Pranutan Bahl is the fifth generation from her family to have stepped into the world of Hindi cinema. From Rattan Bai to Shobhana Samarth to Nutan and Tanuja, to her dad Mohnish Bahl and aunt Kajol, it is a long and illustrious lineage. Pranutan made her Bollywood debut with Salman Khan Films’ 2019 romantic drama, Notebook. Now, with her next film, Helmet, waiting for a release date, we caught up with the young actor, who apparently hid her family background when she started auditioning for films, to talk about her take on all things Bollywood. Excerpts:
Tell us about your role in Helmet.
My character in Helmet is a very fun loving, free-spirited girl, a desi patakha. She is madly in love with Apar’s character. It’s a beautiful role; actually it’s a beautiful story. I am very excited because I have done all the stuff that I hadn’t done in Notebook. I have danced, done full on romance, comedy… and all that!
What made you take up this film?
I auditioned for the role and within two weeks I was called for a detailed script reading. I don’t view films as conventional or non-conventional. The story and the script should excite me; and this one did.
Did you always want to be a ‘Bollywood heroine’? How was your childhood?
Yes, I have always wanted to be an actor, but I had a very simple upbringing. The dinner-table conversations were more about, ‘how was your day?’, ‘have you done your homework?’, ‘what assignments do you have?’, etc. But yes, I used to mimic a lot of my teachers back in school, actually (laughs)!
With cinema changing and OTT opening up a different space, the quintessential ‘Bollywood heroine’ is becoming obsolete. Do you miss those films and playing those kinds of characters?
I don’t think it’s completely obsolete, it just depends on what kind of a film it is. In Simmba, you have it and let’s say in another film you don’t…both exist and each have their dedicated audience. But having grown up in the ’90s, I love those kinds of ‘typically Bollywood’ films. Those will always have a special place!
Your grandmother, Nutan, was one of the most brilliant actors the country has ever had. Now that you have decided to be part of the same industry, comparisons are inevitable.
I think the comparisons with my grandmom will always be there. I can’t possibly escape that. I only view it as a responsibility. It’s beautiful to be born in a family of artistes… and such prolific artistes who have carried themselves wonderfully not just professionally, but also personally.
What is your fondest memory of her/her film?
My fondest memory of her films would definitely be Bandini. The movie has had a very, very deep impact on my outlook towards acting and cinema. It is one of my most loved films.
You are the fifth generation in the film industry. How has that prepared you as an actor and also to deal with what comes bundled with the profession, especially the sharp ups and downs?
It’s nice because you have your family to truly understand with what’s going on. I remember before I became an actor, my dad would always tell me, “It’s a very insecure business. You don’t know when you have work, when you don't have work. You don’t know if your films are going to work or not.” And I remember agreeing with him and understanding what he was trying to say… but to go through it is a very different ball game. But I feel blessed that I have my dad to speak to about whatever I am facing in my professional field… he truly understands the situations because he has been there, done that.
You have mentioned that you hid your family lineage so as not to be granted any favours. How was the journey of auditioning for roles?
I started out in 2016 and I was really lucky and blessed to get my debut in 2018. I just have a lot of gratitude for that journey; it taught me to value my work and understand that it is a difficult world. Among other things, it taught me to be grateful.
But your debut was in a Salman Khan production. How did that happen then?
I was constantly auditioning and I was called for the Notebook audition because the producers saw my pictures somewhere. The audition went for about five hours. After 18 days I was told that I was finalised. Salman sir didn't even know that I was auditioning!
Can you really refute the privilege that one has as a star kid?
I think that there’s a certain kind of familiarity that the audiences feel with you, because you are a star kid, they have seen your parents, your grandparents or other members of your family being good actors. But that’s only up to your first film, after that they want to see what you got! Then it is all about whether you are talented and how good you are at your craft. I remember my dad telling me, “After your first shot, you’re on your own.”
In every profession, people who are in the business for generations, get some kind of advantages over the rank outsiders. Do you feel the severe backlash star kids are facing these days are somewhere a tad unfair?
Definitely! It applies to children of lawyers, doctors and people in any profession. I mean they all have a certain familiarity to their profession because you have seen your mom or dad or aunt or uncle working in a certain way, so you know the unsaid things of the profession as well. For example, I would know my way around a set, I would be very comfortable on a set because I have been there since I was like literally born so that’s something like basic logic.
But how do you intend to cope with the social media vitriol?
I don’t ‘cope’ with any of the social media trolls, because I think it’s extremely irrelevant. It’s somebody who is behind the anonymity of a laptop screen and that doesn't deserve my attention. I just wish them well because they really need it.