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Breaking the Typecasts One Role at a Time- an Exclusive with Sunayana Fozdar

Sunayana Fozdar is an Indian television actress. She started her career with modelling at a very young age. She has also appeared in many TV commercials and print shoots. She made her television debut in the show Santaan on Star Plus in 2007. Sunayana has been active in the Television industry for more than 12 years. Her other shows include Lagi Tujhse Lagan, Ek Rishta Saajhedari Ka and Belan Wali Bahu, Meet Mila De Rabba, Adalat, Qubool Hai, Yum Hai Hum, Rehna Hai Teri Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein etc., Sunayna is highly cautious about fitness. She also loves to dance. She is quite active on social media, sharing her dance moves and gorgeous looks with her fans. She is currently portraying the role of Anjali Bhabhi in the super hit comedy show Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah on Sony SAB.

Q – At what point in your life did you decide to be an actress?

I started off as a child artist when I was in school. Not many people are aware of it. Kundan Shah was my first director with whom I shot an Arial ad. That time it was great because I used to love bunking my Math class and I used to be the happiest doing that. So, bunking Math class was the reason why I used to love shooting at that time. I have also done a show with Kundan Shah, Lakshmikanth Beriji called Khulja Sim Sim. It was a very popular kids show then. At that time, I wasn’t very serious about this profession. It was all about making friends, having fun and bunking school. Later when I joined college it was all about studying and looking for a job. But then I was picked up by a casting director who had come to my college. So, when I started working at that age, that is when the seriousness sunk in and I decided to do this long term. My mom told me that it might not be very fun now and if you want to take up this profession then you have to work very hard. It is not something that you can do for sometime then decided to quit later on because you would then just end up wasting your precious years. I think that’s when I decided that I love being in front of the camera. And I wouldn’t want to do any other job in this world. This is my dream. So, getting paid for it is a blessing. I started working in the South Film industry initially. 

Q – All the roles that you have done so far, have you done them because you liked them? Or because you had to do them to continue your career in acting?

I ‘ll be honest here, as an actor, sometimes you don’t get a lot of choices when it comes to picking out roles and for me, nothing came on a platter. I had to go and audition for it. There were people who thought that I was too fair to play a middle class lead or character. Sometimes it would be about my curly hair and how I can play only a certain character. I have been trying to break those perceptions. I try and do different types of roles. Typecast is a real thing and actors get type casted a lot. When you do really well in a role, people have to realise that the reason is because you are a good actor and not because you can do well only in that role. So, breaking that was a barrier for me, because I wanted to do all types of roles. I didn’t want to, just play a snooty girl, or just play a middle-class girl. I wanted to explore everything. So far, I’ve been fortunate to be able to prove that. Every time I did that, I broke peoples’ perception about me as an actor. By god’s grace I have been able to perform wonderfully in all the characters that I have done so far especially the ones chosen by me. Some characters I did, because I like to keep busy and hate sitting idle at home.

Q – Then this quarantine must have been very difficult for you?

Oh! I did not sit idle. Even during the quarantine, I directed short films that I shot at home on my phone. I even had done self-shot ads.  I have to always keep doing something creative be it writing or directing. Even when I am not in front of the camera, I still have to do something creative. Sometimes I was offered roles that I could choose but most of the times I made best of what was given to me. 

Q – Being an actress comes with its own struggles, both professionally and personally, what were the struggles that you can recall in your journey as an actress?

I still have a long way to go professionally but like I said, the main thing was the perception. One thing that I wanted people to know was as an actor I just don’t fit into one type of role. I’ve played a psychopath. I have played a very demure and shy girl. I’ve played a rich snooty girl, I have played a crazy character in Belan Wali Bahu, which was comedy. Now I am playing Anjali Bhabi, a assorted girl who solves other people’s problems. I played a lot of characters and was able to break people’s perception for sure. And in terms of keeping myself going as an actor I have to be in a great frame of mind. There are a lot of things behind the scene that happened with actors and we have to come in terms of maintaining ourself and not letting people’s views or opinions really affect us, because acting is all related to this. And this, you know, it’s difficult, it’s not that easy. You have to be able to motivate yourself every day. So, that’s been quite a struggle. But for me, getting work was not a struggle, getting the kind of roles that I want to do has always been a struggle. I have always wanted to explore in terms of playing different characters. Work was always easily available but I didn’t want to do similar roles. I have always wanted to explore playing different characters. I have already mentioned this in a previous interview, people here give a lot of importance to age especially that of a female protagonist. There was a trend in the television industry at some point that meatier roles were offered to younger people which I am glad is broken by the producers now. Now a lot of meatier roles are available for people who are older too. When I had joined initially, at that time only a 16-year-old could play the main protagonist. But I am proud to say that I have played parallel leads role to which have been on par with the lead or sometimes meatier. Unlike the West, here the girls are objectified that she has to look a certain way or that she has to look younger only then she gets meatier roles. When she crosses a certain age or gets married, the roles become limited for her. Professionally and personally, I have been very fortunate that my family supports me. Me hustling day in and day out has not been easy for them, especially the night shoots. So this is not just my journey, it has been their journey too. I have a husband who is very understanding and supportive and I feel so blessed and lucky to have that.

