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Wild And Free: Mrunal Thakur’s Search For Self

In her first swimwear shoot on the sunny shores of Sri Lanka, the Gumraah-actor finds a stepping stone to grow as a person and actor.

Published On Apr 06, 2023 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024

It was in March 2022 that Mrunal Thakur visited Sri Lanka for the first time — a quick getaway from a hectic shoot schedule that included the Telugu-language period love story and her biggest hit, Sita Ramam. So when presented with the opportunity to head back to the Emerald Island for an exclusive Cover photo shoot, exactly a year later, Mrunal could not refuse. And that is how the 30-year-old actor collaborated with Zee Zest to become our April Digital Cover Star serenading the sea.

A bubbly and effervescent personality, Mrunal does not come with the usual celebrity baggage or hang ups. On the pristine beaches and clear oceans of Sri Lanka, she came with a singular focus to grow as an individual and push her personal boundaries. In our conversations, throughout the cover shoot at Taj Bentota Resort & Spa, Sri Lanka, she revealed that she was hydrophobic, and it took a long time for her to overcome that. “I couldn't go to the pool when I was growing up because of my fear of water, so this shoot is going to be about owning my body and myself. I think the most beautiful thing about being here in Sri Lanka by the beach and the ocean is also to get rid of my fears,” she exclaims.

Mrunal is wearing an orange swimsuit by Hermès and a sequinned neon green top from H&M.

She confessed to being self-conscious of her typically Indian, pear-shaped body. A lot of positive affirmation from her team and soul-searching finally led her to embrace her body. A clear sign of it was her donning swimwear for Zee Zest's vacation-themed cover shoot. Her personal style is defined by comfort and subtlety. “I feel extremely comfortable in anything that's not flashy or trying too hard to please. I like playing with colours subtly. I feel androgynous styling is something that defines my personality. And in ethnic wear, “I think you can never go wrong with a sari. I love raiding my mother’s collection," she shares with a wide toothy grin.

Inevitably, self-discovery and evolution became the premise for our conversation with Mrunal for this cover story. It bodes well since Mrunal, from her fledgling years in the Indian entertainment industry, has been the embodiment of evolution and growth.

It all started with Jab We Met and Kareena Kapoor Khan’s character of Geet that left a deep impact on a 16-year-old Mrunal who grew up in Jalgaon, Maharashtra. In one of the scenes from the movie, when Shahid Kapoor’s character, Aditya Kashyap, requests Geet not to run away from home, she replies: “Mujhe apni bhaison ke saath bandh denge." “When I heard these lines, I knew this is my life, and just like Geet, I did not want to live with the regret of not being able to explore and try different things,” ruminates Mrunal, adding that while she did appear for the common medical entrance tests after her Class 12, she knew this is not where she belonged. Eventually, the small-town Mrunal enrolled in a media and journalism course in KC College Mumbai, proving her conviction to her parents, who were initially shocked by her decision but they did eventually come around.

Mrunal is wearing the Titan Edge Ceramic Black Women's Slim Watch. This sleek timepiece features a glossy black ceramic case in a 4.4mm slim design.

The ball started rolling for young Mrunal when she bagged her first audition. “That’s when I realised that I'm extremely comfortable in front of the camera,” she said. She was fortunate to be guided on a realistic path when a friend advised her to continuously turn up for auditions. “This egged the competitive side of me—I like taking on challenges and if someone says, ‘you can't do it’, I want to quietly show them how I can. I also realised that as long as I'm in front of the camera, I'm happy,” she said.

Fortune favours the brave—in Mrunal Thakur’s case—it was also diligence and hard work. After cracking her first TV debut Mujhse Kuchh Kehti...Yeh Khamoshiyaan in 2012, she went on to work for the Ektaa Kapoor soap Kumkum Bhagya and parallelly debuted in Marathi cinema with Vitti Dandu. However, it was Love Sonia, a 2018 film based on human trafficking that moved the proverbial needle in Mrunal’s career graph.

