Currently in the best phase of her galloping career, Kiara Advani says she is “overwhelmed” with the stardom that has followed Kabir Singh and Good Newwz. It makes up for the bumpy start with Fugly in 2014 and Machine in 2018. This year has begun with Ruchi Narain’s Netflix original drama Guilty, but there’s plenty more to come for the 27-year-old actor, including Laxmmi Bomb, the sequel to Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Indoo Ki Jawani and Shershaah. Excerpts from an interview.

What did it take to find Nanki, your character in ‘Guilty’?
I loved the whodunit format and thriller element. It’s edgy, relevant and topical, tackling issues of gender, sexism, privilege and the way women judge other women so harshly. But Nanki is so far removed from who I am or from what I have done. I asked Ruchi, why me and how?

Ruchi kept saying, your core is so sincere, and I want that in Nanki. So we started with creating her look, and that is important because it forms her armour. There is a reason for every tattoo and every piercing and her changing hairstyles. As powerful and rebellious as she looks from the outside, she’s as fragile, weak, insecure and under-confident inside. It was a challenge to strike a balance between badass and fragile.

Workshops with our acting coach Atul Mongia really helped me find her core. Part of the preparation was meeting a survivor of rape who took me through her journey, which was very courageous of her.

Guilty (2020).

What does it take to come out of a movie that doesn’t hit the right notes, like your debut ‘Fugly’?
I used to think that the toughest challenge was getting your first film. I didn’t realise it is a Friday-to-Friday test.

After Fugly was the toughest time because I didn’t know if I would get a second opportunity. So I was willing to take up whatever came my way. When MS Dhoni came up, I did it because I wanted to work with Neeraj Pandey, but also because I saw something in Sakshi’s character. It was a small part but it did get me a lot of appreciation. A lot of people might have written off Machine as a forgettable film, but it was that film that got me Lust Stories.

I have learnt so much from each film that I have done, successful or not, and from the people I have worked with. I am proud of each of them and today, when I see the highs of films like Kabir Singh and Good Newwz, all of those past experiences keeps me grounded.

Although it was a big hit, ‘Kabir Singh’ was also very polarising and was heavily criticised for its misogyny. What was it like to be in the middle of that?
Having seen the original, I knew the topic would come up. When Kabir Singh was released, we were work-shopping Guilty. One of the exercises Atul put us through really helped. He asked us to get to the core of our sub-conscious thoughts. One of the things that came up for me was that because I come from a privileged background, because I don’t have to worry about paying rent, I am not entitled to complain about my emotional issues. Atul’s response was just because your problems are different from someone else does not mean they are not real. He said you don’t have to be apologetic – that is your experience and your reality.

So I am nothing like Preeti, but girls like her exist and she is who she is because of her life experience. The slap was only a part of the film. She did also leave the guy and raise her child on her own. Only at the end does she decide to forgive. I felt the climax justified the anger that preceded.

Finally, it’s a fictional story. Film is an artistic medium and a director’s creative expression. So I did not let the criticism get to me so much.

Bekhayali, Kabir Singh (2019).

And then came the…
… the good stuff, yes. It was overwhelming. But because I have seen the other side too, I want to make sure I am still the person I was before all this. The decision to do films like Lust Stories and Kabir Singh was possible because I was unaffected by pressure or expectations. Those thoughts creep in when you taste fame and success and that does not allow you to be as uninhibited in your choices as you are when you feel you having nothing to lose.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who keep me grounded. I have moments of fun, but then I come down to earth. I am very process-oriented and for me the prep for a character, reading, and going on set – that’s what I focus on.

Does it help to have a mentor like Karan Johar?
I feel grateful that he saw something in me to cast me in Lust Stories. It was career-changing and gave me wings to fly. It was my liberating moment in every way. People looked at me differently as an actor after that part.

And now all the films I am doing with Karan’s company are so different. It’s like he saw my potential. He’s very supportive and approachable, and I do seek his advice. It feels safe to know that someone’s got your back.

Good Newwz (2019).