PeepingMoon Exclusive: Important to pursue dreams, they should be independent of family- Soha Ali Khan on returning to acting with Kaun Banega Shikharwati

Soha Ali Khan completes 18 years in the film industry in 2022. Making the year more special for all her fans, the actress will be venturing into the OTT space with ZEE5's family entertainer Kaun Banega Shikharwati. She plays the role of Princess Gayatri, a yogini, dancer and one of the daughters of the King of Shikharwati. Laced with humour and set in Rajasthan, Kaun Banega Shikharwati will premiere on January 7, 2022. 

Ahead of Kaun Banega Shikharwati's release, Soha spoke to PeepingMoon exclusively about making her OTT debut with the show. The actress further revealed that she was offered multiple projects on the web but had to turn them down to be with her daughter, Inaaya Naumi Kemmu. She reacted to comparisons between Kaun Banega Shikharwati and Squid Game

Excerpts from the interview:

Kaun Banegi Shikharwati is your first web show. Were you offered anything on OTT before this?

Yes, I was offered a few web shows but for 2-3 years, I was saying no to them because I couldn’t imagine taking out that time. I had just become a mother. I was obsessed with my daughter and wanted to be there with her. Every project requires travel and 12+ hours of the shoot, which I couldn’t imagine. I thought I'll give it a thought when she turns 2. When she did, the pandemic and the lockdown happened. I felt relieved that the decision was taken out of my hands and I got to spend time with her. Slowly, as I saw her getting more independent, I was finally ready to take the steps away from her and rejoin the world of acting. When I started working on Kaun Banegi Shikharwati, I didn’t see her for 2-3 days. She would be asleep when I left and returned from work. That was tough, but I realised that it is important to pursue your dreams and those dreams have to be independent of your children, husband, parents etc. 

What made you say yes to Kaun Banegi Shikharwati?

Primarily the cast. I got a lot of confidence from the fact that Naseeruddin Shah sahab, Lara Dutta, Raghubir Yadav, Cyrus Sahukar and Varun Thakur were a part of this series. Everyone has strong characters and were perfectly cast. I thought that when the makers have managed to bring a wonderful bunch of people on board and the script is funny too, we might be able to pull it off. It is quite a difficult space and comedy is a tough genre to do. 


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Can you tell us a little about your role?

Gayatri Shikharwati is a yogini, who is a part of an ashram. She dances, devoted herself to a higher purpose and has forgone all materialistic possessions. She wears simple khadi, has adopted 2 children, is self-sacrificing, and is always helping people. All of that is suddenly challenged when her father, the King, calls all the sisters back so that he can decide who is going to be the next heir to all the property and crown. Gayatri feels she is the best and is confident that she can take care of the public, knows all the traditions of Shikharwati and is aware of the history of the royal family and kingdom whereas her sisters know nothing. That’s when her competitive side, as well as humane side, is ignited. 

You are a Pataudi Princess. Did your personal experience help in understanding the character better?

Yes, I am a princess and perhaps as a result of that, I was comfortable in the setting and body language, airs and graces. Having said that, Gayatri is a different personality. But there are similarities too. Like Gayatri, even I have a sense of self-righteousness. I also feel that I am misunderstood, that I am a nice person and always thinking about how to make people happy. But at the end of the day, we are all selfish. We just have to recognise when we are being selfish. Sometimes, I also struggle with that. I could relate to my character in certain ways but there were things that were challenging.  Certainly, the dynamics between the sisters was challenging because I usually get along well with people around me. I got along well with Lara, Kritika and Anya but suddenly on-screen, it had to be the exact opposite. Also, being in a conflict situation with Naseer Sahab and being dismissive of him was very difficult. I have so much respect for him as an actor. 

People are calling Kaun Banegi Shikharwati India’s answer to Squid Game. What’s your reaction to this comparison?

(Laughs) Maybe this is because of the tracksuit and the chaos. Nobody had heard of Squid Game when we were shooting for Kaun Banega Shikharwati. As our director (Gauravv Chawla) says, "We did it first." In 2021, on Halloween, we were deciding what to wear. I called Gauravv and asked if I can take my tracksuit from the trunk to dress up as someone from Squid Game. The outfits were similar. Kaun Banega Shikharwati is certainly not as gory as Squid Game but it is quite brutal in certain ways. 

This is your first project after Inaaya Naumi Kemmu’s birth. What were the challenges you faced as a working mother?

It is your own guilt you have to come to terms with. My child was lovely and she couldn’t care less because she was having a blast in Rajasthan. She has a wonderful nanny. It is all because of Shobha that I am able to have a social and professional life. On the sets, everyone was very sensitive to the fact that I wasn’t just a mother but a crazy mother. They were accommodating even when I said I have to go home at 7.30 pm to do bedtime with my daughter and come back at 8.30 pm. They knew that by 8, I would get hysterical. I am grateful to them. It is difficult to be a working mother without a supportive environment.    


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You’ve been in the industry for 18 years. Do you see any change in the kinds of roles offered to female actors now?

Absolutely, I am seeing a wonderful change. There are roles for women in their 40s whereas earlier, you would either be the heroine or the hero’s mother. There was nothing for women in their 40s. Now, if I go to Linking Road, I see posters of Sushmita Sen, Raveena Tandon and Shefali Shah everywhere. They are wonderful actors. People, who didn’t get their dues, are being celebrated today. Instead of wanting to escape, people are wanting to see themselves on screen. You see so many women making films, writing shows and you see them being better represented.   

Being the daughter of Sharmila Tagore, do fans' expectations bother you? 

No. My parents, being superstars, didn’t have any expectations from me. My father said the goal in life is to be happy. That’s completely how I see life. I am not overambitious. Of course, everyone wants to be comfortable. You want to be occupied, professionally, otherwise, you tend to go crazy. You want to earn a certain amount of money because you want to be secure and comfortable. Beyond that, I don’t think I am threatened or insecure about what other people do. Often, we are comparing our success to another person’s success. We often feel someone else’s success is equal to our failure, which is not the case. You have to carve out your own goals, pursue what makes you happy and stop looking at other people and their journeys. I have been inherently very secure and followed my father’s advice to be happy. I do read people’s feedback, negative comments, criticism and when it makes sense, I try to include it in my process but it never brings me down. I am thick-skinned that way.