HER glass is full to the brim. As Mona Singh clocks 20 years in the industry, she has much to raise a toast to. If ‘Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin’ made her a household name, ‘Made in Heaven Season 2’ has catapulted her to the seventh heaven. From Jassi to Bulbul, it may have been a roller-coaster journey, but the indefatigable Punjaban only remembers the highs in what she calls a “beautiful self-discovery”. With her “social media on fire” since ‘MIH2’ dropped, Mona is exulting in all the love coming her way.
Influence of art
As actors, we can only contribute through our art and impress upon the kind of message we want to put out in society so that it influences people in a good way. If you look at ‘Kafas’ or ‘Made in Heaven’, the shows touch upon all the sensitive subjects. Mona Singh, actor
Naysayers might wonder if ageism led to the 40-year-old actress playing mother to a much older superstar, Aamir Khan, in ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, but she is mighty proud of her choice as well as the film. “Indeed, ageism does exist and actors have spoken about their ordeals. But I took it as a challenge to play the complete arc of this character — from a young mother to an old one, while her son is ageing too. If I am looking myself and my age, how am I challenging myself as an actor?” she asks.
The role is even more special for this actor, for she got to speak in her mother-tongue, Punjabi, on screen. Incidentally, working in Punjabi cinema is on her wish-list. So is much else, like being part of projects by Raj and DK and even Rajkumar Hirani, who directed her in ‘3 Idiots’. Mona says big banners mean that the reach of the film widens, which is why no role is small or big for her. “In ‘3 Idiots’, I mostly feature in the climax. So, whether it is two killer scenes or 10, what value am I bringing to the table is what matters to me,” she says.
Picky about the projects she wants to be a part of, when Mona reads the script, she asks herself: “Is this a character I have never done? Is the story really exciting?” Indeed, OTT has spoilt her with the vast array of choices that it offers. However, she does not look down upon television, the medium that “made me who I am”.
Daughter of an Army officer, the family moved places often. But after junior school and graduation from Pune, where she lived for 10 years, she would commute to Mumbai for auditions. If watching Juhi Chawla and Kajol’s films firmed up the desire to be like them, Tony and Deeya Singh’s show ‘Banegi Apni Baat’ manifested yet another dream, “I want to work with these makers.” Presto, ‘Jassi’ happened. Today, she is a tad sceptical about the content veering toward the regressive on television, but does not undermine its reach. “All the big superstars choose television to promote their movies,” asserts Mona.
Her film career may have been a bit of a late start, but, she insists, “I was not focusing upon movies per se, only seeking content-driven projects.” On OTT, the medium where makers are telling “the kind of stories which would otherwise not see the light of the day”, she is open to unorthodox roles. Nudity and profanity too are fine, but with a rider, “If it’s changing the narrative of the show.”
Unconventional parts have always been her wont. Back in time, she took a big risk when she said ‘yes’ to playing Jassi. “Nobody was willing to look like her on screen or in real life, for that matter.” But, be it plain Jane Jassi or chirpy Bulbul or an inspirational mom, she manages to shine. How does she make an emotional connect each time? She answers, “I take every role very personally. I feel that if the makers have put their faith in me, I must give it my 200 per cent.” As for holding her own among the bevy of talented actors, including Mr Perfectionist Aamir Khan and Vijay Raaz, there is indeed much to learn from co-actors. Shares Mona, “Acting is action and reaction. Their reaction, how they add something impromptu or bring in a new element, changes everything. It keeps you on the edge and you have to keep you ears and eyes open.” And she is like a sponge soaking it all.
In the beginning of her career, Mona might have faced rejections as she hopped from one audition to another, but today, when casting has become a more professional enterprise, she is more than okay with the audition process. “The best of Hollywood actors do it all the time,” she says.
Shooting round the clock for a clutch of web shows, she will soon be seen in Netflix survival thriller ‘Kaala Paani’, which also stars renowned filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker. “Working with him has been fabulous. I would keep teasing him: ‘Sir, aap kisi scene mein action mat bol dena’,” she laughs. Do we see her in any of his films? She winks, “Let’s put out a subtle message to him through this interview.”
Mona’s tingling sense of humour is as alive as her deep understanding of her craft and the complexity of the parts she plays. Thus, her web show ‘Kafas’ might be seen as one that explores sexual harassment in the entertainment world. She, however, views it “as a conversation starter around sexual assault and mental health”.
Clearly, behind her chilled out, boisterous and vocal persona lurks an intelligent actor who knows much more than just how to reinvent the wheel.
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