There’s a little-known canon in showbiz – the relationship between an actor and a camera is sacred. When an actor is facing the camera, the rest of the world ceases to exist.
On a muggy Sunday evening in suburban Mumbai not so long ago, Arjun Rampal experienced a photo shoot unlike anything in his career spanning over two decades. “This is special. They are going to be facing the camera for the first time ever,” explains the actor as his daughters, Mahikaa and Myra step out of the make-up room. “Awww, you look lovely,” he gushes. And they really do.“I used to think I’d be that father who’ll sit with a shotgun at the doorstep. But both my girls are extremely responsible…” —Arjun Rampal
Mahikaa is 17-going-on-18 and Myra is a few days shy of her 14th birthday (she will turn 14 on June 24). The girls are both nervous and excited in equal parts but it’s clear to everyone in the room that Arjun is even more nervous. He peers into the screen on photographer Subi Samuel’s camera in between shots; adjusts Myra’s hair and reminds Mahikaa to not slouch. This marks the girls’ debut to public life.
Arjun and his former wife Mehr Jesia made a conscious decision to keep their daughters away from the spotlight. The girls rarely have accompanied their parents to public events or featured on Arjun’s social media.
“We weren’t comfortable with the children being in the limelight. We always felt that they should grow up like children. Both of them are very shy, and I think we did the right thing,” he says. “I just went into the make-up room and Mahikaa couldn’t stop smiling as her hair and make-up were being done; it’s all happening for the first time. Myra has got these big curls. It’s wonderful to see how excited both of them are about this new experience.”
A father’s life
The actor ‘vividly’ remembers the first time he held his daughters. “I was in the OT (operation theatre) both times and it was overwhelming. Nothing can prepare you for that moment.” During Myra’s birth, he thought he was ready for fatherhood; after all, he had done it once before. It didn’t take long for him to realise how wrong he was. “When I saw Myra for the first time, I was filled with so much gratitude.” It was this overwhelming joy of becoming a father for the second time that pushed Arjun to get the names of his daughters inked on his forearms.“[As kids of supermodels and an actor] We’ve never felt the pressure to look a certain way. We are discouraged from wearing make-up or doing our hair. At home, there’s never talk about looks or clothes...” —Mahikaa Rampal
From changing nappies to picking them up from school, Arjun’s been as hands-on a parent as his profession has allowed. He is the kind of father who’d want to be friends with his children. “He never forces us to do anything. He always asks if we want to do something,” Myra says. And Mahikaa quickly chips in, “He is the baby of the family. He does so much nakhra all the time. He pulls pranks on us all the time. He looks very serious and all the roles he does are very serious but he is one of the funniest people around.”
It doesn’t take long for the girls to start comparing notes on the pranks their father has pulled on them. There’s a lot of ‘remember when’ before they share their favourite one. “We were in London on a holiday with our grandmother and dad. We had gotten creeped out by a strange lady in the streets. We were very shaken up when we got back to our room. Suddenly, dad dashed into our room in a black hoodie pulled down low on his face, looking really scary,” Mahikaa recalls with a laugh. “I was so scared I jumped into the suitcase,” Myra adds before the girls collapse into peals of giggles.
Notes to my daughters
He might be the most ‘fun dad’ but it doesn’t take long for Arjun to slip into ‘serious dad mode’. He is very conscious of the life lessons he wants to pass on to Mahikaa and Myra. “They are both very different personalities and I hope they remember to be their own people, no matter what. To always be honest in whatever they do. To always have love in their hearts and not get cynical with age. If they can maintain these three qualities, they’ll have happy lives. Nothing or nobody gives or takes away happiness. We make ourselves happy and they have to learn to do that,” he says as the girls listen intently and nod along.
Their maturity belies their age. It’s no wonder that Arjun isn’t worried about boys and dating when it comes to his teenage daughters. “I used to think I’d be that father who’ll sit with a shotgun at the doorstep. But both of them are extremely responsible, and very dignified in the way they conduct themselves. I’m very proud of them,” he says, flashing that famous smile. The actor understands that the girls are going to meet boys and fall in love because that’s life. “As a father, all I can do is hope that nobody breaks their heart.”
There have been rumours that Mahikaa wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and she isn’t coy when asked about her acting aspirations. Arjun is the perfect supportive father. “She’s very good at theatre, she does that in school and has definitely got something there. If Mahikaa does want to act, she’ll need to study it. We’ve decided that she should go to film school and study the whole process. During her vacations, she could assist on my sets and see how it works,” says Arjun. Seeing as Mahikaa’s memories from being on Arjun’s film sets in the past revolve around eating tandoori chicken and advising him on how his trailer should be decorated, working on a film set would give her the much-needed exposure.“...which is why this shoot is so much fun. I got to get my hair curled and then straightened!” —Myra Rampal
Myra, on the other hand, has her heart set on becoming a veterinarian and ‘living on a big farm with lots of animals’. “She is also very artistic and paints beautifully,” Arjun says before pulling out his phone to show off Myra’s latest – an abstract profile of a man. This is a ‘proud dad’ move if there’s ever been one. When I ask her about her aspirations, the 14-year-old very sagely reminds me that she’s too young to have found her life’s calling. “I might do modelling, though,” she adds.
Growing up as the daughters of the two of the original ‘Supers’ who defined an era of Indian modelling, it’s not a surprise that Mahikaa and Myra are preternaturally good-looking. What their parents have also passed on to the girls is an easy nonchalance about physical appearance. “We’ve never felt the pressure to look a certain way. We leave the house in our pyjamas and it’s fine. We are discouraged from wearing make-up or doing our hair. At home, there’s never a conversation about looks or clothes,” Mahikaa says as the bare minimum make-up on her face is being wiped off at the end of the shoot. Myra quickly chimes in, “Which is why this shoot was so much fun. I got to get my hair curled and then straightened. I didn’t think I’d like it so much”. There’s a glint in her eyes that hints that the beautiful teenager just might have caught the showbiz bug.
With his girlfriend Gabriella Demetriades pregnant, Arjun is preparing to be a dad once again. The couple, who’ve been together for a little more than a year, shared the news in April. True to form, Arjun continues to be fiercely protective of his new relationship, the breakdown of his 20-year-long marriage with Mehr and raising his lovely daughters after the divorce. “It’s personal and not something that I’d like to talk about,” he explains, before adding, “My children have been complete champions and extremely supportive of our decision”.
(Karishma Upadhyay is a journalist based in Mumbai who writes about films and travel)
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From HT Brunch, June 16, 2019
First Published: Jun 15, 2019 21:35 IST