She describes herself as being clueless and admits to feeling a little superficial in Cannes but former Miss India Niharika Singh may just have found her groove with her new, much talked about film Miss Lovely that sees her paired with Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
“I’ve always been this clueless girl, not too sure of the kind of movie I was a part of,” says Niharika.
“But, it’s been an interesting journey; every director has added some bit to this experimentation.”
After all, movies almost didn’t happen for the leggy model who came into the spotlight in 2005 when she won the Miss India pageant. The very next year, she bagged a 10-film contract with Raj Kanwar but the filmmaker died in 2012 and the Bollywood break never happened.
She then moved on to work in director John Matthew Mathan’s A New Love Ishtory, starring Himesh Reshammiya, that never got a theatrical release. And then there was Kannada director Anand Kumar’s Private Story that also never made it to the big screen.
Miss Lovely, which is directed by Ashim Ahluwalia and documents the lives of two brothers in the sleazy horror movie industry of Mumbai in the 1980s, has broken that jinx with its commercial release this Friday. It may be a tad early but not entirely wrong to say that the film, which went on to feature in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, will do away with the oblivion.
Niharika, who is from Dehradun, started modelling while she was studying commerce at the Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) in Delhi University. “I was doing a slew of local shows in college. At 19, I left for Mumbai to pursue my modelling career. I started with commercials and videos. I was a geek and came from a family that had nothing to do with the movies. One thing led to another, and I was suddenly Miss India. That led me to the movies.”
“Working and Ashim and Nawazuddin (Siddiqui, her co-star in Miss Lovely) had a huge impact on me; it changed my perception of cinema. It opened me up to this alternate space I had never heard of. I took up a film appreciation course at FTII (in Pune). Once you’re aware, you can’t go back. It is a pity that our distribution system disallows different kinds of cinema — art house and regional movies,” says Niharika.
Niharika’s transformation from noob to passionate cinema student was also brought about by her experience in Cannes. “It was a fairytale for me. But the experience was quite polarising. I was happy with all the attention, but I felt foolish. Everybody was a cinephile, and I knew so little. I felt superficial,”
Director Ashim Ahluwalia is all praise for his heroine. Niharika’s beauty, feels Ashim, led her to the earlier choices in movies. “She is a beauty queen by accident. She is an intelligent actor aware of her work. In our country, actresses have very little space to manoeuvre. When I took Miss Lovely’s script to a few actresses, they freaked out. One actress threatened to file an FIR against me. So, when Niharika came into the picture I told her that this a sordid film that involves kissing.
She looked at me assuringly and said that I need not explain because she was already in love with the script. I knew we had found our Miss Lovely,” he says.
Wary of what she takes on after the critical acclaim her work in Miss Lovely has received, Niharika has reportedly turned down many Bollywood offers. “She’s been through the drill as Miss India; I think that helps her keep calm. She’s a convert today, no longer worried about the next big role,” says Ahluwalia.
Nawazuddin, the unassuming poster boy of the alternate cinema space, says he was quite taken by her calmness. “I had never worked with a model and was quite nervous about sharing screen space with her. But she is a fantastic co-star, there are no mechanical acting chops, no tantrums. She thinks a lot, but now that she’s become so passionate about the movies, it will be great to see what she will do in the future,” says Nawazuddin, who also shares screen space with Niharika in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s yet-to-be-released Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa.
Not just Nawazuddin, even the audience is waiting to see what Niharika will do in the days to come.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui speaks
I had never worked with a model and was quite nervous about sharing screen space with her. But she is a fantastic co-star, there are no mechanical acting chops, no tantrums. She thinks a lot, but now that she’s become so passionate about the movies, it will be great to see what she will do in the future.