She is the granddaughter of late actress and Sheriff of Mumbai, Usha Kiran, and the niece of Tanvi Azmi so it’s not surprising to see Saiyami Kher as a contemporary Sahibaan in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s upcoming romance Mirzya. What is a surprise is that this girl grew up without stars in her eyes, far away from Mumbai’s glam sham, in small town Nashik where entertainment meant climbing mountains, swimming in lakes and being one with nature.
Saiyami returned to Mumbai for her graduation and was persuaded by family friend Sameera Reddy to get some pictures clicked which landed her some modelling jobs. In her last year of college she featured in the Kingfisher calendar, and though she has yet to see that calendar, she was surprised by a call from Mehra. She was ecstatic. “For me Rang De Basanti was a cult film which changed Indian cinema and Rakeysh sir is not just a fantastic maker but an even better human being,” raves the debutante even though it took six months and around 10 screen tests before she landed the coveted role. “Eventually it was down to another girl and me. Rakeysh sir sent us to Delhi for acting workshops and training in horse riding. Those three months changed me for life. Till the last day I wasn’t sure if I would land the role but it no longer mattered. If I did, it’d be fantastic, if not it was still fantastic because I had learnt so much,” she says, recalling that when she finally got the script she touched it reverently. “It had the names of Rakeysh sir and Gulzar saab who’s written the story. To be associated with such icons was a thrill but also a huge responsibility.”
When her mother Uttara and sister Saunskruti learnt about her big break they were crying, but Saiyami, in keeping with her Sanskritised name, was remarkably composed, holding back the tears till the last day of the shoot in Ladakh when she was too choked to give a little speech. “Rakeysh sir was in a similar space. Besides my atya’s (Tanvi) family, I’ve been really close to Rakeysh sir’s. He was always the calmest person on the sets, didn’t speak much but said a lot in a few words and has spoilt me with his pampering. He has so many stories to tell and I want to be a part of every film he does. Once, when he narrated one of a 60-yearold lady, I told him to wait till I was 60 to make it,” she laughs. Even though her debut film is drawn from the Mirza-Sahibaan love legend, Saiyami reveals that her director instructed her not to go into details of the folklore because their story was more contemporary and about today’s generation. The only common factor for her was that like her reel life avatar, Saiyami also believes when you give your heart to someone, you don’t stop loving him or her no matter what transpires. “You don’t fall in love with the end result in mind,” she reasons. Fortunately for her the only heartbreak she has been through has been on screen.
So what are her thoughts on her co-star, Harshvardhan Kapoor? Saiyami reveals that Harsh is a really private person but they hit it off from day one and after spending a lot of time together through the six months of auditions, they were able to slip into their characters easily. “He has the most expressive eyes and a phenomenal knowledge of world cinema. He is like a walking-talking encyclopedia and was my teacher since I’m more into Indian films,” she says. Prod her on her grandmother, Usha Kiran’s films, Kabuliwala, Patita, Daag and Badbaan, and Saiyami admits that she hasn’t seen too many of her early films because till the ninth standard her parents kept her away from films and her grandmother was just her ajoba and not an actress. “It’s only in the last four-five years that I have started watching her later films, like Bawarchi and Chupke Chupke and some of her Marathi films like Kanyadaan. I was blown away. If I’ve got even five per cent of my grandmother, atya and Shabana maasi’s genes, I’ll do good here,” she smiles, pointing out that her USP is that she doesn’t shy away from hard work and will do whatever it takes to get there.
“The tougher it is, the more I like it. And though it’s wonderful being surrounded by people acclaimed in their craft, I like doing things on my own.” Even though acting wasn’t a childhood dream, Saiyami has learnt that she loves being in front of the camera and can’t see herself doing anything else now. She’s been meeting a lot of people but isn’t close to signing anything yet. “I was waiting for Mani sir’s (Ratnam) Tamil-Telugu film to start but it’s got delayed. Soon after I wrapped up Mirzya I got a call from his office and before I knew it, I was in. After Rakeysh sir and Mani sir, it could only be (Steven) Spielberg next,” she laughs, quick to add that there are makers like Imtiaz Ali, Aanand L Rai, Rajkumar Hirani and Zoya Akhtar she’d give an arm and a leg to work with. “I keep joking with Zoya to at least make me a tree in one of her films. I want to be like my idol, Mr Bachchan (Amitabh), who even after three decades is still the most punctual, passionate and humble actor in showbiz despite being the biggest superstar.”