It's been a little over 10 years in the industry for her, which she defines as her formative or schooling years. “No acting school would have taught me what I’ve learned while working on different sets. I think I owe my career to television. That's what allowed me to dream even bigger; I knew there was a big universe waiting for me,” she shared. One of the biggest reasons she was able to succeed in her small-screen to big-screen transition was the support she received from the television fraternity; she added that Ektaa Kapoor still helps her out when it comes to selecting the right movies. She also fondly remembers actor Madhu Raja, who played her grandmother in Kumkum Bhagya. “In the time I spent with her, she was the one who told me that if you want something, work for it. Because tomorrow, it shouldn't be like you didn't try. There shouldn't be any regrets or guilt. And as a human, it's very important for you to live a guilt-free life.”

Contemplative Mrunal in Hermes swimsuit, Studio Moonray black net gown and earrings from H&M.

“I think we are transitioning every day, not just work. If I were to compare my current self to five years ago, I am a different person. What worked for me is the vision I had for myself, and the faith I had in myself,” Mrunal continues as our conversation segued into getting stereotyped within a medium. When she started her career, success stories of transitioning from television to mainstream cinema were not so common. But with the advent and prosperity of OTT platforms in the Indian entertainment industry, the lines and distinctions have visibly blurred. “Today, I'm extremely happy when people, especially those who've just started their careers, reach out to me and say, ‘you’re the reason why we think that doors for OTT platforms, films, plays, etc, are open. It's no longer restricted.”

Quiz her about how she deals with box office hits and flops and she retorts, “What defines a hit and a flop movie is very subjective and I don't want to be defined by that.” Speaking about the importance of box office collections and commercial success, she says, “If a film is made in INR 30 crore and has collections of INR 90 crore and there's another film made in INR 100 crore with collections of INR 120 crore — which one is a bigger success?” It is a tough one and a conversation that she will have when she becomes a film producer, which is not yet.

Mrunal frolicking in the clear seas of Sri Lanka wearing a Shivan & Narresh playsuit.

The lack of commercial success is an undoubted pinch, Mrunal acknowledges, but with the success of Sita Ramam, she has also witnessed the other extreme of a box office hit. “I’ve never had the audiences watch my films 9, 10, 11 times! They would tag me in their pictures on Twitter right after they’ve seen the film for the nth time,” she added.

On Mrunal's wrist is the slim Edge Squircle from Titan. This elegant white timepiece boasts a unique Squircle shape (square meets circle) crafted in a 4.4 mm thin case. Her sunglasses are from John Jacobs Eyewear; model Ibisco.

But at the end of it all, she is clear, “Every character that I’ve played so far is different and versatile. And while I know my growth may not be a 360 degree, I know there has been growth. My only aim in life is to be consistent with choosing the different kinds of progressive roles.” She wants to be remembered for the characters she portrays and the story and not the commercial success.

Every character that Mrunal Thakur takes up for her films, she hopes will help her become a better actor and evolve her craft. She looked back at her choice of taking up Love Sonia — “It was my ‘do or die’ situation, that if I can prove myself with this film, I will get work in the future,” she said.

Mrunal is wearing the Titan Edge Ceramic watch in green, which is 4.4 mm thin!

It was a series of fortunate incidents where her work in Love Sonia directly translated into her next movie Batla House and Sita Ramam. Of the latter, she mentions, “Love Sonia was screened at Melbourne Indian Film Festival and that's where Nagi sir (Nag Ashwin), who's the director of Mahanati, saw it and reached out.” The decision to take up Sita Ramam was a heavy cross to bear for Mrunal — “I did have inhibitions and I was really scared as to whether I should leave Mumbai, my base, my karma bhumi. Having said that, it was a beautiful experience and now I'm learning Telugu.”

