As told to Sanyukta Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; February 12, 2018)

My journey is probably the best example of ‘how life happens to you when you’re busy planning it’. And it reinforces my faith in destiny.

I was 14 when my sister and I participated in a small beauty pageant — Miss Dombivli — at a local shopping mall. I won the title of ‘Miss Photogenic’ and the choreographer of the show asked me if I wanted to be an ‘extra’ on a film set. A year later, I nudged into the ‘crowd’ while a party sequence was being filmed, along with the lead actors, models, dancers and other junior artistes. I was one of those girls in the Salman Khan-Rani Mukerji starrer, Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye. This was in 2000, and I was fascinated as I watched the cameras roll and the scene unfold.

When I look back on my journey, it’s easy to pinpoint the turning points. In 2001, choreographer Ganesh Acharya was filming a song sequence at a ground in Malad. Once again, I was just a face in the background but that day it rained heavily and the local trains stopped. Many of the dancers from Ganesh sir’s troupe could not make it to the shoot. An assistant asked the crowd manager, my boss, if he could spare any ‘extras’ who could shake a leg and I was picked up.

I’ve been dancing since I was a child, taking part in every school competition, but I was no professional. Yet, when the final formation was locked, I was in the artist’s block, dancing right behind Sunny Deol and Preity Zinta. The song was in their film Farz. After watching me, Ganesh sir’s assistant asked if I’d like to join their troupe. I agreed immediately and stayed on for nine years, gradually progressing from dancer to assistant choreographer and model.

I worked in Tere Naam, Masti, Humko Deewana Kar Gaye, Rang De Basanti… practically every other film that Ganesh sir choreographed. I even had my first girl-crush moment when I assisted on a montage for U Me Aur Hum. Ajay Devgn was directing Kajol, who is my most favourite actress. For the first time, I was intimidated on a film set, literally choking, while working around Kajol.

A career in choreography was going decently enough so far. Then, suddenly my father passed away. He was my hero and his words “keep making him proud” and “never let go of your dreams” kept playing on my mind. I couldn’t give up my job as an assistant choreographer because that was my only source of livelihood but I started taking on more modelling assignments and began auditioning for every assignment I came across. I didn’t have to wait too long for a break.

A filmmaker from the South called me and I took off to Mangalore for the shoot of his film, Vandae Maatharam. After the shoot I returned to Mumbai and had nothing scheduled for four months. Since I didn’t want to sit at home doing nothing, I asked Ganesh sir if I could get back to assisting him for a while. He was more than happy to give me my old job back.

By now, I had already assisted on a dozen Salman Khan songs and there was some familiarity with my childhood idol. When I joined the troupe for the title song of Dabangg in 2010 in Wai, Salman asked me why he hadn’t seen me while filming his last three-four songs. When I told him that I had started working as an actress in the South, he told Ganesh sir that he always knew I had so much more in me than just choreography. After the film wrapped up, Salman was kicking off the shoot of Bodyguard with Kareena Kapoor and offered me the role of her friend. I turned it down because I had another South film coming up and I didn’t want to be seen in a small role. The part eventually went to Hazel Keech. But Salman was livid and didn’t speak to me for the next year-and-a-half.

I went on to feature in the Kannada remake of Bodyguard and did two other films in the South. One day, while I was shooting in Bangalore, Salman got in touch with me and we spoke for a while. He asked me to meet him when I returned to Mumbai. This time, I told myself — no matter what the role was, I would say “yes” because no one gets a second chance with Salman Khan. He gave me the role of the leading lady in Jai Ho, my debut Bollywood film. I couldn’t have been happier! I owe my existence as an actress to Salman Khan and Sohail bhai. If someone had told the 14-year-old-Daisy Shah, who had dreams of becoming an air-hostess, that she’d be Salman’s leading lady some day, she would have laughed. Now, I believe that with hard work and a little bit of luck anything is possible!