Informs Divya Dutta who’s simultaneously juggling a number of films, two web shows and an international project
So, despite the on-going pandemic, you are back at work?
Yes, I flew off to Budapest for a week to shoot for Dhaakad. By now, most of us are fully vaccinated and when you are in a bio-bubble and everyone is taking ample care, you feel confident to go out there and do what you love doing. I was continuously shooting till just a couple of days before the second wave. First, for Dhaakad, then, a web show in Jaipur.
You seem excited about Dhaakad…
For any actor, it’s exciting to do something they haven’t attempted before and in the last two years, my roles have been startlingly different. After I posted the first look of Dhaakad, I was flooded with calls, wondering if that was really me. Rohini’s mean and menacing, and I totally love playing her.
Are you doing a lot of the action?
I’m using guns and pistols, but more than the ammunition, the attitude is starkly dark. Once, during a particular scene, I added something I must have observed, which had stayed with me. When I was watching the take later, I myself was surprised, “Yeh kahan se aa gaya?”
Does this happen often?
I have never changed lines, I wouldn’t ethically cross anyone, but I do add nuances to a role. A word here, a mannerism there. If I am enhancing the character, why not?
What’s it like working with Kangana?
She’s a fab actor and our scenes together are very powerful. She’s lovely to shoot with.
What else is in the pipeline?
Freedom, a beautiful film with Dibakar Banerjee, is due for release this year. There’s also a film with Anuahav Sinha and Umesh Shukla film Aankh Micholi. Currently, I’m shooting for two other films and one web show. Another show will start soon and there’s an international project which got delayed because of the pandemic. They are all very interesting but I can’t talk about them yet.
Meanwhile, the short film Sheer Qorma is making news…
Faraz (writer-director Faraz Arif Ansari) was the casting and associate director on Stanley Ki Dabba along with the executive producer. Abd back then, he had told me, “Didi, when I make a film you have to be in it.” I thought he was making polite conversation but he actually called to offer me Sheer Qorma, saying Saira had been written with me in mind and if I didn’t do the role, he wouldn’t make the film. I was overwhelmed by his faith and affection and told him I’d read the script and get back in an hour. I called him back at 2 am and soon we were both crying because the story came straight from his heart and sensitively portrays the LGBTQ while delivering a message. I was completely changed after playing Saira.
Shabanaji (Azmi) plays my mom and just looking at her emote is half the job done. I was working with Swara (Bhaskar) for the first time and she’s a fab partner. Saira’s conflict to belong to both her partner and parents is so relatable and heart-wrenching. Bahut roye main (I cried a lot).
Did people come up to you with similar stories after seeing the film?
Unfortunately, it’s all happening internationally and because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to travel. I even had to miss a show in Delhi because I was in a bio-bubble then. I only went for one screening for the cast. There were just 15 people, including Shabanaji, Faraz and his mom. Seeing the film with Faraz’s mom was beautiful.
After Maa and Me you have another book coming out by the year-end, right?
Yes, the book is ready, but the release was pushed ahead because the pandemic has made the atmosphere so gloomy. Now, I think they are planning an October-November release. It traces my journey in the movies, but it is not about movies per se. It’s about people, my moments and memories. I’m glad I remembered certain things and could weave them together cohesively.
Was it easier writing a book the second time?
Emotionally, it was not as difficult, the challenge was sitting down and penning my thoughts. I finished Me and Maa in a month, it was like a catharsis. The second book took longer because of the lockdown and the subsequent mind fog. I’m used to working to a deadline while shooting. I wrote the first chapter after the first lockdown ended and I returned to work. This lockdown I completed the edit.
You must have remembered your mother when you won the National Award?
Yes, of course, it was maa’s dream. She always wanted me to win a National Award, a Filmfare Award, and would say, “Prove yourself as an actor, and they will come to you.” Today, when I am on a set, enjoying myself, I see maa sitting on a chair, giving me the thumbs up.
Has the National Award given a boost to your career, changed people’s perceptions?
Yes, perceptions have certainly changed. It’s not that they were doubting my work, but the industry is about marketing and a National Award adds to your portfolio. But more than that, everyone’s reaction was so heart-warming. The news came to me from a journalist and I could hear her voice cracking as she broke it, she was so excited for me. Everyone was so happy, they actually felt for me.
You recently celebrated a special birthday, that of your dog Sakhi…
(Laughs) My nephew’s birthday is a week prior to Sakhi’s so the celebrations are extended. Earlier, we would just cut a cake, this time I decided to have a theme, call her little boyfriend from the building. All the caretakers were there pampering her, it was cute.