Q – You have done so many shows since childhood, which has been your favorite so far?  If you have to pick one, which would it be?

I can’t pick one because that I have played many different roles and it is difficult to just pick one. I have played a crazy daughter in law in Belan Wali Bahu. A part of me is in every role that I have done. I am Shalini from Belan Wali Bahu, I am Priyanka from Ek Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Anjali Bhabi from Tarak Mehta, I am Namrata from Santan, I am all of those. A part of me is in every role. Once a show is done, I get exhausted mentally and physically because we put so much of ourselves into the role, even emotionally. Every character has been very dear. Sameera from Qubool Hai where I play a Psycho. So I can’t choose one because it would be unfair. I have been very upset every time the role comes to an end. But I can tell you which role has been challenging to perform, it was Belan Wali Bahu. It was comedy and comedy is never as easy as it looks. It is very subjective and making people laugh is very tough. Now making them cry is very easy. Being crazy and wacky was very tough. 

Q – Every work has its pros and cons.  So, what do you have to say about the politics of everything? The politics of how things are done, how selection happens. Have you ever faced any incident where you haven’t got the role you deserved due to the politics?

Not just this profession, but other professions also have politics. It also happens at higher levels of hierarchy too. Of course, it is unfair because the deserving candidate doesn’t get the role, and someone less deserving got it. There have been such incidents but I have taken them positively because when I went to see that particular show or the character, I felt glad that it didn’t work out for me. In a way it has been a blessing. I don’t like to mull over or cry over something that’s not mine. I think if you give yourself five minutes in the day to mull over this and then be a gangster and then just kill it. Because I feel life is short. I’d rather work on myself and think about what next now? When is the next audition? What’s the next role? I’m not someone who holds on to these things for long because I started working from a very early age and I realized that it’s not going to be easy. I come from an absolutely zero film background. I had to figure out my own way and I couldn’t afford to get upset in case I lost the next role too. I didn’t have the luxury to get upset. So I would just give myself 5 minutes to be upset, then focus on the next time as I had a lot of responsibilities. I feel God has been kind, even regarding the roles that I’ve not gotten. Because later I realized that I’m glad that I didn’t get them. I think that’s the only mindset you can get through with in this industry.

Q – So, can you recall any incident, good or bad, that has had a very profound impact on your career or on your life?

Many would be good. I have had the opportunity to work so many good actors, learnt so much that it has had a profound impact on my life. In spite of people spending so many years in this industry the kind of professionalism and discipline they display has kept me grounded. Sometimes its easy to lose one’s cool in this industry. Sometimes it feels like enough is enough. There are so many senior actors have had a big impact on my life. People now ask me how I am so calm and patient. Overtime I have realized my own value and the values that other people don’t have. I have got a lot of life lessons from my senior actors. And coming to the Bad. Like I already said I like to see the good in every situation, even now when I go on shows I am always laughing, I like to have blast. It’s a party. The senior actors I work have thought me professionalism and discipline. Shortcuts don’t work in the entertainment industry. The bad things have taught me life lessons. 

Q – You talked about hectic lifestyle previously. Obviously, it takes a toll on your body and mind at the end of the day. How do you deal with it on a daily basis? How do you unwind at the end of the day? 

Whatever happens on the set, I leave it on the set as there is a lot of pressure that we face there. As an actor it is important to separate personal and professional life. When you are playing a character, you can’t take that character home else you will go crazy. Especially TV artists like us who spend almost 2 years playing a character, unlike movies which gets done pretty quickly. Apart from this, I have a lot of friends who aren’t from the industry and who keep me very grounded to reality. I love dancing, dancing relaxes me. Also at home, no one treats me like an actor, I am just Sunayna there. I get yelled at by my mom, I make my bed and at times I even wash vessels. This keeps me connected to reality at home. We are a small part of a very big world. We can’t afford to think that just because we are an actor we are everything. I love listening to music. I love walking, it totally refreshes me. My friends are my lifelines. I can call them anytime of the day or night and burden them with my worries and they are more than happy to listen. Having a life outside the industry keeps you connected to reality. 

Q – You are quite active on social media. So, what attracts you towards social media? Is it the fan following? Or is it the general idea of sharing something? Or is it the fact that you are asked to stay active in this line?  

I enjoy doing whatever I do and I don’t do it unless I enjoy it. I don’t know about others, but I love posting pictures and videos on social media. A lot of people have asked me if it is very pressurizing? I tell then not to do it if it doesn’t give them any happiness. I am a very hyperactive person and I want people to see another side of me, which is on social media. Social media is absolutely me. It’s not a character that I’m playing. So, I make a lot of funny videos also which is a form of refreshment for me. I love connecting with people. I want to get out of the bubble. Sometimes when I make a bad joke or a video and if someone comments that its not good, I take it up as a good sport. You have to be ready for criticism also. You are a public figure, so if you are ready for the adulation then you should be ready for criticism too.  So, I am open to both praise and criticism as these are two sides of a coin. Also, I know it is essential to be on such platforms as you have to move ahead with times in order to connect with fans. I am absolutely open to learning and actually I am enjoying it. Who isn’t happy about their number of followers? Everyone loves that. But the most important thing is that I love creating content. And I want people to watch my content. 

