HYDERABAD: Don’t be quick to judge... We’re talking not just about her bod but also her brains. She’s a killer combination of the arts, academics and strong opinions. She’s well-traveled, an active feminist and a relentless thinker.
In a sprawling residence nestled in the lap of Jubilee Hills’ rocky terrain lives 25-year-old Maansi Kumar. The daughter of MAUD Principal Secretary Arvind Kumar, the budding actor-model has charted her own course and is an independent soul. In conversation with Express, Maansi pours her heart out about her acting/modelling career, love for academia and urge to make a difference. Excerpts:
How did you get into modelling? Did someone spot you?
I was actually against the idea of modelling because I did study gender studies and the modelling world is dominated by men. As models you are not encouraged to be your most authentic self, you have to cater to the audience, which is ‘do what you are told’. But this agency found me online during the lockdown last year and since I was not doing anything back then I took it up. That’s how it all started. They taught me how to dress, how to pose. But it’s a very casual hobby for me, through which I met a lot of creative artistes who don’t really work with amateur models. They prefer professionals — fashion students, aspiring filmmakers, independent filmmakers. It was rewarding and fulfilling as I could met a lot of people who are not in the mainstream.
Were you conflicted about taking up the modelling gig?
I was lucky that it came to me once I was done with college and once I already had my values in place. But had it come to me when I was 18, I would have definitely found it hard to navigate because it still is a competition between who has a certain body or skin type. I’ve always tried to keep away from that kind of mentality. But I also took up this contract as an opportunity to observe what’s going on in this field because I am going to keep engaging in feminist theory. These experiences are going to teach me how to stand up for myself. Now, I am very protected, I live with my dad. But in the modelling field, no one cares who my parents are and I got my contract on my own. It is my second identity. Even the short film which I acted in, Rimi, came to me through the contacts I made in this field.
What’s Rimi about?
It’s made by this young woman, Nischhal Sharmaa, who is from Sainikapuri and is studying filmmaking in London. It was for her final year project. The 10-minute film is inspired by her mom, revolves around the life of a housewife and how she is taken for granted by her family. It’s very metaphorical and is up to the viewer how they perceive it. It was accepted by the Los Angeles Indie Short Film Fest. It was a very cool project and was shot at Nischhal’s house in Sainikpuri.
Did you get noticed after Rimi?
There were so many directors who found me on Instagram but it’s always about some role where I have to compromise. They’d hint at the fact that there would be intimate scenes in the movie that I’d be expected to do. And this would happen in the first conversation itself and that’s not what I’m looking for. I don’t need to do roles where I have to step out of my comfort zone. I don’t want to start anything just for a little bit of fame.
Do you plan to make a career in mode- lling/acting?
I’m in a comfortable space right now and would do it for a couple of years, but eventually the goal is to go back to academia and focus on some research on gender economics. Research motivates me more than modelling or seeing my face anywhere or marketing (Maansi works as a marketing professional with an e-learning firm). But if there are projects that are meaningful, like Rimi, which revolve around women or the queer community, I’d love to work on these. But nothing commercial or mainstream.
Why do you prefer only offbeat projects?
In commercial and mainstream projects, the characters for women are so shallow. Why should I do something that literally anyone else can do? If it’s a replaceable character and there’s nothing I can offer to the role, why should I do it? It would be a very frustrating place to be in.
Whom do you look up to in the movie industry?
My all-time favourite is Smita Patil because all her work was so controversial and so was her life. But as a professional, she was such a good actor and was so smart about the roles she chose. Sobhita Dhulipala does very low-key characters and she does have a voice. She sounds like a very knowledgeable person. Radhika Apte because she does a lot of independent stuff. I do appreciate Sai Pallavi for the fact that she doesn’t wear any makeup. That’s a huge deal. I don’t think people give her enough credit for doing that. She’s that good that directors will still cast her. Also, Tabu’s work speaks volumes — movies like Maachis — and Manisha Koirala for doing Dil Se. Nobody is doing roles like these anymore.
Your take on ‘feminist’ movies?
Some movies try so hard to be feminist that they miss the mark. I don’t think women have to be extremely outspoken or extremely sexual or aggressive or this ‘perfect woman’ to play the main role. Why don’t you show a mediocre, average woman who has flaws? That’s the whole point, right? Do women with flaws not deserve equal rights? The discourse is lacking in Bollywood.
Did your family try to push you to join the IAS?
They asked me a few times if I was interested but they could see that I didn’t think it was a good fit for me. I’ve lived abroad for so long (four years in China, five years in the US) and I am not in touch with a lot of things here. I can communicate through academia but can’t through my daily interactions at the grassroots level. I do look and sound a certain way and I can’t compromise on those things. It would be difficult for me to enter that field and succeed.