In an exclusive interview with ETimes, Ishitta spoke about facing the camera from a young age, her inclination towards the arts, the bond she shares with her mother, and her love story with her husband, Dhruv Ghanekar. Excerpts…
You started working when you were three years old. How was it facing the camera at such a young age?
I started working with an advertisement. I was fearless, is what I have heard. I have been quite a memorable kid in the memories of the people who worked with me as a child artist. I got the advertisement because of a dance I did with the then head of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather. It was quite fearless and he was taken in by my spirit, and I took that same spirit in front of the camera, where they said wink, and I winked, and that ad became an iconic ad.
When you’re young, you don’t have a sense of fear, and it feels natural. I think the fear sets in much later where you think about how you’re looking or what people will think, or whether this will be a success or not. But I think that because I have been a part of the industry from such a young age, there’s a sense of ease and comfort that I intrinsically have in front of the camera. I would like to believe that. That’s the only thing that I can think of at this point, but it’s been great. It’s been natural. It’s not something I was forced to get into, and it’s not something I ever regretted doing.
Given that your mother, Ila Arun, belongs to the entertainment industry, was it obvious for you to incline towards art?
Yes, absolutely. I have grown up around the arts. I have grown up around singers, writers, and theatre artists. I have grown up around scripts, backstage, and heaps and heaps of costumes. Among discussions of Gulzar saab’s writing, Sangeet Natak Academy, Ibrahim Elkazi, Dharambeet Bhartiji, great poets and even greater musicians. I have grown up in the company of Gulam Ali Khan saab and Zakir Uncle and all of that has kind of gone into my system and come out in a unique way. I write because I have a command over Hindi, because I am my mother’s daughter, because she introduced me to such a varied amount of art and Indian art at such a young age. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Some people view it as privilege but I would take that in the positive sense. It is a great, good fortune to be born into such a rich, culturally rich family and I know that as far as music, arts and exposure is concerned, I am a millionaire.
Was it comparatively easy for you to set foot in the industry, given your family background, as most would like to believe?
Well, yes and no. When you have access, you have a foot in the door, I guess. It’s a double-edged sword. There is a lot of pressure. There are a lot of expectations. People naturally expected me to be a singer, and I deliberately steered away from it, even though I can sing. And, you know, I joke about it and say that you need ears to listen to a husband who is a singer and musician and a mother who is a singer and a musician. But the pressure was immense. And, it was easy to have access, but it was even more difficult to prove myself, to find my voice. I think that’s a very human struggle. My mother is a folk producer, but I am an urban producer and I have a different set of influences that are mixed with those that she gave me, which are urban in their nature and have resulted in the unique concoction that I am, creatively speaking. So, finding my own voice, fighting the expectations of others, and finding confidence in doing what I believe in have been the most amazing and fruitful challenges I faced. And I am very happy to report that I speak to you with no regrets. It is supremely difficult to be a known person’s child. And contrary to popular belief, it does not assure talent. It does not assure success and it does not assure consistent growth.
Your mother Ila Arun is an acclaimed actress and a talented singer, do you ever feel the pressure of living up to her image?
I find it strange when people ask me whether I feel pressure to keep up with her. No, I have never felt that. I just have never viewed my mother or my parents competitively. She, if anything, has motivated me to be like her, which is an indomitable and undefeated spirit. I am so fortunate to have her as a role model because even through the most slumping periods of an artist’s life, I can remember my mom always blazing through. I have never seen her sit and mope. I have only seen her create, create, create, and I can see that I have been imbibed that from her. I am on fire at this point. I am ready, I am hungry; and I am ready to work. I have the same fire that my mother has.
I would like to believe I have her gene pool. If not even a quarter of her talent pool. But I am a lot like her, where there is a drive, and a never say die spirit. Whether that means writing, acting, challenging myself to do the things that I think I can’t, I am here to do everything, and that is the kind of role model my mom is. The pressure was never there, there was motivation, if my mom can do it, so can I. And at her age, too. I want to be like her. I want to be never resting, I want to be at it. And I am so proud. I feel almost like a mother, a parental affection towards my mom because when she gets noticed and she gets a role that is befitting her caliber I feel a sense of achievement.
