“Every kid growing up wanted to be an engineer or a doctor but not me” – Sulagna Panigrahi
She started young and had an early career in the movies, ads and television. She is a very well-known and a well-respected name in the industry. IAD chats with Sulagna Panigrahi about her favourite brands, her most challenging roles and more in this interview
Where did you grow up?
My father is in the army and so I travelled a lot growing up throughout the country. My formative years were in Delhi 6-12th class and then moved to Bombay.
What was it like living alone and working in Bombay at such a young age?
I passed class 12th and moved to Bombay. Living alone and working so early in life was quite strange because all my friends were still studying while I was paying my own bills. It was quite different. I enjoyed it a lot. I liked being different and loved being an actor. I did do my graduation on the side though. My mum expected me to do an MBA but that was not gonna happen.
My mum has always made me independent. She was pampered at home and when she got married, she didn’t know how to do half the things. I was also an army kid who was brought up in a secure environment and we were taught to be independent. My father wasn’t always around. In fact the building I was living in, in Bombay was being newly constructed and I was the only one living in the building.
Do you remember your first ever shoot?
The first ever shoot I did was a print ad. It was for Dabur toothpaste. In fact, until recently my picture was still on it. It was my first one, I was 17 and did not look like a mother. They had to pencil in a bindi on me. I always liked being in front of the camera. Even if it was my first polio shoot, it didn’t feel like it was the first time. Every kid growing up wanted to be an engineer or a doctor but not me.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is something which is completely internal. There are so many perceptions of beauty. What you find ugly about yourself is what people find beautiful about you. Thick pouty lips is trendy right now but when I was growing up, it was considered ugly. I have thick lips but it was considered beautiful. Americans want to get tanned and Indians want a fairer complexion. I find the concept of beauty overrated. I feel sad when I see young girls get brainwashed to look a certain way. When we were growing up, our parents didn’t need to tell us but this generation needs to hear it. You need to tell the kids they are beautiful because they are easily influenced with the standards of beauty. Everyone is beautiful.
Tell us about your experience playing conjoined twins in the TV series Amber Dhara?
I trained for 6 months before the show for this role. In fact they had to make the prosthetic hand and that took about 5-6 hours and that meant standing that long. Six months of rigorous training is what it took to give that performance. My character was lefty and so I was writing and eating with my left hand. People think TV actors don’t rehearse but that’s not true; we trained so much. I got really into the character. A lot of research went into the character too. I know so much about that subject now. We also travelled to places where people treated us like conjoined twins. We have taken flights joined.
What was prep for your role in the movie Murder 2?
While Reshma’s role for Amber Dhara took six months of preparation, we did not have that much time for the film. I signed the film a week before the shoot. With Murder I actually went full throttle and just be in the situation. There was not much preparation needed for the shot as such but it required 100 percent commitment while on set; to actually feel those emotions.
Name some of your favourite brands that you are proud to be associated with?
I love doing ads. My favourite ones are the Scotch Brite and the Parachute ads which are on air. I always wanted to do a beauty product. It’s on every model’s check list (laughs) and it was on mine too. Another one of my favourites is an ad for Nazraana Jewellery because the ad had a message. I love the Flipkart ad too; it’s very cute. I just did one for the dating app site Truly Madly which will be out soon too.
What’s your chemistry with your sister?
We have great chemistry. I am missing her so much at the moment. She [Smrutika Panigrahi] is also in the industry and is an assistant to Anurag Kashyap. She will eventually be making her own films and hopefully we will make a movie together in the future. She is so amazing, I cannot imagine my life without her. We live together in Bombay and if I die, she knows my entire life story. Everyday, we talk about our entire day with each other. Although she is younger, she does all the daantna and makes sure everything is taken care of. She is my strength, she is my everything! I don’t think I can love anyone so much. We are like a sisterhood and we look so different, people don’t believe we are sisters. She looks like our dad and I look like my mom.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
After Murder 2, I did two Marathi films, a Tamil film. I have two Hindi films coming up.