Hello, folks! In this week’s #BlabWithSandy, we have Flora Jacob with us. You’ve seen Raid? If yes, she’d played the role of Indira Gandhi in it. Her striking resemblance with Indira Gandhi has paved the way for her to act not only opposite Ajay Devgn, she shall soon be seen with Kangana Ranaut in ‘Thalaivi’ and Prabhas in ‘Radhe Shyam’. Let’s wait no further and dive into the enigmatic blab I had with her:
Sandy: Could you let us know about your early background?
Flora: I am born and brought up in Mumbai. Films have never been a part of my life but I do used to love watching movies whenever I could! I live in Andheri and a lot of film personalities are seen thronging the streets of Andheri. Though I am a resident of Mumbai, I never knew my locality was surrounded by many casting offices.
I used to work for corporate firms like Mahindra & Mahindra and in the year 2001, I took voluntary retirement as my husband was doing very well. I focused on social work and every other weekend, I used to volunteer. I used to teach under-privileged children and that used to spread happiness within me. I lost my husband in 2013 and that’s when things came to a standstill. But, I continued my passion towards social work as well as travel around the world.
I used to volunteer once a week at the Samaritans (helpline). Every weekday I used to volunteer at the Good Shepherd Convent in Four Bungalows, Andheri by teaching the underprivileged children. There was also an article that got published featuring me and my work under the column ‘Angels in the City’, dated 18th May 2008 in TOI (Times of India). The title was ‘On a mission to equip kids with life skills’.
Sandy: How did you get your first break in the movies? ‘Raid’ to be precise!
Flora: That’s an interesting tale, Sandy! One day I was waiting outside a cinema hall for a friend of mine. We were scheduled to watch the film ‘Newton’. Two young boys suddenly approached me and they conveyed that their casting office is looking to cast someone in for Indira Gandhi’s role and they felt I would fit the bill. I was taken by surprise but I said okay to them and told them I would connect once the movie got over. I was apprehensive but I took a chance and called them. They asked me to come for the auditions by Anmol Ahuja, under Shivam Gupta at Casting Bay.
Shivam auditioned me and then he got me locked for the role of Indira Gandhi in ‘Raid’. I wasn’t an actress nor did I do any theatre but this was a surprise for me. I went for workshops and I did a three-day rehearsal. They were not going to show my face fully but the major focus was on my voice modulation. I went to Lucknow for the shoot and in the end, everybody liked my work. I shot for ‘Raid’ in October 2017 and the film released in March 2018. It did very well and I was expecting a long queue outside my door but nobody came, hahaha! This is when I felt that the acting bug had bitten me. I enjoyed the experience and it felt really nice when the film did wonders at the box office.
Sandy: Wow! What happened after the release of ‘Raid’? Did you get immediate offers?
Flora: Shivam had auditioned me for another film that was Rakesh Sharma’s biopic and Shah Rukh Khan was supposed to do it. I met Amit Tharwani and Gautam Kishanchandani, the other casting directors for this role and also had given my audition. Director was happy but I don’t know why I wasn’t picked eventually.
When I met casting director Gautam, I lost my nerves and don’t know why but I started fidgeting with my saree and forget my lines. Gautam understood that I wasn’t a born or trained actress and suggested me to join acting workshop with casting director Amit Tharwani. I kept that thought on hold and jumped to US for a 38-day holiday.
After coming back, I kept asking Shivam on the role and he said the decision is not yet taken. I joined Amit Tharwani for the acting workshop and honed my acting skills. I was under him for a period of four months and I did a lot of homework. Somehow, the biopic stopped but that triggered the start of my acting workshops.
After that, I got a few advertisements and on 10th October 2019, my first ad got featured on TOI. The Bangalore TOI had me on the front page and that paved the way for me into the commercials segment. I have done many ads, web series, and print ads. I left teaching and my social works once I started getting opportunities as I did not want the NGO kids to keep waiting for me once in a while, rather I quit it completely and shift base towards the acting opportunities that are coming to me.
