Miss World Manushi Chhillar says she would have continued on her path to study medicine if not for her family who convinced her to give acting a try in the upcoming historical Prithviraj.
Born in Haryana and raised in New Delhi, Chillar was pursuing her MBBS degree from BPS Medical College for Women in Sonepat when she went on to be crowned as Miss World aged 20 in 2017.
Post her win, Chillar said there were many film offers which came her way but she turned all of them down as she never saw herself as an actor, until Yash Raj Films approached her for Prithviraj, headlined by superstar Akshay Kumar.
The Chandraprakash Dwivedi directorial depicts the life of legendary warrior king Prithviraj Chauhan and features Chillar as Princess Sanyogita. Born to doctor parents, the 25-year-old-- who is also a painter and a Kuchipudi dancer-- said growing up she viewed her keen interest in arts as merely a hobby, not potential career.
"I never came to Mumbai wanting to become an actor. I had acted in school plays, but all my hobbies-- painting and dance-- were always just hobbies, not a professional outlet. That was my mindset. When I was with Miss World, I got protected exposure, where I got to be in front of the camera for some campaigns.
"There were a few opportunities which came my way. I could have debuted much earlier than Prithviraj, but at that time, I was sure I didn't want to be a part of films, so I didn't even consider them. The timing of Prithviraj was perfect. Also, this is not an opportunity that you choose, the movie chose me," Chillar said.
The actor said when the film was offered to her, she could recognise this was an opportunity of a lifetime and was pushed by her well wishers to consider acting, even though she still harboured dreams of becoming a doctor.
"When an opportunity like this comes your way, there is no looking back. Everyone around me, including my family and Miss World team, would tell me that I should not be so stubborn about becoming a doctor. They said, 'Give it (acting) a try, you will love it,' and I am glad I did! I feel like I enjoy this as much, I feel more at ease on set".
Chillar was initially daunted with the prospect of acting but started to get into the groove with time, especially when she started to "understand" the nuts and bolts of the craft.
"I like the process of shooting, even though I had no idea how it functions when I began. When we were training, it took me two months to understand the process. Acting is a skill and you only get better with practice.
"When I started understanding it, I could see myself improving and that's when I started enjoying it. So that transition happened naturally, I have become more sure of what I am doing after I started shooting, after I was put into that situation," she added.
Chillar had a nine-month long prep before she faced the camera, where Dwivedi doubled up as her acting coach, along with actor Nayani Dixit, who helped her with her Hindi diction. Her strong academic background came in handy as Chillar approached the prep like a student.
"At that time I felt even nine months were less because I was starting from scratch. I didn't grow up doing workshops, so I prepped a lot... Because I was a student, I had the mindset to approach it like a syllabus. I knew what I had to prepare, what the deadline was and that truly helped me," she added.
Prithviraj is scheduled to be released in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on June 3.