Manasi Rachh: In the Spotlightby Aparajita Krishna March 17 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 19 mins, 9 secs
Aparajita Krishna traces actor, model Manasi Rachh’s interesting journey across theatre, films and now web-series.
Manasi Rachh on her petite frame carries a very photogenic, effervescent face. She is to the camera-born. Combine that with her modelling and acting talent (on stage and screen), the passion for work that she brings, and you have a very individualistic, distinctive actor-model in front of you. No wonder her future is still young and happening!
Film Director Nupur Asthana tells the article, “Manasi acted in my first feature film Mujse Fraandship Karoge. She had a lot of vivacity, spunk that was perfect for the role I had in mind for her. But she had long hair that made her look like any other teenager in college. I asked her if she would be willing to chop off her hair and though initially reluctant, she finally agreed. The result was a striking face that looked so unique that after the film released she became the new ‘cool’ face in films and commercials. She was so easy to work with and her lines always felt effortless despite the hard work she put in during workshops.”
Veteran theatre critic Shanta Gokhale in her review of the play ‘Walking to the Sun’ wrote in Mumbai Mirror in relation to Manasi’s act as a 12 year old boy, “Fortunately, the play’s complex web of ideas in no way diminishes its emotional impact, which comes chiefly from two sources, Manasi Rachh’s performance as Amal and the sound track. Manasi’s petite stature, flute-like voice, spontaneous laughter and mobile face embody Amal’s pure innocence with rare truthfulness. The scene of his death is arguably the most moving one has seen in a long time.”
Reputed theatre director Sunil Shanbag informs, “Manasi Rachch was introduced to me when I was looking for an actor to play the young boy Amal in Rabindranath Tagore’s Dak Ghar (in stage creation Walking to the Sun). It is not uncommon in theatre to cast a female actor in the role of a young boy, but I was not sure how Manasi would respond to the suggestion. She immediately agreed, and over the next couple of months of intensive rehearsal she worked very hard to understand the seemingly contradictory qualities of Amal - innocent wonder at the world around him, great curiosity, combined with deep wisdom. Not easy for a young actor. But it was wonderful to watch Manasi grow into the role and begin to enjoy it. She had a wonderful stage presence and made a lovely Amal. Soon after the play Manasi began to act more regularly and I like to believe that Dak Ghar gave her the confidence to do so.”
My little research made me chance upon a lovely live-interview of Manasi with Dainik Jagran, done in 2021. An edited excerpt says “Main bahut lucky rahi hoon. Like most outsiders I had no connection. I was very, very new. Life ke auditions shuru hue. Wahi kar kar ke aaj I think I am (here). I have been very lucky to have been part of very good films, jaise Mujse Fraandship Karoge, my first film. Then Student of the Year. 24 series ki season 2. Anil Kapoorji ke saath. I used to stay at Sion. Jhola le ke har roz main Andheri ke har studio mein jaa kar ‘Hii sir do I fit in your audition…’ karti thi. Bahut saare rejection hue. Maine bahut saare gate-crash kiye. I reached a point ki maine give up kar diya tha… kitna rejection aap le sakte ho life mein? One of the days I decided ki for a week or 10 days audition nahi karoongi… bhaar mein gayi acting. Main profession change kar loongi. At Kala Ghoda festival mujhe call aaya ki ‘Mam aapne audition diya tha 2-3 mahine pehle? Aap finalise ho gayi hain aur ek hafte mein shoot hai. Yashraj se call kar rahe’. I thought it was a crank prank call. Luckily it was a legit call. Next day main Yashraj gayi, met Nupur Asthana, director. And I signed the film. Before Mujhse Fraandship Karoge was out I auditioned for Student of the Year. Finalised for that. Phir Charlie Ke Chakkar Mein. Somewhere the universe did not want me to give up.”
I loved the expression she used for herself during the shooting phase of the film Student of the Year. “I was almost like a deer caught in headlights.” From there to now she has come into the spotlight. Over an exchange we got talking.
It is so endearing to learn that unlike many star-actors born to lineage you were so passionate about going out and asking for work. Even pleading. The audition-trails and rejections you talk of with smilesssss. You have gatecrashed to recognition! So, tell me how do you define that passion? Was it to be known, or a hunger for acting or…??
I guess it was the hunger for acting. I feel we are always taught to work hard. But sometimes one needs to take life a little lightly and let it play out its course. And I guess that's what happened to me when I landed with Mujhse Fraandship Karoge.
