Saira Mohan is an international supermodel, an agony aunt, a mom and also a Bollywood actress. She was deemed “The Perfect Face” by Newsweek magazine and that immediately put her on the map and catapulted her into global stardom. If that isn’t enough, she has been invited to speak at the World Economic Forum many times as well as the 2006 India Today Conclave. Clearly an expert at relationships, Mohan penned an ebook which was a sellout titled,How to Seduce (and Marry) the Woman of Your Dreams. Currently, she is involved in a number of worldwide endorsements and will next be seen in Leena Yadav’s Teen Patti, which also stars Amitabh Bachchan, Ben Kingsley, R. Madhavan, and a number of other actors. Saira speaks to BollySpice about her journey thus far, where she’s headed and how she plays her Ace card.
Tell us about your journey from being a model to Bollywood.
This journey! Well, that may take ten to fifteen minutes at least! After being in the fashion industry for decades almost and after the Newsweek cover, I had more of a global exposure. especially with having the heritage that I have, and having that reach, people in India, that was when a lot of offers and calls, and interest began. It started really from there and then it was just about picking and choosing the right kind of suitable jobs to do, to keep the quality, to up the par and to do the right projects. It’s nice to think. that one should say yes to everything, but it’s important, especially with family, to pick and choose and do the right things at the right time. I was first invited by Karan Johar to come to New York and meet him. He was filming Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna at the time. He was very interested in having me play a role, or rather a cameo in his film. So, I went where I was invited, met him, got on with him very well and he invited me to come and do this film, which I did. That led to another thing. So, one door opens, another one closes and you go on your journey. So, it just kind of fed into each other. I think the Teen Patti role came, if I remember the director saying to me that she had seen a pregnant photograph of me, and she said, ‘This is the kind of woman I needed to play this part’. She had seen some image of me online or in a magazine. She was really taken with this strong female image, which the part that I play in Teen Patti is very much a strong woman, who knows her herself quite well. Anyway, luck plays a big part in it; I’d like to say I know exactly how I was led to Bollywood, but I’m not really quite sure; I suspect this was the way (laughs). But I’m really happy that I have been led there because it has been wonderful.
What was the experience working on Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna?
It was awesome! I was in the company of Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan, and Abhishek Bachchan. I was in awe! Here I am in New York, we were all hanging out on the sets. I was the only one who didn’t have an assistant, they all have two or three assistants, one to hold their phone, one to put drops in their eyes, one to blow their nose – it was crazy! It was just really cool. It was very matter-of-fact. I got to know them, spend time with them, share shopping tips with Rani; it was very cool. Then I went on to Mumbai and shot again. It was just the coolest company. I mean, does it get any better? I don’t think so. It was really very cool!
So let’s get to Teen Patti. What did you think when they approached you about the film and your role?
Initially it was Ambika, the producer of the film, who called me up on the phone. She said, ‘I am doing this film and there is a perfect role that we would love for you read. Let us know if we can work together on this’. That is exactly what I did and then I was like of course, yes, yes, yes! That’s how it all began. I got to India and met Leena, who is just incredible as well. I think the power of the female crew, it’s run by women, and the female energy made this whole film incredible. It was like women power all the way. It was awesome! It was a departure from the norm, I guess. There were many hiccups, but it wasn’t dealt with in an awkward sort of way. Women are multi-taskers by nature, so I think they were just able to roll with the punches, and not upset anyone along the way. They did a really fabulous job with the many, many people on set, shooting day in and day out, having power outages. Plus Amitabh had some medical stomach issue half way through filming and we had to take a two week hiatus until he got better, and it was just no big deal. It was very loving, very nurturing; the whole feeling on set was extremely nurturing and comforting. Everyone was at ease and everyone did their thing. It was really cool to be a part of that. They made me feel like this was nothin’ but a thing. You are exactly as you are meant to be and let’s roll it! It was very cool. It was an incredible experience. I wish it didn’t end.
So your character is Mrs. K. Who is she and what makes her tick?
She’s an incredibly seductive woman. She enjoys men and seducing. She really is a socialite beyond extreme. She is a fabulous person that throws fabulous parties and invites all the people that should be there.
I read that she’s the femme fatal of the film. How was it playing a character like her?
It was extremely challenging, especially with the Hindi parts, but I felt very much in my own skin with her. I really enjoyed playing her, because there were elements of this character that I could pull from my own past and bring to life with her. You’ll know more once you see the film, but it was great. I loved the gowns, the costumes I got to wear and the jewelry. I loved the scenes that I had with Maddy; it was so great. It was challenging because I had to learn new dance routines, Hindi, but I love challenges! That’s what life is all about; pushing the edge. I was definitely pushed to the edge. We’ll see how it’s accepted and how it resonates with the audiences.
