Ria D’Souza, the host of Zee Connect, talks about growing up in Dubai, her modelling career, working with Mohanlal, her fanaticism with fitness and why she prefers working in TV over radio.
You might know her as the vivacious host of Zee Connect, the popular weekly lifestyle show that runs on Saturday nights, or you may have spotted her with Mohanlal in Casanovva, the Malayali romantic action film released recently. If you’re a fan of jewellery, there’s a high probability you’ve seen her adorning an assortment of shiny baubles on posters in one of Bur Dubai’s numerous boutiques. Or perhaps you might have heard her on City 101.6 a couple of years ago.
Standing at 5’4”, the curvaceous Andria (Ria) D’Souza has many roles, and she is a dynamo
that runs on a seemingly unlimited tank.
Ria completed her schooling at Our Own English High School before going to India to study commercial arts. A keen student of the visual side of things, she had been very much into painting and sketching as a youngster girl. After returning to Dubai and trying her hand at advertising, she was approached by a friend of hers who was studying photography. He promised her “a cool Facebook profile picture.” Navin Vasvani had never done a shoot, and Ria had never modelled before. Once the pictures came out, she was surprised at the response she got online. Unbeknownst to her, one of her friends decided to send pictures to the ‘LG Scarlet Face of the Year’ pageant. Ria was grocery shopping with an aunt when she received a call from a judge. Upon gentle persuasion from her aunt, she turned up at the LG showroom the next day.
“There were 45 girls — all of them stunning. I didn’t stand a chance, I thought. But I said ‘why not give it a shot?’” She was surprised to learn that she made it to the next round, with the group whittled down to 16. However, she was genuinely shocked to find that she’d made the top 10. “That was as far as I got, but the thrill of going so far itself was invaluable. I felt like I could do anything.”
Ria soon went on to win the next pageant she entered, and was crowned ‘Ms Mangalore Dubai’ in 2009.
Her green eyes sparkle as she describes a moment scores of women would have loved to enjoy: acting opposite legendary Malayali superstar, Mohanlal. Having had a role as an extra in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, she was determined to get herself more involved in cinema. She appeared at an extras’ audition for Casanovva and the director Rosshan Andrrews pointed to her and said “I need that girl in another role!” With her acting experience at that stage being limited to just two TV advertisements, Ria was quite nervous. Discovering that her character, an insurance agent, was to be romanced by Casanovva himself did not help. “I was really scared at first. But he gave me some tips after the sixth failed take. ‘Just fit it into your head that I’m your boyfriend, and it will all come naturally.’” In the next take, it did. Before shooting wrapped up, Mohanlal told her, “Your eyes… they talk.”
During her time shooting for Casanovva, Ria had been using her gift of the gab to do some radio work with City 101.6. However, she wanted to be “in front of the camera, not hidden behind the microphone.” Having sent multiple CVs to Zee TV without a reply, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Marching into their head office in Media city, she demanded an audience with someone in programming. While she was explaining her desire for a role as an anchor to a bewildered receptionist, a man in casual clothes wandered in and asked what all the commotion was about. She told him that she had “had enough” of sending her information in without hearing anything back. The man smiled and handed his card to her, saying that she could send it to him directly.
Ria wasn’t done yet though. Pocketing the card without a glance, she continued her tirade: “Don’t just put my email into your spam — read it this time.” The stranger promised that he would. On her way out of the Zee offices, she read the man’s card and a horrible feeling took over — the man she had just spoken to, and not in a very nice way at that, happened to be one of the top guys at the channel. But, one week and one interview later, she was invited to host a new weekly lifestyle show, Zee Connect.
A year-and-a-half later, Ria is loving life with Zee. From intimate interviews with Bollywood superstars like Emraan Hashmi, to profiling ordinary families and lives in Dubai, she loves connecting with different people. Although Zee Connect consumes most of her time in and out of the studio, she is still growing her modelling portfolio, and remains a yoga fanatic. “I’m hyperactive; always have been! Yoga gives me a certain physical and mental balance every morning.”
As a model, Ria is a shapely departure from the stick figures gracing fashion runways the world over. She believes that a woman needs to have “a bit of flesh on her body to look good” although she does remark that she wouldn’t mind “reducing a little” (in jest, we hope!).
She says she will keep her future options open and refuses to pick which of TV, film or modelling she eventually wants to completely embrace. However, she does confess a love for the movies and hints that she’d love to move in that direction. As a woman who knows what she wants and relentlessly chases it, we wouldn’t bet against it.