HT Brunch Cover Story: A star kid is unborn

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One minute before our scheduled chat, Renee Sen joins the Zoom call from Dubai. This is her second interview ever − the first was with a TV channel, where she talked about making her acting debut in a short film called Suttabaazi, which releases this January.

It’s an unusual launch for Sushmita Sen’s daughter: a 15-minute-long “short film” that’ll get a digital release, not backed by any big Bollywood production house, and everyone involved under the age of 25!

“Suttabaazi happened all of a sudden, TBH,” begins Renee. “The director Kabir Khurana has been a friend of mine since school and I had casually mentioned to him that I’d like to be an actor. In September, he sent me his script and said, ‘You have to audition for this!’ I read the script and really, really loved it; so I bolted to my mum and showed it to her. She read it and said, ‘If you like it, go for it!’”

Less than a month later, the film was ready.

Renee with her mom, Sushmita Sen, and sister Alisah

Renee with her mom, Sushmita Sen, and sister Alisah

Her mother’s daughter

Did you ever think this kind of an unusual launch would be too small for Sushmita Sen’s daughter, we ask.Renee surprises us with her answer: “Nothing is ever small for an actor,” she says. “Even if you play a mailman and do it well, you will be remembered.”

“A big launch will happen when it’s supposed to, i believe. Until then, i want to learn and be a good actor” —Renee Sen

When did Renee know she wanted to be an actor? “I was six months old when mum took me to her first shoot,” says Renee. “I remember as a child being on the sets of Main Hoon Na (2004) and Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya (2005). I’ve seen Mom get ready for ramp walks, interviews and speeches. That’s when I realised I wanted to do this. I also think it’s one thing to want to do something, and quite another to enjoy it when you actually do it. After this movie, I know for sure I want to do this 1,000 per cent, with every ounce of life I have in me.”

A pic from Sushmita Sen’s post wishing Renee on her 20th birthday last year

A pic from Sushmita Sen’s post wishing Renee on her 20th birthday last year

She’s clearly a method actor. “Acting, for me, is a process: from reading a script, getting into a character, understanding a character, even making up a back story of a character when there is none. The process of learning lines, being in front of the camera, camera angles, different kinds of shots… all of that really, really interests me!”

When Renee’s mum transitioned from beauty queen to Bollywood actor, she had said she needed to unlearn her poise and “let go” in terms of body language. Renee’s journey to the screen, however, is different.

“My sister and I have been raised to be independent, strong women, not clones of anyone. So, I can only take inspiration from my mum; I can’t compare what she’s done in her life to mine.”

A click from Renee’s first visit to Delhi, when she was two years old

A click from Renee’s first visit to Delhi, when she was two years old

But wouldn’t she have liked a big launch? “A big launch will happen when it’s supposed to, I believe. But until then, I want to learn and be a good actor.”

The first time Renee watched Suttabaazi, she had goosebumps. “I was like, ‘That’s me?!!’ and soon the whole world is going to see this! But it’s something I’m very proud of and my mum is very proud of, because I did it on my own.”

When she showed it to her mother, Renee thinks Sushmita got emotional. “I think she cried a little. Alisah was very happy. She’s very observant, so when she says you’ve done a good job, you know you’ve actually done a good job. And Rohman Uncle said he was very proud of me.”

Sister Alisah (centre) is 10 years younger than Renee

Sister Alisah (centre) is 10 years younger than Renee

So you’re saying Alisah and Rohman are objective, but your mum gets emotional?

“Not at all!” says Renee. “First comes the ‘I’m so proud of you’, then comes the ‘but’, followed by ‘Fix this’ and ‘Fix that’. Mostly, we’re all objectively helping each other out.”

Family unit

Renee’s independence is a reminder of Sushmita’s individuality. In 2000, Sushmita Sen was one of the first mainstream Bollywood actors to have adopted a daughter – Renee. She adopted Alisah in 2010. For the last few years, she has been partnered with Kashmiri model Rohman Shawl, who she says she met on Instagram, and their Instagram Live sessions during lockdown were a delight to their fans.

Renee and Alisah with Sushmita’s parents and brother

Renee and Alisah with Sushmita’s parents and brother

“All four of us do our own thing, and Sunday is when we meet and have fun. We love watching movies with our mom. We’ve watched some amazing classics together and Mum is currently introducing Alisah to world cinema. We bond over music. More than anything, for all of us, just being together is the most fun. And now, Rohman Uncle is there and we’re learning about him too; his culture, his family. We could be doing nothing and having the most amazing time!” 

Is Alisah a friend, confidant, or younger sister you’re protective about? “Alisah is very intelligent and very smart and very perceptive,” says the doting elder sister. “She is very empathetic and very, very kind. We have a 10-year gap between us, so it’s hard to call her my friend. But I do share a lot with her; and if I don’t, she’ll get it out of me.”

Has Rohman’s presence in the family of three women added something new? “We’ve added to him, he’s added to us,” says Renee. “Uncle Rohman is someone we can really, really depend on. He’s kind, loving, he’s young, but he can be strict also, which is good for us.”

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Renee describes her family as a unit. “My mom has raised us to be complete in ourselves. So we’re all adding to each other. Rohman Uncle is a beautiful presence in our lives, but we’re all very complete people. We’re one unit!”

Fame, privilege, etc

How do you look at fame? “I believe that if I do good work and I’m honest, then I’ll reach where I’m destined to be. I didn’t get into acting to get famous. I truly love acting. If the by-product is fame, so be it.”

“All four of us [mum, Alisah, uncle Rohman and me] are complete individuals. We’re always adding to each other”—Renee Sen

Do you want to be an actor or a star, we prod. “I want to be a star who can act,” says Renee. “I believe that if I am a good actor, I will also be a star!”

Finally, is this different approach you’ve taken a way of giving up the privilege you have of being Sushmita Sen’s daughter?

Renee, at eight months, clicked in Mumbai

Renee, at eight months, clicked in Mumbai

“I am aware of the privilege that comes with being my mother’s daughter, but I never take it for granted because my mother has insisted upon me being independent,” says Renee. “I’m very much part of the system, but I’m doing things differently.”

Follow @JamalShaikh on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, January 3, 2021

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