Riya Sen(born Riya Dev Varma in Kolkata, India on January 24, 1981) is an Indian film actress and model. Riya, who hails from a family of actors including her grandmother Suchitra Sen, mother Moon Moon Sen and sister Raima Sen, began her acting career in 1991 as a child artiste in the film Vishkanya. Her first commercial success in her film career was with Style, a 2001 Hindi low-budget sex comedy directed by N. Chandra. Some of her other films include producer Pritish Nandy's musical film, Jhankaar Beats (2001) in Hinglish, director David Dhawan's comedy film, Shaadi No. 1 (2005) and director-cinematographer Santhosh Sivan's Malayalam horror film Ananthabhadram (2005).
Riya was first recognised as a model when she performed in Falguni Pathak's music video Yaad Piya Ki Aane Lagi at the age of sixteen. Since then, she has appeared in music videos, television commercials, fashion shows, and on magazine covers.
Riya has worked as an activist and appeared in an AIDS awareness music video with the aim of dispelling popular myths about the disease. She also helped raise funds for pediatric eye-care. Riya has faced controversies such as a MMS clip with actor Ashmit Patel, her semi-nude photograph on photographer Dabboo Ratnani's annual calendar and her on-screen kisses in a conservative Indian film industry.
Riya first appeared as a child artist in the film Vishkanya in 1991, where she played the role of the young Pooja. At the age of 15, National Film Awards winning director Bharathiraja's Tamil film, Taj Mahal (2000), which did not achieve commercial success. She was scheduled to make her Bollywood film debut in Love You Hamesha, opposite actor Akshaye Khanna; however, the film was stalled, and she ultimately made her debut in N. Chandra's Style (2001). This low-budget sex comedy was the first commercial success in over a decade for the director, whose previous successes included Ankush (1986) and Tezaab (1988). A launch pad for Riya, cast in the female lead along with fellow-newcomers, Sharman Joshi, Sahil Khan and Shilpi Mudgal, the film pioneered a trend of commercial success for small budget films in India. Riya and the second female lead of the film were replaced by aspirant actresses Sunali Joshi and Jaya Seal in Xcuse Me, the sequel of Style.
Her next success was Jhankaar Beats, a comedy revolving around the music of legendary composer R D Burman, which saw her playing a small and glamorous role alongside Shayan Munshi, Juhi Chawla, Rahul Bose, Rinke Khanna and Sanjay Suri. Produced by Pritish Nandy, publishing director of The Times of India, and directed by debutant director Sujoy Ghosh, the film was made on a budget of Rs. 25 million (US$525,000), marking the sixth in a row of small to medium budget films made by Pritish Nandy Communications (PNC). Despite being part of a wave of offbeat films that mostly failed to make an impact at the box office, it surprisingly drew public attention upon its release, which led to a commercial success among a restricted audience targeted by a selective release in twenty cities.
It was one of the first films made in Hinglish, a mixture of Hindi and English. In 2005, she starred in Shaadi No. 1, which saw her sharing screen time with Esha Deol, Soha Ali Khan and Ayesha Takia, without anyone getting established as the female lead. This comedy, which is based on the theme of modern marriage, was directed by David Dhawan, a renowned film director from this genre.
Although films like Style and Jhankar Beats succeeded commercially, most of her later films have generated less revenue. A number of them remained unfinished. While many of her appearances have been item numbers and cameos, few of her leading roles have been in low-budget films. Though she had small roles in Dil Vil Pyar Vyar (2002), Qayamat (2003) and Plan (2004), attention was drawn to her item numbers in all three, especially the one in Qayamat that featured her in a bubble-bath. Besides this, she performed another item number in James (2005) on director-producer Ram Gopal Varma's behest, who has a history of casting aspirant actress-models like Sameera Reddy, Isha Koppikar and Koena Mitra in similar roles. Furthermore, she took part in a dance number for Sajid Khan's Heyy Babyy (2007) that featured several mainstream Bollywood actresses such as Amisha Patel, Diya Mirza, Neha Dhupia, Amrita Rao and Celina Jaitley, among others.
