‘In Shaitaan, We Laughed Once They Called Cut’: Janki Bodiwala

Bodiwala stars in Shaitaan alongside Ajay Devgn, R Madhavan and Jyothika.
‘In Shaitaan, We Laughed Once They Called Cut’: Janki Bodiwala
‘In Shaitaan, We Laughed Once They Called Cut’: Janki Bodiwala

After quitting dentistry, Janki Bodiwala caught a big break in Krishnadev Yagnik’s Gujarati coming-of-age film, Chhello Divas (2015) which would go on to become a blockbuster. One thing led to another and Bodiwala found herself headlining Gujarati films like Tamburo (2017) and Bau Na Vichar (2019). She has now made her Bollywood debut in the supernatural thriller Shaitaan (2024), reprising her role from the darker and more gruelling Gujarati original, Vash (2023). 

In Shaitaan, Bodiwala plays Janhvi, a girl ensnared by black magic. Compelled to carry out Vanraj's (R. Madhavan) increasingly eerie and destructive commands, she endures torment as he derives sadistic pleasure from inflicting suffering upon her and her family. Bodiwala's portrayal of Janhvi is the pivot upon which the film’s drama spins. She shows the helplessness and terror of a girl who has lost her autonomy with riveting intensity. In a key scene, you see her squatting on top of a gas cylinder with a matchbox in her hand, held hostage by Vanraj’s hypnosis. The cylinder is leaking and outside, Janhvi’s parents have to pretend they’re having a good time — on Vanraj’s orders — in order to get rid of the cops who have come to check on the family. Janhvi’s eyes look anguished. Her hands tremble. Even when the camera turns to the parents in the living room, it’s Janhvi’s dread that we feel along with her desperation to fight the effect of Vanraj’s hypnosis. To stand one’s ground when sharing the screen with veteran actors like Madhavan, Ajay Devgn, and Jyothika is no small feat. Bodiwala does this and more as Janhvi.

Film Companion spoke to Bodiwala about her debut in Bollywood, her approach to acting and the journey that led her to become an actor.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

Janki Bodiwala in Shaitaan
Janki Bodiwala in Shaitaan

How does one go from dentistry to acting? 

I got good grades, so my parents were like, “Take science, take Biology. Let's see what happens.” Then, I studied dentistry. I was pretty much not happy with the things going around me. I was not feeling like I wanted to become a dentist. So, I took a break from my studies and then suddenly this one audition came up — it was for a Gujarati film. The good part is that my dad brought it to me. He said, “Do you want to try it? Just give it a try.” He is a film buff. He loves movies and everything. Even though I was unsure, because I did not know if I could act, he asked me to give it a shot.

I gave the audition and I got a call back. I had never thought that the film [Chhello Divas] was going to be a blockbuster in Gujarat! I'm still learning acting wise, but yeah. I want to do theatre badly. I have even reached out to people saying, “Please mujhe backstage wala kaam hi dedo (Please give me some work, even if it is backstage).” They are like, “No! You're a star! How can we do that?” 

Vash and Shaitaan offer different shades of the same story. Can you share how different the experience was of working on both versions?

Vash is quite dark. It got an A certificate. In general, the characters are the same. Just the graphs are different. I didn't think much. That was the very first thought, that I won't improvise. I will follow the commands. I'm just going to do that. That's it. Because that is the basic thing of the film. Vash means what? You don't have to use your brain — you are under someone’s control. You just have to do that. Nothing else.

Are you a method actor? 

Not at all (laughs). Even in Shaitaan, we used to laugh once they called cut — because there's so much brutality. I'm pushing Jyothika ma’am, I'm hitting the kid and I'm pressing Madhvan ji's feet. They used to laugh. I guess it keeps you in your senses.

Everyone was such a sport. Sometimes with physical scenes when the energy is so high, people get hurt. We accidentally end up hurting our co-actors. And they are huge stars! It was very scary to accidentally injure them, but they all were such sports.

Janki Bodiwala in Shaitaan
Janki Bodiwala in Shaitaan

What was it like working alongside seasoned actors like R Madhavan, Ajay Devgn, and Jyothika?

I was just noticing them, like a kid in school watching their teacher. I used to see how they are approaching their character, how they are creating this kind of an environment. What all conversations they are having with the director or DOP [director of photography] or each other. I was just observing. It was a big learning experience for me.

How does it feel to have your Bollywood debut in a film that's making such waves at the box office?

I didn't expect this at all, actually. I guess I can say I'm numb. I'm not feeling anything because everything is happening so suddenly that it's tough for me to feel anything right now. I'm just going with the flow. I don't know what to express. Every day I get to see new numbers on different pages. It is actually a big deal for me because this is my very first Bollywood film and it's going to be a Rs. 100 crore film! 

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