She’s that girl who acted in Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries). Yes the one who talks into the camera at the very start of the film. She’s the one that first-time director Kiran Rao discovered and mentored through a film that had the great Aamir Khan (Kiran’s husband) in it. Her first film with Aamir Khan, lucky girl! Kriti Malhotra has been a wardrobe designer on some big Bollywood films, she makes her own red carpet gowns sometimes and would like to be the female Abhay Deol someday! She pretty much speaks her mind (when she’s allowed to!) and has a crush on Salman Khan but she doesn’t know exactly why. Her next film is Peddlers. If you don’t know much about her but would like to find out, then Sailesh Ghelani has just the interview for you (this is her first official sit-down interview, you know).
What have you been upto?
I’m wardrobe supervisor on Special Chabbis directed by Neeraj Pandey (A Wednesday) and starring Akshay Kumar. We’ve been in Delhi and Chandigarh for about a month.
You do wardrobe supervision and make-up and act…
I studied fashion in college. Wardrobe supervision and styling are still my day jobs because I’ve only done two films, the second one is yet to come out (Peddlers) and Dhobi Ghat took three years in the making. So I was still styling. And I wasn’t sure about acting while the process was on and even with the release of Dhobi Ghat I was unsure about myself. Even with Peddlers I took it upon myself to see if I could pull off the whole thing. Dhobi Ghat was a very sheltered environment and it was just me in the scenes with long monologues.
Is it easier working with an actor in a scene or did you prefer it being just you and the camera like in Dhobi Ghat?
It was easier doing stuff by myself actually (Laughs). You’re in control of everything. On the first few days of Peddlers I was shooting with three other actors and I had to wait for cues and if someone forgot a cue then we all had to do it again. And there was a lot of improv on this set; we just knew what the basic scene needed to convey. So how do you take a scene further if someone has forgotten his or her cue? I found that really difficult initially. As the days went by I think I got my groove.
Umm… Peddlers was improv, are you kidding me?
The script was there but it wasn’t complete dialogue. The other actors like Gulshan (Devaiah) and Siddharth (Mennon) have a theatre background so for them it was home ground. For me, I guess it was an opportunity to learn more about the art and put alot of myself in the character too.
I heard that you were very particular about how your clothes fit and you were constantly on the dress man’s case. Any comments?
(Giggles) I wouldn’t have to do that if the clothes actually fit properly. But I am from a costume background and I am a wardrobe designer and it is my job to see that things fit properly.
I’m sure there are plenty of actors who have problems with costume and you being a wardrobe supervisor as well, you should know…
There are some actors who complain really too much about wardrobe. My job is to take costume continuity stills so the look stays the same from one shot to the next. And I’ve asked actors if I can take a photo and they’ll be like “Haha, you wish!” And I think to myself, ‘It’s not really my hobby to take pictures of you, it’s my job’. And they wouldn’t stand still for one picture and I can’t use a flash. And the next day when we shoot continuity they expect the most amazing shots. That I really don’t get about some actors. Don’t expect me to name them, but you can figure who it is from the films I’ve worked on.
You got to work on your first film with Aamir Khan. Did you do a lot of mannats (prayers for wish fulfillment)?
I still maintain that I got conned into the film. Now, the only time I was nervous was when I met him. I was supposed to do readings and I naively thought that we would all meet and Kiran (Rao, the director and Aamir’s wife) would read out the script. Little did I know that I would have to read out my part. Because I don’t know too many actors or theatre people. I went to their house for the reading. The first half Kiran read out the script and the second half I had to read my part. The film starts with my scene and Aamir was sitting across from me listening to the reading. I really thought that they’d hear my heart beating louder than my voice! Aamir is very intense and he doesn’t look at you, he looks through you into your soul. You can feel him observing every single breath of yours. I didn’t have the guts to look up while reading. I looked up for a reaction and Aamir says, “Where are you from?” And I’m like, ‘What sort of reaction is that’. I told him I was a Punjabi from Pune. And he said, “You can pass off as a North Indian.”
How is Aamir Khan to work with?
Whatever you heard of Aamir about ghost directing, he really did take into account our inputs and put them into action. But then maybe that’s because it was his wife’s film so he let her do more.
Have you done any acting workshops?
I never thought I’d act. I have stage fright. The first time Gulshan (Devaiah, her co-star in Peddlers) met me he called me a ‘reluctant actor’. I like that.
One of your friends who I know says that you are the female equivalent of Abhay Deol. Do you agree or is it a ‘no way’?
I say, ‘I wish’. Potentially in three years maybe. I know I’m not going to sell my soul and do random films. I waited eight months after Dhobi Ghat released.
You didn’t take advantage of that film…?
I think everyone around me told me to sign up with an agent and a PR and cash in on all the hype around Dhobi Ghat. I know Monica (Dogra) did that. She hired PRs two months before the release and she’s probably at a better place right now. I needed to convince myself that I wanted to be in this line. After that I was a bit lazy too. So it’s been films as an actor and then as a wardrobe designer.
Would you want to do just one of the two?
Why should I choose one when I can do both?
True. Did things change for you at all after Dhobi Ghat?
