On being Nikita of 24
I’m a big fan of the original 24 series, so much so that I had finished one full season over a weekend. I had acted with Ajinkya earlier so one day he called me and asked me to meet Abhinay. When I came to know that it was for 24, I called up my husband (Raj Kaushal) and said ‘I’m sure they want me for Nina Myers (Nikita in 24 India)’ and he agreed with me. When I met Abhinay, he told me about this other character that he wanted me to play, which was good on its own, but it wasn’t Nikita. So Abhinay was talking about the other role and I said ‘Abhinay, look at me, I’m Nina Myers, I should play Nikita.’ I was sporting short hair and jeans and a vest, and Abhinay looked at me and said ‘Yes, you’re right. Tell you what, I’ll test you for both characters.’ I gave the test for both characters (with equal energy and conviction, mind you) and that’s how I was Nikita!
On being part of an ensemble cast with stars
It has been 9 years since I have done a Hindi fiction show. So I was waiting for a role where it would be all about me, I would be central to the show. But when 24 was offered to me, that went out of the window, I didn’t mind even a small role if I get to be part of the show. Of course, Nikita is not a small role, it’s pretty central, and I love her from the bottom of my heart. Indian show makers don’t know what to do with me because of my looks, they don’t know which category I fit in. Nikita Rai is a category on her own, and I loved playing this role!
On being the ‘other woman’ in the show
I don’t look at their situation in the normal definition of the ‘other woman’ as shown in previous shows. Nikita and Jai had a history, a relationship when Jai’s marriage broke down. Now it’s over and both of them have moved on. They are professionals who work together and Nikita is Jai’s go-to person, his support system. Nikita is not someone who keeps pining for Jai or weeping over him. Of course they have a history, but both of them do their bit for their country without dwelling on the past. She’s as hardcore as can be, but this soft corner for Jai makes her human.
On her experience of shooting for 24
I got to do everything in 24! I was at the ATU, I had scenes with the Singhania family, confrontations with Trisha, I was shot at, left for dead…so yes that covers everything. I had the greatest fun doing the action scenes because a lot of my scenes were at the ATU and there’s only so much you can do while doing phone call or briefing scenes. Anil Kapoor is hugely experienced, but he comes on the sets with the enthusiasm of a newcomer, and is so inspiring! Sapna (Pabbi) is a darling, a delight to work with. Neil Bhoopalam is also a very good co-star. And about being directed by Abhinay, well I loved Delhi Belly, and he has such a different way of looking at things and that’s visible when he gives a suggestion about a scene and you go ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ He’s a perfectionist and it was great working with him.
On the response to Nikita’s character
There’s just one word for it- OVERWHELMING. 24 has reached out to an audience that never watched Indian fiction, a highly evolved and intelligent audience and I’m proud to be a part of 24. I walk into a party where I don’t expect the people to talk about TV shows, and they tell me how commendable 24 is. I tweet anything on Twitter, and I get 55 responses about 24 and Nikita. I drop my son at school, and the moms and teachers tell me they love Nikita. I did cricket and I got accolades about being the first woman in cricket. The response now is comparable to that, in terms of the number of people saying what a great show this is.
Thoughts on the Season Finale of 24
It’s a mixed feeling. I’m really happy to be part of the show, but I’m really sad that it’s ending. I watch the show every weekend as an audience and I find the show so engaging, with all the twists and cliffhangers. 24 is a game changer on Indian television and hats off to Anil Kapoor and Raj Nayak for making a show like this exist. This will open doors for a lot of such good shows to come to TV. In the 19 years of my career, I can easily say that 24 is the show I’m proudest of. I can’t wait for Season 2 of 24!