Q – As you said, one must be ready for adulation as well as criticism. But there’s something called trolling also. Have you ever experienced trolling and how have you dealt with it? 

Yeah, I have experienced it. Nothing is perfect, even God gets trolled at times, then after all we are humans. I follow one funda for this – ignoring it. You can’t do much about it. There are people whom have a lot of free time to troll and I actually feel sorry for them. They just don’t troll in my account but troll in some 400 other accounts too. I actually pray for such souls. For me they are just a block button away. But they seem to work so hard to troll. My only worry is what if a family member reads it. Your mom or sister who are also on social media might end up reading it. That is the only worry I have. Initially I used to feel bad, but now I am used to it.  People have commented on my external appearance. So the only thing that you can do is to ignore. Just restrict and block the profile. When you learn to ignore it then its is ok, but when you take it to heart then one after the other something turns up to trouble you. When you’re constantly upset about something, that thing will constantly be bothering you. But once you completely, you know, or and get it out of your space, or it will disappear.

Q – Where do you see your career graph in the next five to 10 years? 

To be honest, I haven’t planned so far ahead. As a kid, all of us have a 10 year plan on how we are going to do this or do that. But for me the only life goal is no matter what I do, I want to be respected as an actor. I just want to be happy. It is no more about where I want to be.  Planning doesn’t work for me because God always seems to have different plans. I don’t want to limit myself. I might have plans to win the Oscar, but might have bigger plans. So be honest to your work, be honest and be disciplined and leave the rest. If you follow money then it will run way from you. When you give your art your 100% then everything else will follow. I don’t think a lot. I just do a good job. Even today when I go to a set, it still feels like my first day of shoot. I still get goosebumps when I am starting a new role. I still get butterflies in my belly. I want to keep all these constant, only then will I be able to do my best. I don’t want to get complacent. 

Q – You might have a wish to play a certain role. Have you ever thought of venturing into OTT platforms? Or even Bollywood? 

I feel no platform is big or no platform is small. The character or role that you play, you have to make that big or small. The smallest platform can give the biggest recognition if it hits the right chord with the audience. And the biggest platform may go unnoticed if people don’t like it. I want to be recognized as a good actor and performer and I genuinely meant it when I say it. I don’t plan a lot. I take each day heads on. I would love to work with a lot of actors, I have a huge wishlist. There are a lot of film makers I would like to work with. I would like to learn so much more. I want to keep learning and be looked up to as an actor. I want people to appreciate my acting and say that those roles could be done only by her.  

Q – You are known for your fashionable looks. You are drop dead gorgeous. But how much of effort goes into it? Looking good is a part of your daily routine. Is it easy or difficult to be well groomed at all times? 

For me it is quite difficult because if allowed I would just stay in the same torn nighty or pajama every day of my life. I am quite a tomboy. I only make the effort to get my hair and makeup done because of my love for acting and because my profession demands it. I would like to give credit to the makeup artists, hair dressers and the stylists. An entire village helps us get ready. It is a lot of pressure too because as an actor you have to look a certain way. It is also a form of respect that you show yourself. People look up to you, so you have to show them that you are worthy of their love.  But at the end of the day I do not take my looks seriously because what might be there today might not be there tomorrow. Since I am a tomboy, I am not very conscious about my looks.  I am grateful to my genes and God. When dressing up for television or an event I like to dress up in a certain style and also like to give my inputs to the stylist. I have often been appreciated for it. I want to tell the young girls not be influenced by the external looks especially what they see on magazine covers because at lot of effort goes into creating that look. In real life I dress up a lot differently and often people are shocked by that. 

Q – Is there any message that you would like to give your fans? 

First I would like to thank them, because whatever recognition we get is because of them. I am extremely grateful and thankful to them. One of the reasons I am on social media is because I want to communicate with them and also for them to communicate with me. I would love to reply to each one of them personally, it is difficult but I still try. My message for the young girls and women out there is that don’t stress to much on looks for it is not very important. What you do with your life is more important. Some youngsters get upset about life and take it too seriously. So don’t do that. Life is short so put your heart to what you would love to do. Put in an effort will eventually pay off. My profession also demands a lot of hard work and consistency and I was able to do it because I love what I do. That’s the reason I have been persistent despite the innumerable failures. So don’t give up and keep doing what you believe in. I have been rejected in hundreds of auditions but I still keep going. No matter what don’t give up.  Believe in yourself even when no one else does. I wish them a lot of love, positivity and happiness. 

Focusing on Literature and Lifestyle of the Urban Youth of the Country, LitGleam is a monthly magazine, an intrinsic part of BlueRose Publishers.

Within its pages, our readers find provocative essays on literature and lifestyle, guidance for getting published and pursuing writing careers, in-depth profiles of poets, fiction writers, and writers of creative nonfiction, and conversations among fellow professionals.