Raashi Khanna, the no-nonsense heroine
In this candid conversation,the actor talks about playing the 'sensible commercial heroine' and her cinema journey so far
I first spoke to Raashi Khanna just before her Tamil debut, Imaikka Nodigal. I remember walking out of that interview pleasantly surprised at her clarity and candour. A year and four films later, Raashi still doesn’t bat an eyelid when faced with uncomfortable questions. But more importantly, this sensibility has also flavoured her performances. Imaikka Nodigal, Adanga Maru, Ayogya, and her latest, Sangathamizhan, all see her play the traditional commercial heroine. However, there is a groundedness that Raashi brings to these characters that is refreshing. And this is a conscious decision. "I had seen Temper. No offence to the original, but when I signed Ayogya, I told my director that he could make a better character for me,” she reveals, adding that she was so vocal about it she even thought she might lose the project. "But the director understood where I was coming from and agreed to make the character more grounded."
Acknowledging that women have smaller roles compared to men in commercial films, she argues this it doesn’t mean the character can’t be sensible. "They don't have to act dumb all the time. You don't always have to save them; times have changed."
Raashi ensures she has a conversation with the director whenever she feels that a certain scene isn’t working or is demeaning to women. "Certain things are in my hand, most aren't. But at least I have a voice and I use it."
Are such conversations, where no words are minced, possible all the time? Raashi believes that one can always talk it out. "As actors, I believe we have a social responsibility. I think there's no harm in telling the director that I am not okay with certain things, and asking them if they can prune it or do it in a different way. And directors do listen and understand."
As a result of a consistent track record, the actor says her fans now expect something memorable from her in each film. "From Oohalu Gusagusalade, my debut in Telugu, and Imaikka Nodigal in Tamil, people have a certain expectation. They don't expect me to just play a dumb character and go."
So is playing a sensible character the main criteria behind her choice of scripts? To an extent, it is, says Raashi. "It is a very difficult question to answer, to be honest," she explains. "Sometimes it is a director I really want to work with, sometimes it is an actor. In those cases, I will do the film, whatever the role, because I know it will be good for my growth," she reasons. Other times, it is the role that catches her eye. "But in every case, there will be a reason behind my choice and I will talk about it openly." One thing remains consistent — she always looks for something that she can add to make her character memorable. "There should be some value you bring, otherwise there is no point."
Raashi might be from Delhi, but she has impressed audiences in the South with her near-perfect lipsync. "I think that is the basic respect one can give to the language you are working in. If you are really interested in the craft, then you need to know what you are saying and be sure you're saying it with the correct expression." She is also aware of the criticism over choosing actors who are not fluent in the language. "It is completely valid," she says, adding that this resistance has even surfaced in Bollywood. "When Katrina Kaif joined the industry there, there was a similar reaction. But you see how hard she works." Raashi believes that every actor is chosen for a reason. "It can be their looks, or their skills or their dedication. I know people felt that my casting in Sangathamizhan was the usual scenario of bringing in a North Indian girl. I understand where this concern comes from. And that's why I want to work harder and show them that I respect their language," she says. "I am an actor and should be able to fit into everything. And if it's a role I can pull off, then you should give me a chance."
The actor who has a more extensive filmography in Telugu is already fluent with that language and has begun dubbing for herself. "They now think of me as a Telugu girl. And I also feel that sense of belonging. It takes time, but eventually, if you work hard, people will take you into their hearts." In an industry that can be rewarding and disappointing in equal parts, the key is to work hard at every opportunity one gets, she feels. "I am very hard on myself and am my biggest critic. So even in a commercial film, I bring my personality to it so people notice, as you did. I hope it will eventually get me better roles."
While this has worked well in Telugu, where Raashi is receiving diverse offers, she feels she can bring much more to the table in Tamil. "There's a certain image that gets created, but I am confident it will break." Thanks to streaming platforms, she says the lines between industries are now blurring. "So even my work in Telugu is known to Tamil audiences, and I hope people in this industry too soon notice that I can be more than just a pretty face." She admits, at the moment, that's what she is here. But that doesn’t worry her. "I don't put limitations on my dreams or have doubts about my capabilities. If I have done it in one language, I can do it another. It is just a matter of time."