You have made a lovely little place for yourself in the world of theatre, films, web-series, modelling. How do you look back at your journey? It is still young and happening.
I am very grateful for the projects I’ve landed with, for the directors I’ve worked with, for the experiences I’ve had, for the characters I’ve got to play, for the places I’ve got to travel to. Very few people can boast that they look forward to going to work every single day. I love my work. Every shoot day is like a high in life. I feel my work requires me to ‘play’ a certain role. I sometimes feel like a child who dresses up differently like in a fancy dress competition and can be a different person every single day.
Entertainment industry’s nepotism talk, insiders vs outsiders debate is quite a raging issue. You were a rank outsider. Tell us your take on it.
I guess it's all karma and destiny. There are a lot of outsiders who've made it big, and there are a lot of star kids who’ve failed too. Although what I feel is that star kids are better equipped with the marketing game, which a lot of outsiders are now understanding. I’ve understood over the years that it's not just acting, but also the PR machinery behind an individual that helps them retain their popularity. But again there are exceptions and with the rise in OTT platforms, things are getting more democratized.
Now to go back in time. You were a Mumbai girl. You did your schooling and college here. Tell us about it and a bit about your family. Rachh is a very unusual surname.
Yes. Rachh is an unusual surname. I always tell people that there were always two ‘h’s in my surname and that it's not numerology. My father Vijay Rachh, has worked as a violinist in the film industry for 50 years. My mom Shobhana Rachh, worked with an NGO, an orphanage for almost 20 years. My brother Devang Rachh, is an award winning sound engineer. I come from a typical middle-class Mumbai household, where taking a cab was considered a luxury. I went to Amulakh Amichand Bhimji Vividhlakshi Vidyalaya till my primary grade, and then to Little Angels High school (Sion), which was walking distance from my house. In my growing up years I would always travel by local bus and local trains to and from Wilson College. I am a media graduate with a Bachelors in Mass Media degree specialized in Advertising.
Before joining theatre you assisted on advertising films?
Yes. I started work as an AD on advt-films. I worked with Dungarpur films for a year before I moved on to AD as a freelancer. I was a first AD on quite a few advt-films before I decided to foray into acting.
Did you did plays in college?
I did a few workshops, but college was very hectic. We had an amazing professor who pushed us to do a lot of projects, gain work experience, make films, explore different facets of our personalities. And I was quite a nerd who did not know how to even dress up properly. I would wear my brother's oversized T-shirts and go to college. A lot of my classmates were shocked when I took up acting as a profession.
After completing college you joined theatre and your first play was Aisa Kehte Hain by Manav Kaul for group Aranya. You played the character of a little sardar boy at a tea stall. Do recall the part. What drove you to theatre?
While I started my career as an assistant director on advt films, I used to find the process very bland. There was very limited scope to learn about different emotions or facets of storytelling. In advertising, content always had to feel good. That's not how reality is. And those were not the kind of films I wanted to direct. Direction was what I thought was my calling at that time. But then one day I went to watch a play at IIT Powai, where I was introduced to plays by Manav Kaul, Sunil Shanbag and others (both of whom I ended up working with eventually).
I saw a phenomenal Kumud Mishra create sheer magic on stage. I instantly fell in love with the medium. I loved the storytelling, I loved how it moved me. Manav Kaul was starting production of a new play and I decided to join him as an assistant. Much later, Manav offered me to play a substitute part in Aisa Kehte Hain, as the original actor backed out just days before the show. I knew the play inside out anyway, so I was termed as “at least ek show sambhal legi’ kind of an actor. A dummy actor for one show. The show was a showcase at a theatre festival at Ninasam, where plays from around the country were selected to perform. Post that show I heard the audience cheer and they just didn’t stop clapping for me. Something changed that day. Something moved. I felt a high I had never felt before. And I guess there was no looking back from there.
You acted in Bali Aur Shambhu (as Titli) under Manav Kaul, playing Sudhir Pandey’s daughter. You went on to playing a wicked mother in Kashin Shetty’s Thespo play Confessions. Then 12 year old boy Amal in Walking In The Sun, which was Sunil Shanbag’s recreation of Tagore’s Dakghar and Polish doctor Janusz Korczak’s horrific concentration camp story. This play got you a lot of appreciation. Was theatre making you more and more aware as an actor?
