When actor Ruhani Sharma was offered the title role in the Telugu cop drama HER by first-time writer and director Sreedhar Swaraghav, she was reluctant. ‘I don’t see myself pulling the crowds to the theatres. If the film does not do well, I will be punishing myself,’ she had told him. But he was confident and persistent. A software engineer and data scientist, Sreedhar was working in the USA and had no prior film experience. When he was on a visit to Hyderabad, she went to meet him, intending to politely turn down the film. “The more he discussed the story and got into the details of the script and his writing process, I was impressed by his clarity and vision. He had planned the shot divisions and editing patterns. I agreed to do the film,” Ruhani recalls when we meet in Film Nagar, Hyderabad, for an interview. HER: Chapter 1 releases in theatres on July 21.
Doubts put to rest
Her initial reluctance, Ruhani reminisces, also came from her apprehension if she would look convincing as a cop. “I could not see myself as a cop, that too in a female-centric film. I was asking myself if I had the personality to look like a tough cop. After Chi La Sow (her debut Telugu film), I wanted to step back from serious roles and do something more fun. Sreedhar told me that it was my performance in Chi La Sowthat gave him the confidence that I could pull off an intense role.”
She also had reservations about whether a debut director and his team could pull off this film and whether it will see the light of the day. But the meeting, she says, put all her doubts to rest.
Once she agreed to be a part of HER, she worked on her body language and befit her character, police officer Archana. “Sreedhar asked me to watch Delhi Crime as well as a few international films and series (names of which she will not disclose, to avoid comparisons) that had female cop characters. He wanted his film to be in a close-to-reality zone. So my portrayal had to be understated yet strong, there was no scope for Singham style of histrionics.”
Much of the learning also came from watching videos of real-life female cops. “I realised I cannot be slouching. I became conscious of how I walk, talk or sit.”
Sharpshooter for the franchise
Ruhani describes her character Archana as a sharpshooter who knows her work and exudes confidence. “She has a backstory and not all of it is revealed in part one.” Needless to add, Ruhani is looking forward to the second part of the film.
So far, Ruhani has been more visible in Telugu cinema than in other languages, but she has been testing the waters in multiple languages through cinema and independent music videos. Director Kanu Bahl’s Hindi film Agra, which she is a part of, made its presence felt in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival this May. It will be a while before Agra arrives in India for public viewing, after multiple international film festivals.
Looking back, Ruhani says the working methodology in Bahl’s film was intense. “Barely two months after Chi La Sow’s release I auditioned for the role but did not hear from them. A year later they contacted me and asked for another audition. Some of my friends who had worked in Bahl’s Titli told me that he is an intense director and it is not easy to work with him. Bahl’s team told me that I had to attend an audition workshop, which was new to me.”
A lot of unlearning and learning later, Ruhani was on board. “I was lucky to have been chosen for Agra. Come to think of it, none of my films — be it Chi La Sow or the Malayalam film (Kamala) or the Tamil film (Kadaisi Bench Karthi) were what I had gone in search of. After all, who was I? A newcomer with dreams. I never thought I’d be an actor and that too act in languages I did not know.”
Growing up in Himachal Pradesh, she says she was not drawn to cinema or thought she could explore a career in it. She worked in a few music videos and was happy with the pocket money it fetched her. It was only after she moved to Mumbai that the acting bug bit her.
“My knowledge of cinema in south Indian languages was limited,” she admits. Much before Chi La Sow, she had visited Hyderabad for a couple of meetings for probable Telugu films. She was told she was too skinny to succeed in Telugu cinema. “I had no confidence that I could make it here. So I was pleasantly surprised when I was chosen for Chi La Sow later and director Rahul Ravindran told me that I will have to speak my lines in Telugu. I had heard that you could get away with saying a.b.c… My film was tedious work but it gave me so much recognition. Even today people refer to me as Anjali, my character.”
After an appearance in director Sailesh Kolanu’sHIT: The First Case, Ruhani is now a part of Sailesh’sSaindhav starring Venkatesh. She has also worked in the Telugu anthology Sriranga Neethulu and has a Hindi dark comedy titled Blackout, co-starring Vikrant Massey. “Some day, I hope to act in a comedy,” she says, signing off.