‘Every actress wants to be known for her acting skills’
Ayesha was on an eight-year sabbatical before she acted in Genius (2018), which was her last big screen outing. On asking if the break was a conscious choice, Ayesha says, “It was a conscious choice. I felt that if I associate myself with a project, I should be able to add value to it. But that can only happen if I am given a chance to perform. If that was not happening and I was being treated as a prop in a project, then it was not really worth my time. So I had to put an end to those roles. Every actress wants an upgrade, wants to be known for her acting skills and not just as a glam girl. I wanted that too.”
Like most ’90s leading ladies, Ayesha was also stereotyped as a glam girl. Did that worry her after a point? She says, “I had nothing against what was being offered to me, but I felt I was doing the same kind of films, I had to be a clotheshorse, do the typical song-dance routine, get romanced by the hero and look beautiful. Being a glam girl is fine when you are a newcomer, but as you grow in the profession, you also want to be known for your acting chops. The cinema I was doing no longer satisfied me, I was hungry for work that tapped my potential and that wasn’t happening. Taking a break from acting and devoting my energies elsewhere made sense.”
‘Theatre made me realise what acting is all about’
At a time when she was playing mainstream female characters, Ayesha’s learning experience as an actress came from a play. She travelled across India for the drama Purush, starring Nana Patekar. She says, “When I joined the Hindi film industry, while the characters I played had different names, they were almost similar. The first time I did something really challenging was in 1999, when I did a play called Purush, directed by Vijaya Mehta, where I played the role of a rape survivor. During that process, the way Vijaya ji took me through the character’s journey, made me realise what acting is all about. I felt, everything that I had been doing till then, was nothing compared to this character. That’s when my choice of projects changed before I eventually took a break.”
And now that she is back, what is going to be Ayesha’s choice of roles? “I don’t want to limit myself by listing my choices. I am open to playing any role, provided it has something for me. It’s simple, when I have the ability to portray a character, and such roles are offered, I would give it my all to bring out the best and would feel very privileged while doing so.”
‘Had a busy sabbatical’
During her break from films, Ayesha started a non-profit organisation in Lonavala that cares of the welfare of stray dogs in hill stations. She also travelled, handled businesses and devoted a lot of time to her fur babies. Ayesha has a kitchen set up for feeding strays and has also created “designated feeding points for strays” in Lonavala. Her sabbatical from films, by her own admission was “normal, but busy”, and spent with her family, away from the spotlight.
‘I am a fun-loving person in real life, doing comedy made sense’
Ayesha’s OTT debut was in an all-women production, Hush Hush (2022), co-starring another ’90s heroine Juhi Chawla, besides Kritika Kamra and Soha Ali Khan. She considers Meera Yadav, the character she played in the show as “complex, dark but satisfying” and a welcome change after her “good girl roles” on screen. She says “OTT has been the game changer for us, especially for female actors. It is a boon for us. If we didn’t have OTT, it would have been the same. It’s only here that we get to showcase our acting skills and play interesting characters; age is not a bar on OTT.”
Recently, Ayesha’s tried her hand at comedy with Happy Family: Conditions Apply. She says getting into comedy was “an amazing process”.
She adds, “Aatish Kapadia and Jamnadas Majethia had such clarity of thought, each character and scene were written really well.” Ayesha, who plays a Gujarati bahu in the series, is also one in real life. She says, “Pallavi was an interesting character and a lot like me. I am actually quite a fun-loving person and laugh a lot in real life. She resonated with me on many levels and also because she’s a Gujarati bahu, like me!”