Personal life and family
Born on January 24, 1981 in Kolkata, West Bengal, Riya is the daughter of Moon Moon Sen, a former actress, and granddaughter of Suchitra Sen, a legend in Bengali cinema. Before moving to Mumbai, she lived in Kolkata with her parents and sister Raima Sen, also an actress. Her father Bharat Dev Varma is a member of the royal family of Tripura. Her paternal grandmother, Ila Devi, was the princess of Cooch Behar, whose younger sister Gayatri Devi is the Maharani of Jaipur. Her paternal grandmother Indira was the only daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda. Riya's maternal great-grandfather Adinath Sen was a prominent Kolkata businessman, whose father Dinanath Sen - a relative of former Union Law Minister Ashoke Kumar Sen- was the Diwan or a Minister of the Maharaja of Tripura. The sisters are credited on-screen under their grandmother's maiden name, although their official papers carry the surname Dev Varma.
Riya completed her schooling at Loreto House and Rani Birla College, both in Kolkata. Thereafter, she studied at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, and she took up jewellery-designing as a hobby. She designs most of the clothes that she wears in films and commercials. Riya is trained in Kathak and is still pursuing it under Vijayshree Chaudhury and kickboxing taking lessons (has completed the Level I of the 5 levels in belly dancing. Riya entered the film industry through small-time modeling assignments, commuting between Mumbai and Kolkata and traveling by public transport during the her early career. After breaking into the film industry, she shifted from her mother's house in Ballygunge Circular Road in south Kolkata to Mumbai. There she moved into the family house in Juhu, where she stays with her sister. During her stay in Mumbai, the media romantically linked her to model and actor John Abraham. In the Bollywood press, she was, in 2008, speculatively linked to the novelist Salman Rushdie, although both stated that they were simply good friends.
Riya has suffered a number of untimely incidents. During the filming of Shaadi No. 1 in France, she was knocked unconscious after being accidentally run over by a stuntman's motorbike, but she was not seriously injured. Shortly before the release of Silsiilay, in which she starred opposite her boyfriend Ashmit Patel, a 90-second video clip was circulated through Multimedia Messaging Services and the internet, showing the pair in compromising situations. This was one of a number of controversies that erupted when celebrities were caught in similar situations using cameraphones. Following this incident, the couple split up, although Riya denied that she was the girl in the MMS clip. One commentator claimed that the footage was an orchestrated publicity stunt.In 2007, she underwent a brief detoxification session in Bangkok for addiction to chocolate.
Riya's on-screen performances have established her as a sex symbol and youth icon in India. Since entering the film industry, she has gained attention for wearing a bikini in Shaadi No. 1 and sharing on-screen kisses with co-stars Ashmit Patel in Silsiilay and Sharman Joshi in Style, respectively. Such performances garnered attention because of the relatively conservative outlook of Indian cinema and her own statements about such practises. Before becoming a film identity, she had a reputation for partying, which started at the age of fifteen. Riya's public persona is compared to her mother Moon Moon, who was seen as a sex symbol of her time, while her sister Raima is mostly compared their grandmother Suchitra.
Although her film career has yet to achieve large-scale success, Riya has generated considerable media attention. She was ranked ninth on Femina 50 Most Beautiful Women, published in the magazine's September 2007 issue. She was a jury member for the 2008 Final of the Mr. India contest. Along with Bollywood actors such as Waheeda Rehman, Shilpa Shetty, Dia Mirza, Raveena Tandon, Jackie Shroff, Naseeruddin Shah, Tabu and Lara Dutta, Riya appeared in Haath Se Haath Mila, an HIV/AIDS awareness music video. She made charity appearances at McDonald's India to raise money for paediatric eye-care during World Children's Week (November 14–20) in 2003.
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