How was it working with Leena as a director? How did she guide you on set with the Hindi and scenes?
She was awesome. I spent a lot of time offset with her. We sat, we talked, we ate; we really grew as friends. We’re definitely friends today. With the Hindi, she took time out of her day to go and record what my Hindi lines were, so I could replay them over and over and she’d practice with me, and made sure I got it. She was very patient with me. She was very Zen, loving and nurturing about the whole thing. She made me feel completely capable. And I did it. Initially it was like oh my God! I need to say what? How? Is there a way that we can break that down? (laughs). But it worked out. It was awesome. She was like a true mother director. She was incredible.
Then you worked with Madhavan, who is great. How was it working with him?
Maddy is incredibly gentle and such a good guy all the way around. He himself is married, he’s a father. He takes his job very seriously and is very good at what he does. He’s a true professional through and through. He put me at ease. It was fun and it was light-hearted. We would play cards offset and games to pass time. It was great. He’s a wonderful human being. Again I was so lucky to have someone who was so level-headed and that I had a lot in common with. We could talk about our kids, it was lovely. Then when we were onset, it was like okay back to our other life. His wife was there, and I met her; she’s lovely. It was like extended family. It felt very comfortable; it was very nice.
So then you have Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Sir Ben Kingsley as part of the cast! Did you have scenes with them? How was it working with them?
I had scenes with Amitabh and Ben, no, I don’t believe; I am not sure. We’ll see what they cut, because I haven’t seen the final cut, so I’m not even sure if I am even in the film! (Laughs) With Amitabh, I spent a lot of time with him. He is a living legend, as everyone knows. He walks into a room and everyone just quiets down; no one says a peep and all eyes are on him, he’s like the center of the universe, like a living God really. It was incredible to witness his power and his aura. He’s a totally nice guy! He has this presence of an untouchable human-being, but you actually just go up to him and tap him on the shoulder to introduce yourself, and he is the biggest teddy bear. He is the nicest, loveliest star around; he really is and I think his presence doesn’t do him justice. He has a very good heart; a good man.
Did you learn anything from him as an actor watching him do his scenes?
You know what I learnt from him was not to be afraid to watch the rushes and to speak up. He would immediately go to a scene. He knew when he nailed it and he knew when he didn’t and he would voice that with Leena. He was a true artist in that sense. Me… I let Leena do her thing, I didn’t want to get in the way, didn’t want to get in anyone’s creative flow, I let things go. I learned how to critique yourself and not be afraid to share it with the director rather than letting the director tell you; he was telling the director as well. He shared his thoughts and knew what looked good. He wasn’t afraid to give his creative input.
When I talked to Leena, she said there are a lot of messages underlying in the film. What do you think audiences are going to take away?
Well, I don’t know. This is a film about choices, it’s about ones journey and I think everyone will take away something a little bit different depending on what character they identify with. There are so many cool characters in the film and definitely a lot of themes as far as what one would take away from it. To be determined I guess…we will see.
What do you think audiences are going to love about it?
The cinematography is incredible; it’s really well shot. From an artistic stand point, its beautiful. I just think the characters themselves are just very cool, young, vibrant, interesting. The storyline about gambling and the taboos associated with it. Having that taboo topic touched upon, especially in India, is going to draw a lot of interest.
Do you think it will resonate in the U.S. as well?
I hope so! Again being a primarily Hindi film, it would be hard amongst the mainstream America. Maybe the subtitles will do it justice. I think whoever sees it, especially amongst the community will enjoy it.
Do you have any other projects lined up after Teen Patti?
I’m working on a project currently that actually
has nothing to do with films whatsoever. I hope to have more film things coming up in the future. Let’s see how the reviews go! (Laughs) There are offers that come in the door everyday, but between being the mother of two boys and having a life outside of the industry that I value, as much as I value my work, I really like to divide and try and balance my time between all those things that I enjoy doing. Right now today, I am focusing on something that allows me to be home and plan ahead. Then in the future when my little boy is off the booby here and allows me to take off for longer periods of time, then I will be hopefully on my next set somewhere in the world.
Are you interested in Hollywood and perhaps other international projects too?
Yeah! I’m interested in if it makes sense and it’s a quality project, absolutely. I think anyone would be up for that. I’m open.
Catch Teen Pattiat your local cinema when it releases February 26th, and watch Saira Mohan seduce you as she deal a game of cards! Also check out our interview with director Leena Yadav here!