Sonia Balani of The Kerala Story says she is in no mood to celebrate success. Bollywood

Sonia Balani, the girl who once played the daughter of Ram Kapoor and Sakshi Tanwar’s ‘Ram and Priya’ in the hit TV show Bade Achhe Lagte Hain, is now winning accolades for her portrayal of an antagonist in ‘The Kerala Story’. the film has already passed 178 crores and is now moving towards crossing 200 crore mark. Sonia is happy but in no mood to celebrate the achievement in a grand manner and for some valid reasons. A happy-go-lucky girl in real life, Sonia found the role of Ayesha challenging, for which she had to speak against certain Gods and do some other unimaginable things. (Also Read: Kerala Story actor Vijay Krishna: ‘The people of Kerala are giving us the message that this is real’)

Sonia Balani is playing the character of Asifa in The Kerala Story.

In conversation with Hindustan Times, Sonia shared how the process of filming for The Kerala Story was a harrowing process and all that went into the making of the film. She also talked about her aspiration to play more versatile roles even though she is getting a lot of hate for this one. Excerpts:

The Kerala Story is your third film and your biggest commercial success. how does it feel to be a part of 200 crore film?

It’s a mixed feeling because the subject is so deep and it’s a true story. If it was a comedy or a rom-com, I would have felt completely happy. I am glad that people have appreciated it, supported us so much, appreciated our work. Somewhere in our hearts, we know that it really happened and hence we are in no mood to celebrate it in a big way.

Did you feel nervous during the making of the film, which is based on a true story?

When I first read the script and Sudipto sir briefed us with pictures and videos, I was very nervous about the whole thing. Because some went for further studies and this actually happened to them. It was very shocking and it affected me. Since I had to play a negative character, I didn’t want to see his soft side, I had to be very tough and tough. I was trying to focus on how ISIS operates, their mindset. It all came back to me when I met these girls a few days ago.

Did you have any happy or painful memories from the shoot?

When I was telling my co-star to ‘spit kar aana’ on his father, that scene affected me a lot because I am very close to my father. It required a lot of conviction. When I was talking about Hindu Gods, I had already gone into Manas but when my character commits suicide, it was very harrowing. When I used to come back home, I was in that mindset all the time because we knew it to be true. It was a very dark phase, something changes inside you when you work on a film like this. I was very upset because I was just thinking about it all the time. Even my co-stars told me that my energy had changed while working in the film.

Sonia Balani as Asifa in The Kerala Story.

Have you attended any workshops on playing the role of an ISIS terrorist?

There was a workshop for all of them. We had a Malayali coach. As someone who has been speaking Malayalam since childhood, becoming fluent was a challenge. I was trying to talk to my loved ones in Malayalam accent. I learned to pray and tie the hijab. But the hardest part was penetrating the psyche of ISIS people. As Sonia, I am completely different from Asifa. I can’t speak with such conviction until I really delve into the psyche. I have seen videos of such people and with what conviction they preach. Sudipto sir also helped a lot.

Were you apprehensive about playing such a dark antagonist? Not many new actresses are keen on doing this.

Many people asked me not to do it but I was keen to play Asifa. I had two options, whether to play the other girl or play Asifa. I want to establish myself as a versatile actor because if I keep playing characters that are closer to my real self, then what’s the fun in being an actor! When you transform into something very different, that’s the fun. In fact, this is the main reason why I wanted to become an actor. I want to explore more different characters and do action if it comes my way.

What is the best compliment you have received for a film?

I am a huge fan of Amrish Puri sir as his performance was impeccable and effortless. Whatever Amrish Puri used to do in films, the audience would be very angry with him. He used to say that if he was being abused for his character, it was the biggest compliment. Recently a person compared me to him. He saw that thing in Asifa.

You mentioned the hate messages after the film’s release. Is it stressful?

We wanted to do justice to the subject. We anticipated such things. I guessed even more… When I talk about gods. People are writing hate messages on social media, threatening me. I won’t lie that it doesn’t scare me. Also, people have become very sensitive. I was avoiding going out because of this for some time. Nothing may happen, but what if! You can’t guess… I have read a lot about such incidents… I am being a little wary. But in future also such roles will come to me, films will be made. You have to take a call. Thankfully, my family is very supportive.

From Ram Kapoor and Sakshi Tanwar’s daughter Pihu in Bade Aje Lagte Hain to Asifa in Kerala Kahaani – how do you look back on your journey?

I played a grown up Pihu and had gray shades in it. I was not very comfortable playing the role of Pihu then but I had a discussion with Sakshi Mam. He told me, ‘As an actor there is no greater blessing than portraying gray shades because there you can show your work.’ Gray shades are the best when it comes to exploring your acting skills as you can go to extremes. From being uncomfortable playing Pihu to now growing up as an actor, which was quite negative. Now I don’t think about what people will say about me and my character, but I think how much I can explore my craft. Since then I have worked a lot on my craft. I always wanted to join an acting school but could not. I have done a lot of workshops, learned from my actor friends. When I was starting out, I thought acting would not be that difficult. But now I realise, there is no end to it, it is too deep. Those who are masters in this field say that they are not even half of it, just think of me. Money and fame make me happy but now I focus more on my work.

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