Oh completely. I wouldn’t say I was not someone who voiced my opinion, but I was quite an introvert. I was invisible and I did not like too much attention either. Theatre helped me shed my inhibitions. Also working with directors like Sunil Shanbag really expanded my perspective towards acting. That really helped me when I started doing camera acting.
You featured in Verve Magazine 2010 November issue. Am sure your portfolio pictures told you have a very charming, spontaneous and distinct personality. How did you assess your looks?
Oh my god! I knew I loved acting. But I never thought I was good looking. I was so conscious of the way I looked, my complexion, my height, my hair even. I used to not like attention so I used to always dress down. Late Pandit Satyadev Dubey had loved my work in Walking to the Sun. One day at Prithvi Theatre he called me and asked me to join him on a table. He then lectured me for two hours straight to say now that I’m an actor I should not walk around like a ‘Jhalla’ anywhere. He said casting directors should see you and instantly know an actor has walked in. I never got to work with him as he passed away soon after, but he taught me a lot about being presentable as an actor at a time when I didn't have any guidance.
Who are your favourite theatre icons?
Kumud Mishra! He is the first actor I saw on stage. Of course Naseeruddin Shah, Jyoti Dogra, Geetanjali Kulkarni. Also my friend from Bangalore called Vivek Vijayakumaran who does phenomenal theatre work.
Any more plays lined up?
Not at the moment. My camera work usually keeps me busy to pursue theatre in this phase of life.
Film Mujhse Fraandship Karoge (2011) happened. You played Neha in this youthful romantic comedy directed by Nupur Asthana. It starred debutant actors. It was meant for young audience who patronized it. Tell us about the experience and how confidently you went about the part. Any anecdotes?
Thinking of Mujhse Fraandship Karoge feels very surreal now. It was a very young set. Everyone trying to figure themselves out as actors. The stakes were high, but it was a lot of fun too. I remember I had long hair before Mujhse Fraandship Karoge. Nupur met me for the first reading and suggested I should cut my hair. I had never gone short, so I was quite reluctant. But the short hair worked wonders and was something that really changed the perception people had of me and I ended up with a lot of work in the initial days of my acting. I will always be grateful to Nupur to have pushed me to do that.
Student Of The Year (2012) was waiting to happen. You played Shruti Pathak, Shanaya’s (Alia Bhatt) former best friend, a no-nonsense character. Tell us about the experience of working with Karan Johar and Alia. And how did you go about making the part stand on its feet?
Student of the Year was a toughie. I was too young, too naive, too simple to be on such a huge set. I was almost like a deer caught in headlights. The stakes were very high too. My theatre experience definitely helped me with the acting. I had to learn and ace swimming and cycling as my character required me to do that. And, I was someone who used to be scared of water. But I guess when you are left with no choice is when you face your fears. It’s one of the films that has given me the most recognition in my career. And it will always be special.
Then came web-series 24 Season 2 (2013 – 2016). You played Maddy, a hacker with tattoos, action sequences with a gun. How was it working with Anil Kapoor, shooting with him and the other actors?
I was finalised for a 3 day part in 24 as the character Maddy. Abhinay Deo and Anil Kapoor saw the edit, they liked my work, so they decided to increase my part. I will always be grateful to them for that. It was crazy shooting with Anil Kapoor. I have grown up seeing him on TV, and here I was firing bullets at him. He is one of the most humble, passionate, positive and fit actors I’ve worked with. On my last day the direction team did some mess up with the dates. They hadn't told me that I was required for one more day and I had already given the rest of the dates away for another project. They told Anil Kapoor about it, and the gentleman that he is, he did an extra shift of action sequences just so that I didn’t have to back out of the other project. He is a star. He didn’t have to inconvenience himself, but he did! And I will always admire him for that.
Film Charlie Ke Chakkar Mein (2015) was a noir crime thriller. You played Nina the principle role, with Naseeruddin Shah, Amit Sial. It was directed by Manish Srivastav. Subject was of four youngsters addicted to drugs who get involved in an accident concerning a gangster. Any lessons from Naseeruddin Shah?
Naseeruddin Shah is a school in himself. Just watching him perform with so much ease in front of your eyes is phenomenal.
You were an anchor for Indian Martial Arts, ek itihaas (2017) that aired on Epic channel.
