“I haven’t had a day off since the show released and my phone has been going off non-stop! It’s been crazy,” says Ayesha Kanga, after I congratulate her on the success of her debut show Class.
Created by Netflix, the show was an adaptation of the Spanish-language hit Elite and launched the cast into viral Internet fame after its success.
“I get a DM pretty much every single day and people have been making fan edits and memes of my character,” says the actress, “I had no idea it would be like this.”
Kanga admits that she had zero expectations from the show and felt that the cast, including herself, would fade into oblivion as nobody would care for the show.
“I was worried because we were 11 newcomers and nobody has heard of us before. We were going to be starring in an adaptation of a previously loved show so I figured that either people wouldn’t care about it or we would just go off into oblivion because there was no star cast or anything that would make people interested in the show. I think it was my inherent pessimism that made me have no expectations from the show,” she says, laughing. “This is silly, but I had about 18,000 followers on Instagram and I remember thinking I would have about 25,000 followers once the show released. If I get 25,000 followers I would be very happy because it would mean that enough people watched it and cared about it. That’s the scale I was thinking about it!” Clearly, Kanga’s perceptions were way off because the show became an instant hit and was one of the most-watched (and talked about) shows at the time of its release. Also, Kanga currently sits on a little more than 83,000 followers than the mere 25,000 she had hoped for.
Class had the distinct advantage of having a cast that comprised mostly of talented newcomers which made the viewing experience more immersive for most of us as the actors became the characters seamlessly. A lot of the credit for this goes to the show’s director Ashim Ahluwalia, according to Kanga.
“He would come to us and ask us to write the screenplay or a dialogue. Or maybe pick a costume that our character would wear. He trusted a lot of us with these important decisions. It was artists making art together,” she says, adding that one of the biggest takeaways from the show for her was the National Award-winning director’s working style.
“He doesn’t take no for an answer. He wasn’t afraid of a single person and he just did what he felt like. But he ended up making a great show so whatever he did clearly worked. This just shows that we should trust creatives. Let’s trust the artist!”
Ahluwalia placed the characters in the actors’ hands and allowed them to find how they want to portray them onscreen on their own.
“I would ask myself ‘What would Yashika watch on TV?’ and ‘What kind of music would Yashika listen to?’. Then I created a profile in my head where I knew that Yashika has binge-watched every episode of Koffee with Karan and she’s a Blackpink fan,” she says, clarifying that while Yashika might be a Blink, Ayesha Kanga is very much an ARMY (BTS fan), a distinction that’s super important as any K-pop stan would know.
While Kanga’s performance as Yashika, a student at the elite Hampton International, was appreciated by fans and critics alike, acting wasn’t something that was always on the cards for her.
After graduating from the National Institute of Design, Kanga continued to work as a graphic designer until a break that led her to venture into modelling. “I was tall and thin and one of my friends said ‘Hey, you’re tall and thin and you don’t have a job, why don’t you become a model?’ He took my polaroids and we sent them to my agency and that was it,” she says, laughing. Kanga had been closely observing the Indian fashion scene and models for a long time, so the transition didn’t feel as drastic as it looked on the outside. “I was always interested in fashion, I was also interested in image-making as a designer. Watching a sort of shift in Indian fashion campaigns, as they moved from using white models to models that look like us, was an interesting transition and made me want to be a part of the movement. Modelling took over my entire life.”
So how did she make the transition from a model to an actress? “My modelling agency tried to nudge me towards acting but I was very lazy. I never wanted to act or go to auditions. Modelling was really working out and I had no reason to branch out in another field. I was also freelancing as a designer at that time so I felt like I had enough things going on in my life,” she shares. This is what she thought, until a fateful evening when she saw an episode of Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s web series Made in Heaven and everything changed for her. “The first thought that came to my head was ‘This is a great show and I want to do shit like this’. I wanted to be part of shows like that one so I started auditioning.” And the rest was history.
For now, Kanga is excited about the endless opportunities that the success of Class has opened up for her. She also says she would continue being creatively involved with campaigns and photo shoots along with whatever projects come her way. But the first order of business for her? Hire an assistant who could take some things off her plate!
“I’m doing everything at the moment! I feel like it would take me some time to let go of the control but unless I want to burn out soon, I need to hire someone to take care of all this really soon!” she says.
Here’s hoping to see more of the actress on our screens in the future!