Shivani Raghuvanshi is still getting used to the attention she has been receiving for her performance as Jaspreet “Jazz” Kaur in Amazon Prime Video’s Made in Heaven. “I’m flooded with DMs [direct messages] and people are calling me Jazz wherever I go,” she told Scroll.in. “As an actor we really want it [the attention], but it is such a strange thing. When it initially happened, I got awkward and nervous. Now I’m more prepared.”
Raghuvanshi shares the screen with such actors as Arjun Mathur, Sobhita Dhulipala, Jim Sarbh, Kalki Koechlin and Shashank Arora in the web series created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti. Raghuvanshi’s portrayal of a young woman with big dreams has its own fan following. “It’s still sinking in,” she said. “I had an idea that the show will be huge, while we were shooting it, but my screen time is not that much so I didn’t know [that my role would resonate].”
The 27-year-old actress made her debut in Kanu Behl’s critically acclaimed debut Titli (2014) with Shashank Arora and also played a key role in Harish Vyas’s Angrezi Mein Kehte Hai (2017). “At that time [after Titli] only people from the industry called me and appreciated my work, but there was no public recognition,” she observed. “The film did not have the kind of reach that Made in Heaven has.”
The series, which was released on March 8, follows a group of wedding planners as they juggle personal crises with the surmounting difficulties of organising grand ceremonies for wealthy clients. For Raghuvanshi’s Jaspreet, these challenges include navigating the chasm between her socio-economic background and the world to which she wishes to belong. “I related to a lot of characters, but the two I enjoyed most were Karan [played by Arjun Mathur] and Jazz,” she said. “Like Karan, Jazz too has many shades. She’s a different person in different environments, with different people. She goes back home to a completely different space.”
Like Jaspreet, Raghuvanshi is from Delhi, but the character resonated with her for more reasons than one. “Everybody can relate to Jazz’s part because most of us come from humble backgrounds and want to make it big,” she said. “But most people look at her as someone who wants to fit in. I didn’t look at her as that. She doesn’t want to be anyone else – she wants to create a space for herself. But what I related to most about her is that despite all that has happened in her life there is some sort of naivety to her. And she is very vocal about how she feels.”
Despite the similarities, getting into the skin of a character – especially the darker challenges she confronts, such as her unhappy domestic space and her brother’s struggles with addiction – were challenging, Raghuvanshi said. “When I read the script, it was a bit tricky for me, because I haven’t seen people like that. But once you’re there [on set] then you know where your character is coming from, what their motivations are. And then everything flows.”
Raghuvanshi comes from a middle-class family with no film connections, and grew up in Delhi’s North Campus neighbourhood. Her Bollywood dream was born during a trip to the cinema to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (2002). “We were not allowed to watch films, and the focus was only on studies,” she said. “We would watch one or two films a year. I watched Devdas, that film changed my life. I couldn’t sleep that night. I felt that I want to be a part of this industry – as what I didn’t know.”
Raghuvanshi first thought of becoming a director (“I wanted power and I thought, who’s the most powerful person on set?”) and then a costume designer. She eventually zeroed in on acting. “Somewhere inside I always wanted to be an actor, but I wasn’t sure if I was capable of it – because no one in my family has any inclination towards the arts,” she said. “There was no area in which I excelled – sports or academics – so there was no confidence to go and tell people I want to act. But gradually, the confidence came in.”
The journey to acting began with a Vodafone advertisement. The casting coordinator through whom she learnt of the commercial also told her about Tilti, Kanu Behl’s debut film. Raghuvanshi was chosen for the role of Neelu, who is married into a family of car thieves in Delhi and hatches a plot with her husband, played by Shashank Arora, to escape. It was an unconventional debut for someone whose Bollywood dreams were mounted on the scale of Bhansali’s opulent musical drama, and she did not take the opportunity seriously at first.
“For me it was just a free trip [to Mumbai for auditions], I used to laugh at all the acting exercises they would make us do – I couldn’t understand the point,” she said. “I wasn’t taking it seriously. Then one life-changing moment happened. One day Kanu yelled at me and asked me, who do you think you are?”
For Raghuvanshi, who was just short of 21, that was a reality check. She sobered up and worked on her character. “The next day Kanu said, tu star hai bro. So all the scolding was worth it,” she added. “Everything I learnt, I learnt on that set. If Titli had not happened, I would not have been a good actor. Because I didn’t know what acting is.”
Raghuvanshi now has a film for the RSVP Movies banner coming up. She would love to work with Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Vicky Kaushal. On her list of dream directors are Shoojit Sircar and Imitiaz Ali, among others. She’s also looking forward to doing some non-Delhi roles. Her Devdas-fuelled ambitions, meanwhile, have undergone a slight alteration. “I still want to be a heroine, but I also want to act well,” she said. “Even if I’m getting a glamorous role (which I’m not, vaise) I don’t want to compromise on my acting in any way.”
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