As the reviews for Brahmastra started pouring in on September 9, one thing became certain – Mouni Roy was the undisputed star of the movie. In a screening held for select journalists before the trailer of the film dropped in June, Ayan Mukerji had told the gathering that Mouni just “got it”. She understood his vision and brought the massiness that was required for her role as Junoon in the film. It would be an understatement to say that Brahmastra Part One: Shiva was the most anticipated movie in recent times. The film was already burdened with immense expectations before it was released – after all, many said that this would be the movie that would revive Bollywood.
It is no secret that the Hindi film industry has been facing backlash and trolling for years now and Brahmastra was expected to shut people up. The jury is still out on whether it did that but Mouni walked away with plaudits. The actress shot to fame with the first season of Naagin which aired from November 2015 to June 2016. In seven months, Mouni Roy had become a household name and the show had shot to the top of the TRP charts. With Brahmastra Part One: Shiva, Mouni proved that she’s still got it. And to think that her role was supposed to be a special appearance! In an exclusive chat with Filmfare, the actress speaks about stepping into the shoes of Bollywood’s current favourite antagonist, Junoon…
How did you feel when the reviews for Brahmastra started pouring in?
I was honestly shocked. I was really, really shocked and surprised. Well, both Ayan (Mukerji) and Karan (Johar) Sir had told me that I had done a good job in the film and that it would surprise the audience. But I didn’t apprehend this reaction, it was rather overwhelming. We had worked on this film for such a long time, and I was waiting for Brahmastra to release for almost five years. I just feel very, very grateful, and I feel that the hard work has paid off.
When Ayan had hosted a media screening for the trailer, he had said that “Mouni just got it” and that you just knew what to do. Can you just elaborate on that?
He’s just simplifying it way too much to be very honest. I had to unlearn a lot, I had to let go of a lot of projection, how we’re used to acting. This was something completely new for me. I had never played an antagonist or a negative character in my life. There were negative shades in Naagin, but that’s a different genre or a TV Serial and you had to project a lot in it. And here was a character where she had this quiet faith and she knew what she wanted and would go after it. But at no point was she blasting herself, or at no point could you see her shouting and screaming in a way that would be caricaturish.
After 5 years of anticipation, the possibility is now reality,
Meet the leader of the Dark Forces… our Mysterious Queen of Darkness… Junoon!
Watch out for Junoon in our Trailer tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/tuj6WEYG7Z
— Mouni Roy Nambiar (@Roymouni) June 14, 2022
Junoon was just very confident and all her confidence came from within her. I think one thing that helped me a lot and which Ayan told me is how I feel in real life about Lord Shiva or the connection that I feel with Shivji – Junoon had the same kind of connection with Brahma Dev, and that’s where she was drawing all her power from.
So that one line really, really helped me I think. And on set, Ayan would keep reminding me of that and he would ask me to listen to Shiv chants. Yes, I played the part on-screen but Ayan had a huge role in getting me there. And he’s a very precise person, he knows exactly what he wants and he’d come and explain it to you. I’m a director’s actor, so whatever he would tell me, I kind of understood. That’s probably what he meant by “she just got it” because whatever he was trying to explain, he would explain it in a way I would understand.
Another thing I noticed while watching the film in the theatres is your connection with the masses. That’s something that’s very important for an actor to have. What prepared you for it? Was it Naagin?
I think all the work that I have done in my life led me to do this part. Work begets work. You work on one project, you gain some kind of experience, then you unlearn and you’re onto the next project . . . getting into a different skin. If I’m talking to you right now, I’m a very present kind of person, you have my 100% attention right now, so I do the same thing with my work. If I’m playing Junoon or if I’m on the set, I would just try to understand where I am and how can I do better.
You can never really foresee what the audience will think or how they will receive a character – you can only play a part to the best of your abilities. Whatever is given to me, I try to give my 100% and there is honestly nothing more or less to it. So I knew this would be a very challenging part from the word go. It was supposed to be a special appearance the first time I went and met Ayan.
Yes, it was supposed to be a ten-minute meeting that went on for three and a half hours. We just started talking and there were so many things that we had in common that we could share for cinema and travel. He just opened up about the world of Brahmastra and it was just so fascinating. I told him I don’t even care if it is a one-minute role, I will do it. And the next thing I know, six months later, the character has become a full-fledged antagonist role. And then I knew I had to. There is Bachchan sir, Ranbir, Alia, Nagarjuna Sir, and Shah Rukh Sir, it was such an out-of-body experience constantly for me. Because to be able to work with these legendary actors in one film can be very overwhelming.
So after a day or two of working with them, I just felt like “oh my god, am I even going to be able to say my lines?” But thankfully an actor’s biggest joy or high is in front of the camera. So once they say “action!”, you kind of forget everything and do your best.
In Brahmastra, I could feel the genuine respect you had for the astras and the mythology behind the movie…
My father was always a firm believer in reading, reading and more reading. He just made me read no matter what story it was. I read them all. Whether it’s the Bhagawad Gita or Shiv Puran . . . that’s what I’ve studied the most and that’s what I’m still studying. Whether it’s about Shani Dev or Laxmi Ji or Saraswati Devi or Durga Ma, there were just so many stories that I’ve grown up knowing that India is a country of storytellers. From North to South, from East to West, we have so many stories and I feel like there’s so much culture in our diversity. That is something that I’ve grown up with and when this opportunity came about, I was like “I understand this”. The same way how you’re saying that I kind of respected it, I really truly feel like I understand it and I value it a lot.
I believe in the magic of tradition, of culture, of spirituality. I really, truly believe that we live in a magical country and we probably always had these Astras. We are the land of zero and whether it’s ganit, whether it’s science, whether it’s the devnagri lipi . . . you name it and we have produced it all. So ya, it’s almost like when you have loved something and when you feel that it’s so deeply embedded in you, the culture – it kind of reflected in my performance a little bit.
What did Mr Nambiar think of everything, of the reviews?
He’s a very proud husband! In fact, my friends are my biggest critics, every single time they see me do something they don’t like, “they come and tell me why would you embarrass us like that”. None of them is from the industry, I have very few actor friends. So we all went to the theatre to watch the film and they got these t-shirts made with my face painted on them. And I was so embarrassed, I didn’t know where to hide! And I would go to everybody and say “please don’t expect too much, please don’t expect too much”. And at the end of the movie, Suraj and everyone else was just staring at me. And I’m thinking maybe it’s the garb, maybe I was so outlandish . . . but they were all so proud. And I think my husband is my biggest cheerleader and I really lucked out that I have him in my life. He’s just the best.
You and your friends are such a tightly-knit group. It feels like you’ve known each other for years.
But we have! I have known my friends, at least my best friends, for twenty years and above. Twenty-five years, twenty-six years. I’ve been in Mumbai for 16 years and all my friendships in Mumbai have been for that long. I’m a person that really values family and friends so yes, I have really invested a lot of time in them and a lot of love in them, and so have they. Which is why I know I can count on them and they can count on me. I’ve lucked out.
Lastly, what is Junoon’s future?
I really don’t know. I really, truly don’t know. I wish I had an answer . . . I hope it is bright. The future of Junoon . . . but I really don’t know.