She had to compete for her first role, quite literally! Anjala Zaveri being cast opposite Akshaye Khanna in Himalaya Putra (1997), their debut film, was the result of a talent hunt across countries, in search of a fresh face.
Born and raised in England, the actor, who belongs to a conservative Gujarati family, has always been mesmerised by the glitz and glam of showbiz. “We used to watch a lot of films on video cassettes bought from a small Pakistani shop. The world of cinema was always intriguing, sort of because my parents like to keep in touch with Indian things. The glam and the way things were shown in films was always mesmerising, but I was more focused on studies,” says the 49-year-old.
The family would make trips to India every four-five years to visit their extended family. When she was around 16, late actor Vinod Khanna made a trip to England since he was searching for a female actor to cast opposite his son, Akshaye. He announced it on the only two Indian mediums there — Sunrise radio and Zee TV.
At that point, Zaveri was an aspiring model, and hence, had got a photoshoot done. But, she didn’t have the required height to be a runway model, and instead sent her pictures to Khanna for the competition. “I landed my first interview with him and the model agency person. Some 16-17 models had turned up there, I was the only one with my father! I was so nervous during the interview that I kept my mouth shut! Then they came and asked if I had more . Since the pics from the shoot had turned out well, I handed over a bunch to them. It was a 10-day competition… and later, I got a call back from Vinod Khanna saying, “Please get Anjala’s passport ready, we are taking her to India’. It was my summer break, I had finished my exams, so literally, within a month or two, I left. My mom came with me,” she recalls.
However, her family was not so keen though on her joining films. Zaveri says everything was very new and she was left amazed. She says her parents were not really “gung ho” about sending their daughter to India. “Even if I was going to be chaperoned by a parent. They had preconceived notions in their head,” she reveals.
Soon after Himalay Putra released, she got busy with Telugu and Tamil films, as a result of which Hindi films took a backseat.
“After Himalay Putra, I went to home for a two-month break. A lot of meetings happened after I came to India. I got signed on for Tamil and Telugu films. Majority of my time was in Hyderabad and Madras, Hindi films happened in the middle of that,”says the actor, who has also starred in Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998) and Betaabi (1997).
Talking of working in southern film industry, she recounts, “The stories in south were very sweet, the work was very professional. I was doing films in a language which I never even knew actually existed, which was another experience for me, learning dialogues in Tamil and Telugu. I got to travel a lot though south films, as all the songs were shot abroad.”
Zaveri is married to actor Tarun Raj Arora, best known for playing Anshuman in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met (2007). And, offers have again started coming her way again given that her husband is in the limelight.
“My husband was a model and we had a quiet little wedding. He did a few Hindi films, took a step back and got into hospitality, and I don’t know if it’s luck, but he is also doing south films now! He plays an antagonist. Offers have started coming to me too, but it is not very exciting for me to come back. Even earlier, I was doing the same thing in every film. I didn’t want to burn myself out doing similar stuff,” she signs off.