Back in 2012, a dialogue from the Malayalam film Thattathin Marayathu had an edge of hysteria. A love story, it dwelt upon discords in interfaith relationships. There is a scene where the Hindu protagonist, Vinod, (Nivin Pauly), describes his hijab-clad swain Aisha, (Isha Talwar), thus, “Olu aa thattum ittu kazhinjal ente saare, pinne chuttonnum kannan pattoolla [When she wears that hijab, my sir, you will not see anything else around you].” In a state like Kerala, which has become a symbol of religious coexistence, the dialogue did not offer any introspection, but there was an obvious devotion―for Aisha―enacted succinctly by Talwar, who, over the years, has evolved as an actor.
In a career spanning more than 10 years, Talwar has acted in close to 30 films and web series in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. In 2020, she earned accolades for her performance as Madhuri Yadav in Mirzapur 2, a web series that has a cult following. Today, Talwar has a line-up of projects across languages, including Rohit Shetty’s Indian Police Force (an action drama on Amazon Prime starring Sidharth Malhotra, Vivek Oberoi and Shilpa Shetty), Homi Adajania’s Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo (releasing in April 2023 on Hotstar) and Mirzapur 3, which will release soon.
Said Talwar, “All said, Thattathin Marayathu remains my most innocent project till date. While we worked on the film, we never knew it would make such an impact. I have had people walk up to me, crying, at airports, shopping malls. The film and my character moved them.”
Actor Vineeth Sreenivasan, who directed Thattathin Marayathu, has saved Talwar’s name in his phone as ‘Isha Aisha’. “That is how I saved her number in 2012 while we were making the film. I did not change it after that. It is nice to see Isha doing such amazing work with some of the most talented people in our country,” said Vineeth.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Talwar was smitten with Bollywood from a young age. And why not! Her father, Vinod Talwar, an executive producer, is a close associate of filmmaker Boney Kapoor. She faced the camera for the first time as a child actor in Satish Kaushik’s Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai (2000), which starred Anil Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and was produced by Boney Kapoor. Subsequently Talwar worked as a model in commercials, while also foraying into dancing. “In retrospect, I understand my journey was always to be an artiste. I did not choose to be a child actor. It just happened. I remember being as captivated by a film set when I was 11 years old as I am today. I remember Anil ji [Anil Kapoor] asking for his 45th take for a scene [from Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai], where he had to be really angry. I thought, ’wow, he just does not give up’. I did not know I would grow up to be an actor and behave the same way today,” said Talwar.
Though Talwar made her Bollywood debut with Kaalakaandi (2018), opposite Saif Ali Khan, it was the role of chief minister Madhuri Yadav in Mirzapur 2 (2020) that turned heads. She played the role with masterly finesse, much to the appreciation of a wider audience north of the Vindhyas. Mirzapur 2 came a year after Article 15, a critically acclaimed film on caste-based oppressions; Talwar played the role of actor Ayushmann Khurrana’s wife with grace.
“Whatever you see of me in Article 15, barring the songs, was shot in a day. Mirzapur 2 was a game-changer for me,” said Talwar, “I had an entire arc in the story. Something I had never got the chance to do before. Mirzapur 2 was the most rewarding experience for me. My perception changed for sure, but I want to let people know that I am not just a serious actor and I would like to explore lighter parts, too.” Like her role in Sharmaji Namkeen (2022), a comedy film which was actor Rishi Kapoor’s last film. Talwar played the role of Kapoor’s son’s lover. “I was thrilled to have briefly interacted with him [Kapoor] in the film. He was an extremely spontaneous actor and I think I need more of that in my acting,” said Talwar.
During the pandemic when cinema halls were closed, OTT brought a ray of sunshine into homes, with many films doing well across streaming platforms. Some were watched over and over again across the world with subtitles. Many of Talwar’s films were released on the OTT platform. So, is she in sync with OTT? “I think it is fairly clear that OTT has changed the game for all the industries and the audiences. I am just happy to be an actor in the middle of such big changes. If it was not for Mirzapur 2 on OTT, I don’t know how long my struggle to make a mark would have continued,” she said.