If Aanchal Chauhan had to write a letter to herself as a 20-year-old, she would advise her younger self to get into acting right away and not give into social pressure to ‘do well’ in a ‘good job’. “I should have realised my potential earlier,” rues the actress, who found her true calling after spending almost eight years in the corporate world as an HR professional.
Having acted in several critically acclaimed plays such as Ticket to Heaven, independent films such as The Pickup Artist, and the Netflix Original series Brij Mohan Amar Rahe, Aanchal is now all set for the opening of her latest production, Devdas, in which she plays the lead female role, Paro. “I always wanted to be an actor – even if I got my big break at 30 or 40, it didn’t matter. Yet, I wish I had started off earlier on this path,” she says.
Born to parents from an army background – in fact, military service goes back four generations in Aanchal’s family – Aanchal was accustomed to moving frequently in childhood, and learnt to adapt to new places and people rather quickly. Even during her graduation and later MBA from India and human-resource management from Australia, she was attracted to the creative fields, and took part in theatre productions and Bollywood dance workshops. She even had a movie offer in those days, but had to prioritize her exams above ‘frivolous’ extra-curricular activities.
Following the path expected of most middle-class students in India, she went on to work in a nine-to-five job for the next several years. Acting and theatre were relegated to after-hours, and life was demanding. “Challenges may seem indomitable but they also keep changing. Earlier, I had to find a balance between my job and acting. I am grateful to my ex-boss Uday Desai who gave me a lot of flexibility to pursue my acting career. Then came the challenge of taking the plunge from a full-time job to the life of an artiste. Now the challenges are to hone my art,” shares the young Mumbai-based actor.
Aanchal set off on her new career in 2013, and has worked in a variety of mediums since. “All have their pros and cons. In cinema, you get a lot of takes; the shots are not all taken at a stretch. But you have to be careful about the position of the lights, the marked spots, timing and so on. In theatre, you prepare for months for even a short role. You are more conscious, serious and focused on your part – this is it, this is the moment. You don’t get a second take,” says Aanchal, who is also trained in Bharata Natyam.
The learning curve has been exciting so far. “The more you work, the more you learn,” says Aanchal. She feels lucky to have found herself among ‘good people’ and has never had to face any kind of harassment, the kind that is being exposed in #MeToo stories at present. “Sexual harassment does exist, and I did hear about such things from others,” she admits, adding, “It’s good that women are speaking up. Predators will be more careful in future.”
An avid traveller and an outdoors person, Aanchal has tried everything, she says, “from scuba diving in Sri Lanka to bungee jumping in New Zealand.” Fond of travelling solo (“It makes you feel light”), she has covered large parts of the globe by herself, and credits her army background and solo travel experiences for shaping her and enabling her to have a go-getter attitude.
“When I was a kid and would hurt myself while playing, my dad would say, ‘Just walk’. Now, with Devdas, we had to do aerial manoeuvres, and I once ended up with a black and blue arm. It was bleeding, and aching like crazy, but I went on with my work. I’ve grown up like that. It’s just pain; it will go away.”
The play Devdas has been adapted and directed for stage by Saif Hyder Hasan, a much revered name in Indian theatre. Sets have been designed by the National Award-winning art and cinematic director Omang Kumar (of Mary Kom, Bhoomi, Sarbjith and Saawariya fame), and it has been choreographed by Shampa Sonthalia (daughter of acclaimed Kathak maestro Padmashri Gopi Krishna). Working with such stalwarts has been a perk of the job for Aanchal: “Every professional has their own vision, and their own way of doing things. It has been a tremendous learning experience.”
Watch Aanchal in action at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point, Mumbai, from 16 to 25 November, 2018.