She was just 18 when she got into modelling, and although her dream of making it to the Miss India platform never materialised, her career as an actor certainly did. Having done nearly 10 films in Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, and now even in the Hindi film industry, Richa Panai is here to stay.
First things first: how did you get into modelling and showbiz?
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by actresses and showbiz. But like any other middle class girl, I didn’t have any big dreams of entering the industry. After completing my 12th standard I joined Kingfisher Airlines. During this time I also wanted to pursue my dream of taking part in Miss India, but unfortunately because my height fell short I couldn’t fit in. But I wanted to get into modelling, and so I got my portfolio made and I soon had an offer for an ad film for Bhima Gold. Soon after that I got an offer for my first Malayalam film and then things just went on.
Coming from a conservative background from Lucknow, did you face many challenges?
Honestly, the sole purpose of me becoming an air hostess was to become independent and get freedom. I wanted to move out of Lucknow and stand on my own feet, but I couldn’t tell my family directly that I wanted to become an actress, as they would be in a state of shock. So I decided to take baby steps; once I got financial independence I decided to take things further.
You got your break in cinema at quite a young age. How did that come about?
Well, I wouldn’t say I was too young; it was the right age. Nowadays there’s no age limit for entering the industry, girls are ready at a very young age. In fact
I feel I could have joined earlier too. But the exposure I got while working with Kingfisher was definitely worth it; it helped me a lot in this industry. I was quite immature when I got into the Malayalam industry. I was like a lost kid. I didn’t even like it initially, but by the time I made my debut in the Telugu industry I had become more mature. My mom used to accompany me during the shoot for the first two years. But after entering the Telugu industry, it became difficult for her to travel from Lucknow for the shoots.
Which genre of cinema do you most prefer to act in?
I love watching comedy and romance, so I prefer acting in these genres too. But I haven’t done a proper love story so far, so I’m looking forward to getting one. Also, I’m happy that while most comedy films don’t have big roles, I’ve been lucky to get some good and important roles in the films I’ve worked in.
Tell us about your ongoing projects.
I’m currently shooting for Eedu Gold Ehe alongside Sunil. The movie is by AK Entertainment, directed by Veeru Potla, and is slated for release in September. There are other projects in the pipeline too, which I will announce shortly.
You also made your Bollywood debut in the recent film Traffic. What was that experience like?
It was great! My debut wasn’t a grand one; it was quite a simple film but it gave me very good exposure. I made lot of friends and started off on the right note. I’m looking forward to bigger and better films in Bollywood. I’m glad that I got a good response from several people from the industry who called me ‘fresh’ and ‘promising’.
Any star or director you’d like to work with?
There are so many! It’s a long list. Forget about the big directors; even newcomers these days are making fabulous films. I look at my role while choosing the film, rather than basing it on how good the director or banner is. So far I’m going with the flow… I don’t want to plan anything.
What Bollywood remake would you like to be part of?
Jab We Met. I loved Kareena Kapoor in the film and, if given a chance, in any film industry, I’d like to play that role.
What do you do in your free time?
Dance is my biggest hobby, and although I’m not a great dancer I still enjoy it. I often groove to music at home.
What would you see yourself as, if not an actor?
A grooming trainer in some airline, I suppose. --- as told to Niharika