Of her craft and how she chooses her movies, she says, “It is important to know what I'm doing. I needed to be convinced first to convince the audience and the best way to learn is through someone's experience.” While she did contemplate dabbling with the infamous method acting technique, she also realised the toll it takes on one’s mental health. Eventually, Mrunal has figured out her own process that involves picking up little tips and tricks from her co-actors and has worked best for her.

  • Mrunal is a huge fan of Manoj Bajpayee after watching Pinjar. “He made me realise that no matter when you get your script, every dialogue needs to be said in a very conversational way not just a dialogue.”
  • From Demi Moore (they shared the screen in Love Sonia), “I learned that you need to connect with your eyes.” 
  • “Paresh Rawal sir (her co-actor in Toofan) would throw a googly at you. I would say my dialogue but he would say the same dialogue in the most unexpected way, leaving you at a loss for words. I would take these small things and add them to my scenes and use them in a way that worked for me.” 
  • “Hrithik uses fragrances,” Mrunal said. For every character Hrithik Roshan would play, he has a different perfume that would help him get into the nuances of the portrayal. Mrunal and Hrithik worked together in Super 30.

What is Mrunal’s hack when she gets into character, you wonder? “For all the characters I've played, there has been some or the other resemblance from real life and people. Every character is dedicated to one person in my life and now I've also started assigning sun signs because I believe in them, and I think it helps differentiate a person,” she expresses.

Apart from assigning character traits from real people, Mrunal heavily relies on music to further build her characters. “Every character has a song that I will listen to throughout the filming process of a project,” she explains. Since film shoots and projects are rarely linear, actors are known to jump from one project to another and back. In such a frenzied schedule, “Music helps me channel my character because it resonates with the journey of the character, which helps me to get into it in no time,” she adds. For Sita Ramam, it was all of Shah Rukh Khan's songs. She remembers her co-actor Dulquer Salmaan's reaction to this during the shoot, “Excuse me, how can you think of Shah Rukh Khan while you’re romancing me?”

Mrunal's yellow sunglasses are from John Jacobs Eyewear; model Liege.

For her upcoming release, Gumraah, a remake of the 2019 Tamil film, Thadam, Mrunal confesses listening to Indian hip-hop artist, Divine. “His music is full of attitude and sass, which I connected with the character of Inspector Shivani Mathur.” The character intimidated her, Mrunal confesses. “It was nerve-wracking to play a character who has a poker face because my USP is emotions.” She also reveals that her family has been in the police, and the character of Shivani excited her to wear the vardi. “It’s like an homage to my family. My bade kaka (uncle) is an IPS and is serving in the police department and I don't know what his reaction is going to be after watching the film,” she gushes

Mrunal is wearing a swimsuit by Studio Verandah and orange dress by Ituvana.

“Shivani is a more mature character — firm and strong, compared to those I have played previously,” she admits. But this is an attempt to add a different shade to her career. Mrunal was visibly excited to work in a crime thriller despite the action sequences being doled out to Aditya Roy Kapoor. “I would say Gumraah is a film only for a smart audience. Not to offend audiences, but by smart I mean the film will make you think and scratch your head,” she clarified. 

Mrunal is grateful for the opportunities in her career and how they’ve helped her evolve as a human being. She knows that the journey ahead is a long and arduous one, but she is always on the lookout for projects where the ‘many facets of Mrunal Thakur’ can be explored and expressed. This leads us to believe she is among the new generation of actors that you don’t have a choice but to keep an eye on—for many great things are expected of her.


Editor: Sumita Bagchi  

Photographer: Kaushik Roy

Creative Consultant: Mitrajit Bhattacharya

Watch Partner: Titan Watches

Eyewear Partner: John Jacobs Eyewear

Video Edit: Media Edge

Stylist: ​Rahul Vijay

Styling Assistant: Siddhi Dolas

Hair stylist: Deepali Deokar

Makeup: Lochan Thakur

Location: Taj Bentota Resort & Spa, Sri Lanka

Artist PR: Hardly Anonymous