You know what’s strange is that no one recognised me.
Did you want people to recognise you?
No, I was happy.
Probably made you feel a tad disappointed though…
It was strange because there were eight screenings at Yash Raj Studios, people got out of the screening and they didn’t recognise me. I know a lot of people say it was a good thing but I don’t know… I didn’t look that different. But people said I was versatile and could pull off different looks. But I just thought that there should be some connect. I shouldn’t have to convince people that I have acted in this film and I am that girl in the picture.
How did you get Peddlers then?
The director of Peddlers hadn’t seen Dhobi Ghat before he met me but the casting guy had. When I heard the narration I was like ‘wow’ this is the kind of character I would want to play. People had told me not to run after lead roles but this one was a lead and a niche film so it was super exciting. I totally love this new wave of films, filmmakers and filmmaking. I feel like the passion of cinema has been revived! Today, you get to meet people who really have given their heart and soul and literally ALL their time into a project they believe in. I saw it with this team and immediately wanted to get associated with the film.
How is actor Gulshan Devaiah (click for Gulshan’s interview) to work with?
I was in awe because I had seen some of his films. We have parallel tracks in Peddlers. My first day of shoot and last day of shoot were with Gulshan. At one point I thought that was good so I wouldn’t have to try and match his level. But on the other hand I wanted more scenes with him so I could observe and learn. He’s so fun to be around. We were just talking about scenes where you have to cry and he taught me how to do that with breathing techniques. I’m like, this guy is just awesome. I wish we had more scenes together.
Gulshan can be very intense…
Yes. Towards the end of the film I was a bit scared doing the last scene with him because he has a reputation of taking his action scenes very seriously (he broke someone’s arm by accident on the film). He plays a narcotics cop in this film. He stops the car I’m in and is supposed to take me out of it. But he said he wouldn’t tell me what he was going to do exactly, and I’m really fragile so I was a bit fearful. Then he pulls me out by my neck and I thought I would die by the end of the shoot. But the way that scene has worked it is amazing. I think his look is absolutely menacing but for the first time you’re going to see a vulnerable Gulshan too.
On an aside she tells me:
You should meet Siddharth (Mennon) as well, it’s his first film. He’s brilliant and has been in theatre for a while. When I saw the first look I told my mom and sister that no one will be talking about me in this film, everyone will be talking about Siddharth. It’s kinda the same things people said about me: the rawness, the kindness. I told Siddharth the same thing people said after seeing me in Dhobi Ghat, that you really don’t know what you’ve done here. He and the director connected really well, they’re both South Indian!
Are you afraid of losing that rawness?
People told me to do acting workshops to get over inhibitions but I don’t want to because then maybe I’ll lose what is intrinsically me. But at some point I do want to because I need help with inhibitions, I’m an introvert. Till I was 16 I was insanely shy. I changed that but it’s a work in progress. I did this film to see if I could act with ten people in the room staring at me. And I was amazed that I could do that.
You have said you love Salman Khan.
Since I was seven. I’m not a fan. I love him and all but I wouldn’t go crazy and stand outside his house waiting for him. I’ve been to his house with a friend but I wouldn’t go and tell him that I’m such a big fan. I’d be cool and classy about it. I saw him when I was 21 at an MTV post party. My friends kept telling me to go talk to him. He was passing by and I knew I couldn’t let that opportunity go so I just stopped him and hugged him. And he was like, “Do I know you?” And then I said, ‘I’ve waited fourteen years just to see you in person.’ He was really sweet. I was scared to go upto him initially because of the stories I had heard about Salman Khan and I didn’t want him to snub me. But he took my face in his hands, kissed my forehead and left. He’s really a nice guy. He’s off his steroids I guess!
Yes he did have an awful reputation before…
I’ve been through that whole thing: how can you like him he’s killed people and black bucks and hits women. I don’t even know why I like him. He’s not the greatest actor, greatest dancer, there are better looking people, taller actors. I just don’t care. I saw Wanted and in this really mass Bollywood kind of way I loved the film and I’m like this is my best relationship with a guy.
Will you act with Salman Khan?
I wouldn’t act with Salman or work as a wardrobe supervisor on a film with him. I’ve heard he’s really difficult. And do I really want to do the films he does? Maybe an ad with him… hmmm
Which actor have you liked dressing up the most?
Akshay Kumar. He’s just so easy. Like in Special Chabbis, which is a film based in 1987, we’ve tried to make him look like a normal human being. But even in a safari suit, a moustache and champu (slicked back) hair, he just looks so cool. He has no hang-ups with costumes. I’ve timed him, he gets into costumes in 45 seconds. A lot of male actors have so many issues but not him. He’s easy.
Do you hear a lot of gossip as a wardrobe designer?
Sometimes I’ve heard the crew is way more fascinating than the actors! But I haven’t been on those kind of sets. I’ve been with some very uninteresting crews.
Tell us something more about yourself, since there’s not much info online.
I was on MTV Roadies, which was fun. I love watching TV shows. Like seasons of House, Dexter, Chuck, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family. I like Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy. Guys are embarrassed to download Grey’s Anatomy for me. Gossip Girl gives me ideas for clothes. I’m addicted to Pinterest. So my sister and I save recipes and things. I love going for breakfast to hotels. Oh and I love chocolates. I’ve become a foodie after moving to Bombay. I like South Indian seafood.
