has been my comfort level so I wanted to push that and go behind the camera. I made the documentary on Indian classical music which features A.R Rahman, Shivkumar Sharma, Gulzar Saab, Dr L Subramanium, Shubha Mudgal and etc. I produced and acted in a short film Interior-Cafe Night with Naseeruddin Shah and Shehnaz Patel. So yes it feels great to be back.
What did you do in all these years?
I worked with Phantom films as a script consultant for year and a half. I did contemplate if I should get back to acting or not because I was really enjoying my work behind the camera. Also the level of respect for technicians has really gone up when you get behind the camera. I have been resisting TV shows for the last 5-6 years because of my studies and documentary. But this year I got two offers, one is Chandra Nandini with Balaji and another is Badrinath Ki Dulhania (which has Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt) with Dharma productions. I think some years are like that when you get the right offers, you inner voice tells you that may be it’s the right time to get back to acting. So I quit my job at Phantom films. I think it takes a lot to quit your secure salary job because acting is the risk, it’s a freelance job. But that speaks volumes, that acting is my love and passion. I always wanted to be in front of the camera but I was waiting for the right project. I don’t think I would have got a better project to make a come back on TV because its grand and the story is unique.
Tell us something about your character of Princess Nandini?
Nandini as a character is not a miss goody two shoes, not a girl next door. She is fierce, bold and speaks her mind. She is actually challenging Chandragupta Maurya that she is going to destroy his kingdom. I really liked that boldness in that character. I have played twin sisters in Makdee, sign language in Iqbal and have done South films which itself was a challenge to learn different language altogether. But I have never done a historical or a costume drama.
Who wouldn’t want to dress up like a princess every morning? (laughs). I have done Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, 14 years ago. Though it was a small season after which it had a leap I have fond memories and it made good memories with audience as well. It was like home coming for me as I have worked with Balaji telefilms before. All these it made the perfect combination for a come back.
How has been your equation with Balaji head Ekta Kapoor?
Ekta has never been a buddy to me. I have known her as a kid she has been warm and welcoming. Even as a kid she was like hey kiddo what’s up. All these years I have meet her socially because we share common friends and circles. But this project came from the production house not her per se. When I tested, I was conveyed that she really liked by auditions and wanted me on this project. I do struggle or go for auditions like any other actors but I do have an upper hand because I have worked earlier. I have been an outsider who has grown up in this industry.
Are you in touch with any of your Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki actors?
How are you dealing with the tiresome working schedules of television?
Right now, I am quite enjoying it and by the end of the day it boils down to your work. As an actor you need to be satisfied, challenge yourself in meeting and facing those challenges and overcoming them. Television is always working on deadline unlike movies. You don’t have leisure of shooting, editing, post production but you have a deadline to meet. It doubles your energy as an actor to do the work fast in quantity and quality.
Are you getting trained for sword fighting and for learning chaste Hindi?
Yes, there has been informal training on sword fighting and horse riding. Horse riding is something I am acquainted with but sword fighting is new. Rajat being a veteran has been giving a tip on it which I find very encouraging and inspiring to learn from. Not formally trained as yet but in future if and when required I am really forward to it.
My Hindi is very good, as we speak Bengali and Hindi at home. Also I prefer reading my scripts in devnagri as it’s always good for an actor to read the language in which you are going to speak in. There are few nuances that you need to keep in mind but the writers are obviously taking care of it. These days I don’t say get me green tea. Humare liya green tea laya jaaye. I am really getting into the skin of the character (smiles).
Rajat has mastered in this genre. Is there any kind of competition to outshine each other?
When you have a good co star it’s not a competition but a complement. Rajat is a disciplined, punctual and a professional actor. Both of us have been former child actors and of same age. Although mine has been more sporadic because I have taken study break he has continued working, in that sense he is a senior. He is a veteran in the genre that I am working on now. He has done historical shows before and it’s inspiring to take tips from him. As far as competition is concerned the stakes are high for me because I am making a come back after so many years. I really want to put in my best foot forward and give the best performance.
How easy or difficult was it for you to warm up to him as he comes across as an arrogant person?
On screen it looks like we hate each other but off screen we share a good camaraderie. I love reading and he is a focused actor. But when it comes to encouraging and suggesting each other we are open and approachable. I think which is a good sign. I think he is articulate in the way he speaks and I just respect that. If he is a good actor, it just changes the environment and it rubs on you as well. I think it’s a compliment.
He is perceived as arrogant or amiable but that is not true. He is really a sweet person, there are times when Rajat, me and his wife Shrishti (Nayyar) sit together and laugh out loud on a joke. I think he just takes some time to open up. Shritishi and I get along very well and you know how girls bond differently. I think it was the 2nd or the third meeting that the ice breaking happened with Rajat. For me personally he never came across as an arrogant person. He is someone whose work is his foremost priority which I compltely respect.
You are doing a TV show and a film. How are you going to balance your work in both the mediums?
I did Makdee and Kahaani at that same time and people remember me for both the roles. For TV I don’t see a bigger project or production house than Balaji and for films it’s brilliant to make a come back with Dharma. I don’t think either of them out shine each other. They both are completely different characters. This is historical and that is set in contemporary.
I don’t think medium matters these days because web series and short films are on your phone. What do you call a bigger or a smaller screen? For me personally speaking, you associate your self with the right projects, right teams and the right people. As a record I have always done that whether it’s Makdee or Iqbal, I have always taken up the roles which are challenging. So for me that is the criteria not the medium. There are people who will keep doing movies for the heck of it. I might keep doing movies but will I get to play a warrior princess?
Do you watch Television?
The last television which I loved and really miss is Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai. I like historical shows and love reading books. I did watch Jodha Akbar to an extent and I loved Rajat and Paridhi Sharma as a pair, they were wonderful on the show. I am really glued on netflix these days but I do watch television on and off. One of the incentives for doing Chandra Nandini is because it’s historical and it was not like any other soap operas and my character has some substance.
How painful was that period for you when you made headlines for the wrong reasons? (Shweta Basu Prasad was in news when she was allegedly involved in the Hyderabad prostitution scandal)
Not at all! For me it was a crazy adventure if I look back at it. It was so futile and absolutely insignificant. Knowing Indian judiciary, verdicts takes years but I was given clean chit within weeks. That itself stands witness as how insignificant and small that incident was. Yes it was blown out of proportion because see I was a journalist, and I understand how important eye catching stories are. Honestly speaking if I was a journalist I would grab that story. I don’t think anybody went against me; you guys were doing your job. In fact you guys were the ones who presented my open letter to the media. Everybody knows that I got a clean chit and it was a misunderstanding. I think we all have one adventure to look back to, this was mine. I have a blessed life, a wonderful family, friends, and teams to work with; and it was my nazar ka kaala tikka.
I have the coolest parents ever when I meet child actors it breaks my heart because at times they really get exploited by their parents if they taste success. I have met child actors half my age and they have done 300 hundred ad films and 5 television shows. I feel so lucky that my parents even after two major successes of Iqbal and Makdee gave priority for studies. When I was doing documentary I was happily using dad’s money and invested their money in short films and they were cool with that. I was doing job they were fine with it and when I made a decision to come back they are fine with this. They treat me like an adult, as a kid they took decisions for me and now they allow me to take my decisions.
You are 25, are you dating anyone?
Yes I am, his name is Rohit Mittal. He is a film maker and I met him at Phantom films so it’s been two years and we are happy together.