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Black with a bang

Ayesha has just made her screen debut in Black, but she's already getting reviews like a pro



Acting with Amitabh didn't make Ayesha nervous: she was blissfully unaware of the Big B phenomenon

HOW OFTEN does a film star fall asleep on your shoulder mid-interview? By the end of this one, Ayesha has laid her pretty little head on my arm and dropped off. At seven in the evening, it's her third interview for the day, and this star is only 10. "The same questions," she complains.

Praise is pouring in from her co-star Amitabh Bachchan who describes her as "mind-blowing". Ayesha is excited, but remains unaffected by the buzz. Living in Auroville, whose residents believe in community living and consciously keep away from mainstream culture, has kept Bollywood on the fringes of her life.

For someone who has not seen Hindi movies, not even "Devdas and all", to star in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black was a chance the family took. Her father Dilip Kapur, a Ph.D, was worried whether the experience would affect her studies. Kapur's reservations were argued away by wife Jacqueline, who believes her daughter has got her priorities right. "If I had not allowed her to act, especially in a movie of this kind, maybe when she turns 16 — when every little girl wants to be famous — she would be upset with my decision." So putting aside her favourite Jacqueline Wilson novel Dustbin Baby, Ayesha read Helen Keller's life instead, on which Black is based. "You know what I really missed was the part with the horse," she says talking about an incident in the book not featured in the movie.

So that is how a little girl from Auroville, who loves riding her horse Talapati, landed the role as a young Rani Mukherji.She had heard of Amitabh Bachchan, the `Parker-man' (from the pen ads) as her brother Milan calls him, but was unaware of the phenomenon that is the Big B. "All these people waiting outside screaming: Is that Amitabh Bachchan!" made her "a bit nervous, actually pretty nervous."

But not being a die-hard fan made working with her co-star easier. "I kind of survived because I didn't know who he was really, I was not, like, WOW." In the days ahead, Ayesha became his friend and even took lessons in pranayama from India's most charismatic star.

At the red-carpeted premiere, everybody told her she was a `rock star'. Standing between her famous co-stars, she had no idea who they were; the only person she recognised was "Simi Garewal of TV fame." "I kept smiling boldly at every one," she says. "I knew they were important because Amitabh and Rani were, like, bowing and smiling and hugging."

Back in Auroville, there is hardly any flutter about Bollywood's newest star. To her friends, many of whom are yet to watch the film, she is the same Ayesha. "We hardly talk about the film," she says. Ayesha would like to do more films when she grows up. "Maybe a few in Hollywood." But for the moment, she has other things on her mind. And so she prattles on about her horse riding skills (she qualified for the Nationals in children's dressage), her love for writing, homework, the earrings she loves but can't wear yet, and favourite films Dances with the Wolves and Pretty Woman.

MEERA MOHANTY

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