Are you in touch with anyone from Dhobi Ghat?
Only online. I still need to tell Kiran Rao that I have done Peddlers. I want to meet her with the first look. I showed it to the friend who got me Dhobi Ghat and asked him what Kiran and Aamir would think about it.
You’ve also tried your hand at some ads…
The first ad that came to me after Dhobi Ghat I said no to. I was absolutely broke. But I said no to a Rs 5 lakh contract because it was for Fair & Lovely.
You were morally opposed to it?
Yeah. I said this to myself in school that I’d never do an ad for this type of product and the first call I get for an ad was Fair & Lovely. My friend was directing it and he said just do it, take the money and go. But I couldn’t. I can’t sell my soul for the first ad I do. Maybe 50 ads later I’ll do a Navratna oil ad. But to solve my poor financial situation I did wardrobe on Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai.
How is it flip-flopping from tending to actors on set to becoming an actor?
I live a dual life, on one hand I don’t have so much money and on the other hand I’m traveling to Argentina for a Dhobi Ghat screening at a festival. I needed some money to spend there, I had 20 grand to exchange and my wallet gets stolen. While I’m there I get this email that Dibakar Banerjee’s film Shanghai was looking for a wardrobe person. While I was doing Special Chabbis I got calls to do ads with John (Abraham), a Tata Docomo ad with Ranbir (Kapoor), an Alto ad. But I had to give them up because I was in Delhi doing wardrobe supervision. They always come up when you’re not available. I’ve done 15 auditions and nothing worked out when I was doing nothing. By the end of it I was willing to do the ads for free but it didn’t happen. Now I’m doing a corporate film for Mahindra Retail. That one three-day AV paid me as much as all of Dhobi Ghat after 3 years working on that!
I say I’m a wardrobe supervisor but sometimes I feel like I’m a glorified dress man. There was a local woman from Latur and I was tying her footwear and it was absolutely gross. And on the same day I have to answer interview questions for the Times of India in Chennai by email. This is my dual life.
Ever consider designing your own line of clothing…
I want to start my own shops when I’m 40, when I settle down. That’s my 10 years from now plan, it’s easier to make that. One year from now I don’t know!
Would you like to do a Hollywood film?
I actually want to do a Hollywood film. They take care of continuity wonderfully. And that kind of experience will be invaluable. Nobody expects much perfection in the movies here. It’s just upto you to keep your standards up. That’s personal pleasure for me because I like doing it.
I was in Toronto during TIFF (2010) where Mumbai Diaries (Dhobi Ghat) was set to debut and your whole team was there too. How was that experience?
The trip to Toronto was a fairy tale. I did Dhobi Ghat for the experience of acting but there were so many experiences.
I had my first red carpet and world premiere in front of 1700 people in a theatre more than 100 years old. My first press conference. Even Kiran Rao was really nervous about it. She was heartbroken when at the first screening of Dhobi Ghat with an Indian audience they kept laughing at places that weren’t supposed to be funny. Like the scene where Prateik comes to Aamir’s house and Monica Dogra is there with him and Aamir shuts the door on his face and Prateik is so sad but everyone laughed. And that happened often. That was an experience.
Then there’s the photo of us with Sir Anthony Hopkins that came out in India’s newspapers. And so I got calls from India with my friends congratulating me and saying how jealous they were.
I’m sure our Indian actors are quite in awe of Hollywood stars aren’t they…
Yes, even Aamir Khan was in awe of Anthony Hopkins. We were at the Toronto Festival. And the first time my eyes met with Anthony Hopkins I got scared because all I could think of was Hannibal! And Aamir went up to him like I would have gone up to Aamir a few years ago. He introduced himself as an actor from India and told him about his wife’s film. And all we could think about was ‘Call us, call us’ and he did, which is how the picture happened. What’s funny is that Prateik and Monica were also in the picture but they cut them out. Oops!
Which other Hollywood stars did you bump into there?
I was stuck in the lift with Ben Afleck. Monica Dogra was so upset she didn’t come with me. He was so normal. They are way more normal than our actors are. We also saw Freida Pinto and Dev Patel. Everyone told me after Dhobi Ghat that I would be the next Freida Pinto but I was like, ‘Do I want to be the next Freida Pinto?’
Freida Pinto was one lucky girl in the right place at the right time…
She’s clever and lucky, and has a very good agent.
And what did you wear to the grand ball?
I didn’t have an agent to get me free stuff so at TIFF I had an orange gown I got stitched myself. It cost about Rs 2000. Monica’s gown was like Rs 25,000! But I think I managed to pull it off.
Note: This interview has been edited (on March 29, 2012) post publishing (March 27, 2012) due to some contractual issues between the makers of the film Peddlers and Kriti Malhotra. Minority-Review is nothing but fair and in the interests of our readers we will be reinstating content about the film when the promotions for it begin officially. We apologise for the inconvenience and rest assured we will always stand up for what we believe in.
Read more interviews here.