The moment I walked into an Ad set, I felt at home – Prithvi Pai

Prithvi wasn’t sure what she wanted to do in life until she walked into an ad set. In a candid chat with Indian Ad Divas, Prithvi Pai talks about her journey into finding the right calling, some amazing people she met along the way, and the indispensable life-lessons she learned working in the entertainment industry.
Where did you grow up? Did you always know that acting was your calling?
Having grown up in Manipal, I am a quintessential South Indian. I am not somebody who can say that my dream was to become an actor since childhood. I was a terribly confused child. I honestly did not know what I wanted, until I gave my first audition for a commercial, entirely by chance.
Growing up, I would keep getting recurring images of a camera flashing at me. I didn’t give much thought to it, but now I feel it was fate trying to point me towards my true calling.

You were a journalist before an actor. How was that experience?
I studied journalism at Xavier’s, Mumbai. This was the time when everything seemed possible — even changing the world. Well, it doesn’t always work that way. After college, I started working for a major media firm and soon realized this was not what I wanted to do. Especially when it came to sitting at one place and doing the same thing every day. I did not know what I wanted from life. But I knew for a certainty that this was definitely not it. And so, I quit this otherwise coveted job, completely on a whim.
What did you do after you quit your job?
When you are a journalist, the ultimate aim is to become a TV anchor. So, I started giving interviews specifically for the position. I got a big break in hosting a show, right at the beginning of my career. It was for a celebrity chat show. You wouldn’t believe it, but my first show on the air was an hour-long interview segment with Aamir Khan!
There I sat, 21, and barely out of college – interviewing the biggest superstar in the industry. All the other anchors were much older and experienced. I interviewed 10-15 big-time celebrities over the next couple of months. They were all very kind to me. They would talk without inhibitions and give me a lot of content, as they saw me as this naïve little kid.
I didn’t realize it at the time but being in the same frame as such renowned actors, listening to their life experiences was prepping me for an acting career moving forward.
How did you move on to acting from there?
With anchoring, there was still uneasiness in my heart. It didn’t quite feel like I had found my passion. I had started contacting coordinators to freelance as an anchor. A lot of the people handling casting for anchors were also looking out for advertising models. As my pictures were circulated, I started getting calls for ad auditions.

Which was your first commercial? How did you get shortlisted for it?
I remember the first time I walked into a production house for a look test. I was blown away at the talent around me. I started doubting if I should even give it a try. Just as I was about to back out, the casting director came to me and said, “I love your hair; it is exactly what we are looking for.”
I was flabbergasted, because I had not done anything to my hair, and beautiful girls were sitting around us with perfectly styled hairdos. This was when I realized, you never know what they are looking for, so always try for everything. When my turn for the audition came, I found the dialogues so filmy that I could not stop laughing. Needless to say, I wasn’t cast for that particular commercial, but I got a call for Mahindra based on the same look test. The first time I walked on an ad set, I knew I was home.

What did you love the most about advertising?
I did my first ad for Mahindra, which was shot in Kerala. I remember my parents being very anxious about the journey. I had a good feeling about the shoot, so they let me go. I immediately fell in love with the profession.
The entire experience gave me a kick. I loved the energy on set, I loved how involved people were in their jobs. I started enjoying auditioning; it wasn’t even about getting shortlisted. It was about what exciting am I going to recite today.

What are some of the most memorable projects you have worked on?
I did a music video recently, which is a Ghazal for Hungama Music. The narration, done by Vishal Bharadwaj, was shot in Kasol, Manali. Shooting for it remains one of the biggest highlights of my year 2019.
I have had the pleasure of working with lots of amazing people who taught me immensely along this journey. I have worked with Puneet Malhotra, Gajraj Rao – both of whom were great at making everyone around them comfortable. When I was shooting with Gajraj Sir for a Himalaya ad, he asked me,
“Have you done theatre? Your audition was so good; I was sure you had a theatre background.”
I was on cloud nine after hearing that. It was one of my best shoots because I was glowing the entire day. (Chuckles)
I also got the opportunity to work with Prasoon Pandey Sir for a 7-Up ad. It had a humorous storyline that ended with Irrfan Khan doing a moonwalk. Everyone on the set was going gaga over when it was going to happen. But Irfaan Sir pulled it off effortlessly.
After we were done with the shoot, Prasoon Pandey Sir told his assistant to note down my number as he deemed me fit for another one of his ad films. Little things like these kept happening in my initial years in the industry, motivating me to a great extent.

What are some lessons you have followed that have helped you excel in the industry?

  • The first rule I follow is not to judge myself – I let the clients do it.
  • I also emphasize staying groomed, presentable, and articulate. In this profession, one has to know how to express themselves.
  • I am extremely picky with my work. I only do what I like. I listen to my intuition. It limits my scope of work, but it has rewarded me in the long run. I can proudly say that there are no skeletons in my closet. (Chuckles)
  • Another important rule I follow is not to have backups. When you have a backup, you are already preparing for plan A not to work. Somewhere, it stops you from giving 100% to the dream at hand. When you don’t have any other options but to make it work, your mind starts working a double shift. It is beautiful how things unfold if you just let it go.

The real struggle of an actor does not take place on the set; it reflects in how they utilize their time when they are not doing anything. Acting is the only profession where you one has to go for multiple job interviews, compete with thousands of other applicants, and get hired only for a day.  Strong willpower is a necessity to survive in the industry.
Acting is not easy. But it is worth the struggle.
You can follow Prithvi Pai on Instagram @prithvipaii for more updates.

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