Apart from acting, you wear multiple hats. From writing, dancing, acting, and other things, what do you love doing the most and why?
There’s a saying that a jack of all, master of none is often better than a master of one. That’s the aspect that we forget. I love to be a jack of all trades. After years and years of struggling to know what is that one thing that I will excel in, I finally accepted the fact that I have the ability and the gift to shine in a few areas. And I am not going to be apologetic about it. I write. I have been writing jingles for the last 10 to 15 years. I have written Dhaka’s songs. I have written two songs for Atif Aslam and one song for another international artist. I am also a stage performer, and I act. I feel like if you’re creative, you should express yourself in any and every form that you are currently wanting to, that keeps your brain alive. And I am taking the same creativity to my Instagram. You know, I love to laugh and make others laugh. And that’s what I like to do. The most important role that I have had, that I have grown into is that of a woman donning these very many hats and how to lead these various aspects of being a homemaker, a mother, an artist, a writer, a dancer, a performer, and how to be fair to all of these aspects. That is the role I am currently exploring and enjoying the most.
We all know Ila Arun as an actress and as a singer. How is she as a mother and what kind of bond do you share with her?
My mom is unapologetic, and she’s fearless. She is absolutely not afraid to call me out. We butt heads on so many things. But she’s very similar to my brother. I will nag my mother to death, or I will call her a thousand times even when she’s busy and ask her some Indian stuff. That is the kind of conversation my mom and I share. She has a sick sense of humour and she’s an amazing grandmother. One would imagine that my mom would be a career woman. But she’s a typical mother and we have a typical mother-daughter relationship. By that I don’t mean that I love you mom all the time. It’s a 50-50, no joke. My mom has a 360 degree involvement in my life. I wouldn’t trade that for anything else. We have a colourful, loud and proud family. It’s amazing.
You often work with your musician husband Dhruv Ghanekar. How do you not let your professional relationship affect your personal life?
I work a lot with Dhruv. It started as a one-off because I was around, squatting in his office for a lack of a better place of quiet and peace and he would refer to me ever so often on some lyrics. What started as a one-off started becoming a regular thing where I wrote one campaign, started with Mahindra, then Samsung, and it went on to many more. Eventually, I think by virtue of practice and doing this for so long, we’ve got a working rapport. I understand how he works. He knows the genre in which I write and there are hits and misses. It’s extremely challenging to have a couple work together. I don’t know anybody as intelligent, talented, well-read and funny as Dhruv and it’s like he lights up an idea. He lights up a concept whether it’s a movie concept. I respect him immensely in what he composes and how he approaches his work. We discuss a lot of things which are work related at home but that’s how our lives have always been whether we work together or not. The only part that we refrain from doing at home is critiquing the work that we’re doing because that can lead into grey areas and we don’t want to go there in front of the kids. That is the tightrope of balance that we strike. I try very hard to keep the personal rapport as a husband and wife going.
Tell us something about your love story with Dhruv. How did love blossom between you two?
Dhruv and I were both child actors. This is a movie script. His grandfather reinstated my grandfather in Jaipur in the Central Bank. My mother and his mother were in the same college. Years later, his father was assisting Shyam Benegal. I was a child model. My mom worked a lot with Shyam Babu and Girish Ghanekar. They were friends. I did a lot of commercials. I ended up working a lot with the Ghanekar family. Nandu Ghanekar and Vaishali Ghanekar were also in advertising. Then we did a movie where he was 11 and I was 6. The movie was Trikal by Shyam Benegal. Famously, I went to a well and mid-shoot, I threatened to jump into the well if Dhruv and his brother did not get married to me. That was when I was 6. Now, in 2023, I wonder if I had asked for being a millionaire post 40. Maybe that would have been a wise thing. Now, we are married. Dhruv is the light of the family. He is funny. He is kind. He is childlike. He would like to believe he is a better actor than I am but he is not. I love you Dhruv. He is a great mind.
I am marching ahead. I have made a determination that I am here to work now. I have two babies and many other things under my belt. I am here to explore myself as an actor, to break any sort of hesitance that I have had in the past and just work with as many capable directors in as many wonderful projects as I possibly can. This is my time.