It gets somewhat awkward for Niharica Kumari Raizada when she is recognized at the hospital where she works. “Sometimes, people ask me for an autograph or selfie in front of experienced surgeons, and it’s really embarrassing,” says Niharica, who – despite her glamorous social-media image and film roles – is rather approachable and friendly.
She’s also highly intelligent – but naturally – and a conversation with her can go from the difficulties that single women face in a city, to problematic marketing strategies of modern commercial films, to the need for more female voices in the media.
In fact, it appears that the toughest role that Niharica has had to play in life is being herself – in all her multi-talented, high IQ, super-performer avatars.
Brought up in Luxembourg where her dad worked in the European Commission, Niharica was a precocious child. It was while studying in a school full of Europeans that she developed a craving to move to India. A Bollywood nut and a diploma holder in dance, Niharica was brought up on Meena Kumari and Sadhana music videos, besides songs by her granduncle OP Nayyar.
But B-town had to wait as Niharica completed her MBBS from London’s Imperial College and followed it up with a Master’s in translational medicine with a thesis on cardiology.
A Fulbright scholarship took her to Johns Hopkins University in USA, where she researched stem cells before flying to Mumbai on the sly (her parents wouldn’t have allowed if they’d known).
Even as a qualified doctor, she found it hard to rent a place as a single woman, and finally had to call her parents over to help. They were understandably upset – she’d thrown up a huge earning potential abroad – but gave in after a while.
After brief stints as assistant director for filmmakers Shekhar Kapur, Vipul Shah and Jug Mundhra while they were on shoots in London, Niharica had a burning desire to join the film industry. Having participated in a couple of beauty pageants, she was selected to model in a fashion show that toured all over India, and introduced her to the fashion fraternity.
She then landed a few roles in Bengali, Gujarati and Hindi films including the critically acclaimed Masaan. At the same time, she joined BKC hospital in Mumbai where she works as head of department of the heart institute, and currently leads a team of researchers studying 400 heart patients.
“I love my job,” she says, adding that, with her background experience in surgery, physiotherapy and radiology, she is able to cater her research to these fields in a practical way.
Time and again, she comes back to acting. Her next film, an all-out commercial comedy Total Dhamaal starring several veterans including Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit, will be out this December. “I’d love to be a top-rated actress like Meryl Streep or Shabana Azmi,” she says ambitiously.
In either case, whether she studies them or wins them, Niharica sure rules hearts!
First published in the June 2018 issue of eShe magazine