Neha Maheshwri (BOMBAY TIMES; March 15, 2017)

Kiara Alia Advani is one lucky girl! She has already managed to tick two names from her bucket list of directors - Neeraj Pandey and Abbas-Mustan - in a span of just three films. Unfazed by much-bandied words like nepotism and camps in Bollywood, Kiara is grateful to have made it on her own. In a chat with Bombay Times, the actress talks about playing heroine to debutant Mustafa (Abbas Burmawalla's son) in Machine, her friendship with Sakshi Dhoni and mentor Salman Khan...

Since Machine is Mustafa's launch vehicle in Bollywood, were you apprehensive about getting eclipsed by him?
You are in for a powerful role when you are an Abbas-Mustan heroine. They present you beautifully and the actress does not just sing and dance, but also has a performance-oriented role. So, I was confident about this project. Abbas-Mustan featured on my bucket list of directors. They are the most humble people I have met. In fact, I was more pampered than Mustafa on the set. Interestingly, he would address them as 'Sir' despite being family. If he is a grounded person, it's because of his upbringing.

Mustafa comes across as shy...
He was reserved in the beginning, but we broke the ice over food during an outdoor schedule in Georgia. We love the same kind of food. We would have lunch and dinner together, which helped us bond. There were things he did which were really cute - like waiting for me after pack-up, as he knew I would be hungry, too. While doing the most intense scenes, I would ask him his lunch plans. We would be mostly talking about food and have long conversations during our meals.

So, does that make him good boyfriend material?
You are putting these words in my mouth! I think he is a great friend. Besides, I'd rather be known for my work than my relationship status. I enjoy what I do. I consider myself lucky to have the space to do what I love. It has been a dream to be an actor and here I am! My first film taught me the need to have patience. Of course, there are times when it's tough. I have managed to come so far on my own. I don't go to parties. I am socially awkward. At the end of the day, recommendations are fine up to a point. Beyond that, it's just your talent.

Is the first break difficult to come by, especially when you're on your own?
There are so many people who have made it without any backing. I don't know about camps. I'm comfortable meeting people at their offices in a professional capacity. There could be nepotism to some extent. Even I would like to see my favourite star's son or daughter on screen. But they will stay only if the audience accepts them.

After delivering a commendable performance in M S Dhoni - The Untold Story, do you feel more pressure while being paired opposite a newcomer in Machine?
A film is not about just one or two actors; there are over 200 people working on one project. Everyone celebrates if it does well, and if it does badly, everyone is affected. It's easy to diss a film, but no one knows how much hard work, time, sweat and blood goes into making it. So, there's equal pressure on all of us. I hope to meet the audience's expectations and will try to push the envelope. For now, I am happy that I lived up to Abbas-Mustan's expectations.

But do you think you have made the right choice?
Absolutely! I have been instinctive when it comes to picking films or characters. I never look at it as a right career move. I can't be calculative. Machine is the most satisfying choice I have made.

The film is about racing enthusiasts.Are you one in real life?
Maybe back in the day when Michael Schumacher was a rage. I drive because that makes me feel independent. I learnt it when I turned 18. But driving a Formula One car in the film was my first brush with racing. We had a foreign crew, comprising action masters who trained us. It's quite a task to drive a Formula One car; you get in the car and then attach the wheel, which is hot and heavy. The noise is deafening. We were not allowed too many laps.

How much has life changed after Dhoni's biopic?
Even today, people call me Sakshi. Being known as the character off screen is the best thing for an actor. That means she has made that kind of an impact. I remember how everyone was looking forward to the film as it revolved around one of our most celebrated cricketers, and I was playing his wife. I knew the film would do well, but I had never imagined I would get so much love and appreciation. I also got to know M S Dhoni and Sakshi

Are you in touch with Sakshi?
We text each other once in a while. We last met at the Coldplay concert. While prepping for my character, Sakshi told me to talk to her like a friend and not just observe her. Today, I can call her my friend.

Salman Khan rechristened you Kiara from Alia. When will we see you working with him?
I always take Salman Sir's advice. It's great to know someone with so much experience, especially when you are new and finding your feet. He answers my calls instantly. He is honest, has always told me to work hard and let my work do the talking. I hope he decides to work with me some day, because I haven't had the guts to tell him that I want to work with him.