Making a mark with Independent Cinema is quite challenging in a country like India where commercial content rules. How do you deal with the pressure ?
Well, Indian audiences chose to give so much love to our film Sir. To see our independent film trending at number 1 felt like a glitch in the matrix, a dream. But it actually happened!! So let’s not underestimate the audience. I have chosen to live in a way that is true to myself and that is the only pressure.The challenge is to not get lazy, to not meet cynicism and to find a way to let the work do the talking, instead of me going on and on ( hahahahaha)
What are the kind of challenges you face now while choosing a script of bagging a film ?
Nothing has really changed except that I am reading more scripts than before. But the scripts that destabilize you from your complacency are still far and few. But no complaints.
How do you take care of mental health ?
It’s tough. Balance, balance, balance. Taking time to renew my spirit. Long walks. Reading. I have felt the worst when I have blamed another for my situation. I have felt the best when I have been able to genuinely engage with someone, shared a laugh, just listened…The ability to make space for others, has been a tremendous source of strength during difficult days. Anxiety and depression are real. I have to remind myself that while I love my work, there is much more to life beyond work and I need to give it time and not run the race.
Did you also go through something similar ? Who was your sounding board ?
I saw my fear take on gigantic proportions when my mother was battling cancer in the middle of the pandemic. But this is also when I saw the greatest kindness from strangers, friends and my family. The need to look beyond oneself became CLEAR. My sounding board was the expansive world of Buddhism, the words of Daisaku Ikeda. My husband’s jokes and my mother’s indomitable spirit kept the family afloat and grateful.
How did you start ? How supportive was your family ?
It all started with me watching Piyush Mishra do a one man show at Lady Shri Ram College. His ability to mutate and transform from one character to another blew the lid off my imagination. I just wanted to be able to express myself with such empathy. I had also encountered a Buddhist life philosophy then and it celebrated the immense potential within each individual. This began to slowly open up my stammering, introverted self and the desire to express through the art became a challenge, a declaration or you could call it an act of defiance.
My parents were incredibly supportive from the get go. We were a middle class Airforce family, with no actors even in the extended family tree, but they were extremely liberal and more confident about my dreams than I was. My father’s belief in plain hard work paying off, remains the backbone. This remains unshaken even until today. I am lucky to have such parents.
You’ve made a significant mark of yourself in the industry. Looking back what are some of the fond memories of your career so far ?
Rehearsing with Mira Nair for ‘Monsoon Wedding’ in Naseeruddin Shah’s kitchen. Naseer Sahab was conducting the workshop for Alice and Dubey. I rehearsed with Paresh Rawal who was supposed to play Dubey Ji. Eventually of course the part was played by Vijay Raaz but that memory of that afternoon still remains fresh.
During the preparation of ‘Qissa’, Anup had called for a rehearsal with Irrfan and I. In that rehearsal Irrfan found out that I had punjabi, driving, swimming and Kalari classes. He laughed at me so much and said “Did you wait to learn all these things from one film! What were you doing before?”
We loved the authenticity you brought in ‘Sir’. How did you go about essaying the character of Ratna ?
To begin with, thank you for your words. Film making is such a collaborative effort that you can’t really tell where one person’s contribution begins and another’s starts. For Sir, I simply followed Rohena’s brief of keeping Ratna’s sense of self and dignity alive no matter how humiliating or undignifying her situation may have been. The rest was all in the writing and in being able to just play with actors like Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni. I of course also had Marathi classes, which was nerve wracking because I live in Bombay and was terrified of getting it wrong.
Every character portrayed by you on screen has an important part to play, even when it has a short screen time. How do you make them impactful ?
Jane Austen talked about her writing as carving as well as she can on the two inches of ivory that she had. If I just could take these lines out of its colonial context….I feel every opportunity I get are the two inches of space I am given to serve the story with everything I have and don’t know I have. Read and reread the script until something destabilizes and I hit on a feeling of the unknown. The preparation is just an exploration. Once on set, I surrender with a sense of awareness and TRY to keep myself in a state of play, so I am open to feeling surprised.
What are some of the characters which have touched you personally ?
Kanwar from ‘Qissa’ will travel with me for a long time.
What was that one defining moment in your career so far ?
My first day of shoot for my debut film ‘Monsoon Wedding’ was definitely an Aha! moment. I realised I loved the intimacy of the camera, a benevolent eye that sees and hears everything without me having to project or pretend. It was like magic.
What are the kind of projects you choose to be a part of now ? What are your upcoming projects ?
I want to work with good people. I get very excited when I hear someone praise a director for the human they are. And yes yes I know that terribly abusive and entitled folks have made some great films. But I would still like to work with kind people, thank you. I can talk about the films I will be working with Anup Singh, Rima Das, Saumyananda Sahi and Tanushree Das. The rest are still under wraps.
Was acting always your dream job ? Or are you still looking forward to create one ?
It’s been a dream for more than twenty years and it’s still so young. Just a twenty year old dream, excited about the future and grateful for the past.
One thing you’d like to say to your younger self facing the camera for the first time ?
A second take does not mean you messed up. There is a lot you will learn about how a film is made, but to start with know that not everything is about you.
One message for aspiring actors.
Find your voice. Find your pace. Keep dancing if you can.