Sandy: But, even for getting work, one needs to meet people and visit the casting offices. How was the journey on that front?
Flora: Indeed! I am a very fit person and I am very health conscious. Without hard work nothing comes easy. My fitness regime has helped me stay fit at 65. I used to visit many studios and I still do. There were times when I visited the same studio twice in a week and I would say, trying hard will surely get you work one or the other day. I did the Vodafone Idea merger ad and the recent ‘Shanthi’ 99 acres ad which became very famous.
Sandy: You have been adjourned as the go-to actress to play Indira Gandhi ji in films. The steep resemblance is something that the audience loves to watch. But, when did it really click to you about your resemblance or people commenting on it? Was it since your teen days or once you grew up, you got to understand that you indeed look a lot like her?
Flora: When I was a child, a neighbor of mine used to say I looked a lot like Indira Gandhi and I used to laugh as I did not have any grey hair. Cut to 2015, I stopped dying my hair near temples and that gave more resemblance to my look with Indira Gandhi. People do tell me that I resemble her a lot and all my roles in films have been playing her but I do not want to act only as Indira Gandhi forever, haha!
Sandy: Your upcoming biggie is Kangana Ranaut’s Thalaivi. How was the experience of working with Kangana? This being one of the most talked about biopic, the stakes are high. What are your thoughts on this film?
Flora: We did not interact much as we had no dialogues between us. But, I did watch her practice her scenes with so much dedication and the moment she gave her take, I was spell bound. What an actress she is! People only see her end result but I have seen the practice that she puts in from close corners and I must admit she is brilliant.
I am a novice while she is an experienced actress. She is stunning. The trailer has received huge applause and one of the main scenes has me in it. I am expecting the film to do very well.
Sandy: Talking about your role in playing Indira Gandhi in most of the films, it wouldn’t bring any drastic change as you are playing the same personality. But, what are the ways in which you try to bring out freshness each time you play her character?
Flora: I look like her but I do not want my career to stop just there! I go by what the director says and as a persona; I am way different than Indira Gandhi. She never used to show her emotions much in the public so I have very little scope to try something different. As long as I am playing Indira Gandhi, I have a boundary set and I need to abide by that.
Sandy: There are talks that you will be seen in Prabhas’ starrer Radhe Shyam. Prabhas’ fans too created a huge buzz about your entry into the film. How true is the buzz? If it’s true, what can the audience expect out of your role?
Flora: Yes, the buzz is true and I shot with Prabhas for a day at Hyderabad’s Falaknuma Palace. The director was cordial and he explained me my scenes. I cannot divulge much about the film nor the characters but I am playing Indira Gandhi and I ask Prabhas to come and meet me for a consultation in astrology.
It was a pleasure meeting Prabhas and we had a nice chit chat. While on a shooting break, we spoke to him and he asked me about my film journey. I told him he he’d seen the recent 99 acres ‘Shanti’ ad and he said yes he did! He was surprised to know that I played ‘Shanti’ in that advert. Prabhas is a charming person and I would like to meet and act more alongside him.
Sandy: What’s in the pipeline for you in the coming months?
Flora: I have ‘Thalaivi’, ‘Radhe Shyam’, and a short film that is due for release. I also shot for Ajay Devgn’s ‘May Day’ at Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad. The shooting has been stalled due to the pandemic. I also have a few commercials that I shot long ago and expecting them to be released soon.
Sandy: Any piece of advice that you’d like to give to the newcomers who want to stabilize themselves in the industry? And, do you think it’s easy for middle-aged people to enter the industry as newbies?
Flora: I am a senior citizen and when I joined at this age, anyone can do it. You need to work hard and train yourselves to succeed. Luck also plays a part but majorly, it’s all about how hard you grind and continue grinding till you score the goal. I am careful about my fitness and so should all be! Strive towards fitness goals as that will enable you to work tirelessly.
Interview by Sandy (Sandeep Rao)
Follow Sandy @blabwithsandy