Oh, this was one of the best experiences too. I got the opportunity to travel to so many locations extensively and learn about different Martial Art forms in India. I remember one of the schedules we were shooting in North India for a few days. We would shoot in the day, travel through the night every second day. A few days in the schedule and I had lost all sense of time and space. One night we took a flight to Mysore. We had got used to North India for the last few days, and ordering ‘Pyaaz’ with your dal khichdi was a done deal. Suddenly when I said please send some ‘Pyaaz’ to the room service personnel, they did not understand what I was saying. Then I said ‘Kaanda’. He didn't understand that either. Suddenly it hit me that we had flown in the previous night and woken up in the Southern part of India. Finally I ordered some onions with my dal khichadi. Our country is so culturally diverse, and traveling to all the states one after the other really made me experience this diversity first hand. I guess I am lucky to have gone through such an enriching experience.
In 2018 came It’s Not That Simple, a Voot web-series. You played Natasha (Nats). It also featured Swara Bhaskar, Purab Kohli, Sumeet Vyas, Vivan Bhatena and others. Tell us of the experience.
Oh this was one of the most fun shoots I’ve had. I absolutely loved it. All the co-actors were so lovely. And the director Danish Aslam is a treat to work with. It's always fun when you are working with a very matured team. It just eases out the process.
My Sun Sets To Rise Again (2020) was a short film. You featured with Parvin Dabbas.
Oh yes. The plot of the film was that the vice president of the company, played by Parvin Dabbas, falls in love with a maid, that's me. It was so unusual at that time. The director was a New York based Director called Dana Offenbach. She is one of the most genuine directors I’ve worked with. We had so many wonderful conversations about women, empowerment, our roles etc., all of which we were trying to portray in the film. I will always have a sweet spot for ‘My Sun Sets To Rise Again’
Hindmata, the web-series of 2021, was majorly women cast. Concept was very different. You played Sudha Nath. Your look is also very different, non-glamorous Indian. It was on Indian jails and inmates. You were one of the inmates. How do you evaluate it?
Shooting Hindmata was an adrenaline rush. A lot of scenes were something I had not done before. Every morning I would wake up nervous thinking if I would be able to pull off powerful scenes. Sudha was such a dichotomous character, strong, yet vulnerable. Hindmata was as much challenging as it was exciting. I was lucky to work on a women-dominated set helmed by a young but extremely talented director Srishti Jayin.
You have made a big place in the advertising space as a model. Noted commercials are Myntra, Parle Kismi Toffee Bar, Airtel Money, Kellogg’s breakfast, DBS Bank with Sachin Tendulkar, Fortune Rice Brand and others. How was it working with Sachin Tendulkar?
Sachin Tendulkar and I were on set together, but we didn’t end up shooting together as such. One of the days I was on my way back to the suburbs with a friend, and there I saw this big hoarding of mine with Sachin Tendulkar. That was a surreal moment. I asked my friend to stop the car and for a few minutes I just jumped out of joy.
Any music videos you featured in?
In my asst-direction days, one day I got a call from the director Anand Surapur asking if I was free the next day. He said he wanted me to act in a music video and he would pay me 5k. I wasn’t an actor then. I landed on the set. And that’s when I realized the music video was with Jagjit Singh and Gulzar Saab called ‘Phoolon ki Tarah’. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My dad used to always make us listen to Jagjit-Gulzar ghazals while we were growing up. The entire shoot, I was just awestruck and thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.
You have featured on the Verve Online Mag in 2010 and 2011.
Yes. One of the reporters really liked my work in the play ‘Walking to the Sun’ and featured me in their magazine for that.
What else is lined up work wise?
I have done a Gujarati film called Vickida No Varghodo, which is yet to release. I have done two Hindi web-shows called ‘Rangbaaz 3’ and ‘Screwed Up’, that will be coming out soon. Currently I am working on another Hindi web-show with a senior director. I can't disclose the details of this project yet as I’m under a contract with them.
I know you personally and the family you are married in. So tell us about Prateek Sharma, your husband. It was wonderful attending your marriage. He is FTII alumni and a director. Work must be adding to the companionship in marriage.
I met Prateek during my assistant direction days. We were both young and naive then. We’ve grown as people together through the years. He has been my backbone in all my ups and downs through the years. And in the film industry there are many ups and downs one experiences. Having a husband who is so open-minded and supportive has been one of the biggest blessings I could have asked for.
Manasi’s bonded present is on a forward march.