Travel has the power to transform an individual. And while actors are always asked about their evolution in their profession, it’s refreshing to see them speak about the change in their personal selves thanks to the places they’ve got to explore, be it during their films or while they’re on vacation. Mrunal Thakur, just like the films that see her deliver captivating performances, continues to be a captivated traveller, who draws inspiration and stories from every corner of the globe. She is curious to learn more about new places and people that help her stay connected to her roots and the rest of the world. Helping her in this journey is KAYAK, the world's leading travel search engine, with whom she recently collaborated with for their festive campaign. With the same festivals being celebrated in different ways across the globe, Thakur doesn't want to miss out on anything. And neither should anyone who loves travelling.
In an exclusive interview with Bazaar India, the actor speaks about how experiencing Diwali in New Delhi as a kid changed her outlook towards travel, the three places she can't wait to visit, how she travels smart today, and more.
Harper’s Bazaar: It’s important for celebrities to believe in the brands that they’re endorsing. What made you want to collaborate with KAYAK?
Mrunal Thakur: I only associate with the brands that I resonate with. And you know what a travel junkie I am. Back in the day, my parents were scared about how I used to travel. That’s why KAYAK connects with me, because I am not dependent on anyone to book my car, flight, my stay and it caters perfectly to the tech-savvy generation. All they have to do is book, and the app schedules your itinerary because not everyone is good at planning. I think I really needed KAYAK in my life, and I am sure everyone else will feel the need as well.
Add to that, when it comes to travelling, you must ask a friend who stays there about the places to visit and things to do, but they might miss out on the good stuff. And that’s where KAYAK comes in. It allows you to try authentic stay locations. You are then tension-free as people face a lot of travel anxiety and worry if everything’s going to be okay.
HB: The festive campaign encourages one to step out of their homes and travel during festivals. How brave is it to challenge and change this mindset amongst people?
MT: Festivals are the best time to travel, because you get to explore so many other things. Until I started travelling, I didn’t know that Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi are celebrated differently in every state in India. The nation rejoices in the festivities in different ways. We Indians save up and look forward to the holidays during festivals as it’s a great way to spend time together.
One of my favourite features is the search engine feature and the price alert, as you can type out your budget and they suggest things to do for the price-conscious consumer. They also recommend days or the cheapest month to travel to a place. I think we have to travel and explore not just our country, but the world. It’s an app that empowers Indians to travel during festivals and keeps things flexible as far as the dates and budgets are concerned.
HB: Is there any festival, celebrated in another foreign country, which you want to experience?
MT: I remember I was in New Delhi during Diwali and saw the difference in celebrations. I’m a Maharashtrian and had no clue about the card parties as we’ve only always done a Lakshmi puja. I must say that the puja gets really long. But when I was there, I saw the fashion was so amazing, everyone was playing cards, the energy differs. The nature of my job is such that we get to travel a lot and see places not many have seen. A person who is well-travelled is wiser, confident, and independent. It’s so empowering for girls out there. I was 13 or 14 when I celebrated Diwali in New Delhi, and this one incident has inspired me so much. Today, I love dressing up and am so rooted that I love playing with Indian stuff.
HB: Do you have any interesting travelling superstitions? A particular piece of clothing that you always carry? Always sitting on the window seat of the plane? Something that the hotel room must have?
MT: Since I’m the daughter of a government employee and have changed 11 schools in my life, I am very flexible. As long as I reach the destination and my journey is beautiful, I love talking to my co-passengers on the flight. I’ve made friends on the flight and in the hotel where we shared our travel experiences. Earlier, I was a little hesitant, but more than me my parents were scared. But when you have everything sorted, you don’t have to worry about anything.
HB: Are you a beach or mountain person? Or are you one who feels these categorisation is too reductive?
MT: People have phases. So do I. On the days when I finish a film and it’s really heavy, I’d head to the mountains. But if I’m with my friends, and since I’m a water baby, you’ll always find me at the beach. Goa is my favourite place to be. We just wake up and make a plan to go there.
HB: Today, travel has become about what is reflected on social media. What is your stance on this? Are you a forget my phone on a holiday person, or is it content galore?
MT: I know that everyone likes to flaunt their holidays on social media. Sometimes, my parents would not understand me being on my phone. We made a rule that we would just check in or keep the phone aside once we were done clicking the food at the table and post towards the end of the day when we get some alone time. I have so many fans reach out to me and ask me where I’m staying and want details of the place I’m at. It allows them to plan their holiday. They’d see a photo of me in Alibaug and then tell me that my photo pushed them to make a trip.
HB: Your work has taken you to places around the world? Which is the one place that you’ve heard a lot about, but haven’t had the chance to visit?
MT: Egypt. I’ve wanted to go there for a long time. The moment I get some free time, I’m going to take a week and explore the country. I’ve always wanted to witness the pyramids as a kid. I’ve enjoyed The Mummy and I can’t wait to go there. The other places are Japan, as I want to see the cherry blossom, and Sydney.
HB: And which is the one place in the world that you can’t wait to visit again?
MT: It’s Dhule. It’s where my maternal grandmother lives. I have a lot of childhood memories as I spent my vacations there. It’s on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and the best part about the place is that it has flying clubs and mango gardens and you can just go and pluck them. All our cousins would run towards the mangoes when they fell down. Another city that I love is New York as it gives me a lot of Mumbai vibes. You’d find a lot of Indians there, which was something I wasn’t expecting. On my very first trip there, the very first thing I had was Butter Chicken made by a Punjabi family.
HB: How have you changed the way you travel? Be it the way you pack, the places you stay at, how you commute in the city?
MT: I’ve evolved, and there are so many things that have changed. I will always check the temperature of the place I’m going to. Is it going to fluctuate? I make sure that I carry beachwear and slippers, or a sweater as you never know if the temperature inside the airport will be different from the outside. I’m a light packer who doesn’t mind repeating my outfits. I style it differently. I do my research and travel accordingly. I have a backup rain-friendly jacket, too. Earlier, I would reach the place without doing these checks and would suffer a lot. Now I know what to carry. I have a pair of gum boots that I look forward to wearing. I was in Ooty a few weeks back and the place is heaven.
HB: Which was the last place you visited that made you feel like a local, and which is the place that made you feel like a tourist? Which was a place where you could get lost and not be a celebrity?
MT: There are a lot of people who don’t travel to places and explore local places and restaurants because they think they will be mobbed. I have my tricks—I carry a hoodie and cap. As an actor, it’s important to feel normal. Travel allows you to find yourself and discover who you truly are. I’ve discovered myself a lot, and travel has played a huge role in this transformation. I’m also the first girl in my family who’s very well-travelled. I remember my parents celebrating when I got my US visa. It felt like I’ve got some degree or something.