The blossoming of Guwahati’s Priyasha Bharadwaj
Uzanbazar girl lands the role of Soundarya in “Aarya,” Disney-Hotstar’s latest offering co-starring Sushmita Sen and delivers a power-packed performance. Presenting a tête-à-tête Sattyakee D’Com Bhuyan.
From Hemchandra Road to Chandivali Farm Road, Priyasha Bhardwaj’s journey that landed her on the same set as former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen hasn’t been an easy one.
Guwahati girl, Priyasha, is now an industry name as she plays Sen’s younger sister Soundarya in Aarya - Disney+Hotstar’s newest show, a multi-starrer family crime drama series directed by national award winner Ram Madhvani that also marks Sen’s comeback into Bollywood after 10 years.
Priyasha Bhardwaj, born in Guwahati, Assam, belongs to the house of the stalwart Satya Prasad Barua, who was one of the foremost theatre icons in Assam since 1930s. Her latter half of schooling was in Sanskriti School, Delhi where she began to explore her creative interests in dance, music and theatre.
A Psychology graduate from Delhi University, Priyasha got her first modelling assignment with Dove and featured in the Dove-Femina colab calendar 2009. Her first TVC was for Britannia Good day with Deepika Padukone, post which she cracked several Ad auditions which compelled her to shift her base to Mumbai.
Some of her projects include Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven and Kaafir on Zee5 co-starring Dia Mirza. Later this year, she will be seen playing a completely different character in Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur 2.
Priyanshi was in conversation with multifaceted philomath Sattyakee D’com Bhuyan, Founder Director D’ Passion Collective, TEDx Speaker and a theatre ace who happens to be a tower of inspiration for the talented Priyasha. Excerpts from the conversation:
How did Aarya come about? What is the experience of working with Sushmita Sen?
It was a usual audition day. Just before I gave the audition, I happened to read a detailed character brief on one of their pin up boards of the waiting room which said, “She needs to have resemblance with Aarya.” Given such a specific guideline, I thought it unlikely that I’d get this part even if I gave a good audition.
About 2 weeks later, Godfrey Edge, casting assistant to Abhimanyu Ray, called me to re-check whether I am available on the shoot dates since I had apparently been shortlisted. A few days later, I received a message from him which read “Congratulations! You’ve got the part of Soundarya.”
On my second day at costume trials, I came to know that Sushmita Sen was making a comeback after 10 years with this project. I just couldn’t believe my luck. I had grown up admiring her; also she was a Scorpio like me. Being completely star-struck, I went for our first workshop together conducted by director and coach, Vinod Rawat. Unlike many stars, Sushmita is a delightfully generous co-actor. She’d instinctively realize that I am not happy with a take and would go straight to the director and say, “Sir, one more please,” and wink right back at me.
Aarya is an intense crime drama so our scenes needed a lot of layered emotions and an arc. Due to the unconventional multi-cam shooting format with long single shots, Sushmita and I would hold each other through our scenes, effortlessly meeting the milestones of the script.
The series begins with Soundarya’s royal Rajasthani wedding (to a charming American musician, played by Alexx O’ Nell) and ends with her tragic fate - both causing irreparable damages in Aarya’s life.
How did the creative spark sow seeds within you?
I belong to the house of the stalwart, Satya Prasad Barua, a Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee. He was like a school by himself. Moreover, I learnt that he used to involve his own brothers as well as sisters in his theatre productions from 1930s. So, my family has been charged with creative juices ever since.
I used to dance to the Mahabharata soundtrack every time it aired on Doordarshan and my mother soon put me in Indira PP Bora’s Bharatnatyam classes. Later, when we shifted to Delhi in my last few years of schooling, I learnt jazz and other western dance forms at Ashley Lobo’s The Danceworx. I pursued it as a hobby but I couldn’t convince my family that I wanted to take it up as a profession. So yes, dance, music and later theatre had always been there within me.
When and how did you realize that your calling was to be an actor? What actually drove you to this line of work where jealousy and stiff competition run in parallel modes?
Soon after graduation, I started working. My first job was in Citibank. Then I worked in a Canadian Hospitality chain called Fairmont Raffles Swissotel. But all through my job days, I felt I had more energy within me which I needed to explore and release. Hence, I picked up freelance choreography projects on the side. When the constant switching from my 9 to 5 job to my little creative world was getting overwhelming, I decided to quit.
Thereafter as a freelancer, I tried everything - corporate choreography, anchor and artist manager for events, assistant casting director, co-ran a production house, did voice-overs. In 2016, I wanted to learn theatre and acting.
I chanced upon a 3 week physical theatre workshop in Delhi and I decided to give it a try. We were asked to perform an original 10-minute monologue and I created a piece on a lonely woman, based on true facts of someone dear to me. At the end of the performance, I had an unexpected emotional release; a weight seemed to lift off my chest. I felt empathy - empathy for someone I tried to embody just for those few minutes. That day I realized the power of a truthful performance. From there, I got connected with a niche circle of people who were into English theatre in Delhi.
We do theatre for the love of it. I have to say I was fortunate to have met some beautiful people in the beginning of my acting journey. The first character I played on stage was called The Spirit Keeper (neither a human nor fully an animal) for a play directed by Shena Gamat. This was the first time I stepped away from the truth of Priyasha and attempted to portray the truth of The Spirit Keeper. For the first time in life, I felt so present, so alive, and so in command of how I was moving, what I was saying, whom I was addressing to, the audience who was listening to what I had to say, the fun of breaking the fourth wall and looking straight into the audience’s eyes.
From there, I found out about auditions and managed to crack the first one that I gave and it happened to be a TVC with none other than Deepika Padukone.
How did you survive Aarya 360 degree?
I was one of the youngest and the newest on set. Even the child actors had been working for longer than I had. So honestly, it wasn’t that difficult. The moment I walked in the set, I was Soundarya, younger sister of Aarya Sareen, married to Bob Wilson. The best part about this shooting format was we were always in character. Aarya didn’t become Sushmita Sen in between takes. She remained my elder sister, called me ‘Chhoti’ and we’d chat casually like two sisters would.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Cannes Film Festival… hmmmmmm - my dream!