“Script is My Hero”
She is the young face of Indian cinema who made waves last year with her debut performance in Masaan, an Indo-French co- production that opened to a standing ovation at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. The 30-year-old opens up about her aspirations and asserts it’s a great time to be in the industry.
It has been a year since your film Masaan premiered at Cannes, how was the feeling on receiving the five-minute long standing ovation?
When the film received a standing ovation, I couldn’t believe it. It was the most beautiful experience.Everybody got teary eyed and I didn’t know what to do. There were so many thoughts running through my mind. Those were the best 10 days of my life. Masaan was indeed a good film, I don’t have to be modest about that. I tell people to go and watch it not because it’s my film but because it is actually a good film. When I and my colleagues of Masaan think about the film – the entire shoot and travel – it makes all of us smile. We all are very fond of each other even now.
How’s life after Masaan ?
The thing is I am very sure about the kind of work I want to do. I knew one film can change my life but I also knew that since I don’t have a godfather, it might take more than a film to prove myself.Masaan has been the best launch for me; I wouldn’t credit it to anything else. Earlier maybe I was getting one script a month and now I have started getting two or three a month. It is always better to wait for something exciting and sometimes the wait is worth it – in my next film Haramkhor directed by Shlok Sharma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is my co-actor, after that I am working with Shashank Arora of the Titli (2015) fame. All of them are amazing actors and bring the best out of me. Haramkhor has already been to over 15 film festivals across the globe. I was awarded the best actress trophy at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, Nawaz received the best actor award at the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) and at Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival, the movie got the Silver Gateway award. Wherever it has been screened, people have loved it. The response has been tremendous.
How bold is the concept of Haramkhor, where a 15-year- old falls in love with her teacher, keeping in mind the Indian audiences?
I think we underestimate our audiences. Many times people are not aware about the kind of cinema that is there. For example, a movie like Titli that had even gone to Cannes, goes off theatres in just a week as there are 100 other Bollywood films lined up for release.So there would be only a few people who would know about it. Cinema is a creative process, I hate labelling it. If you give your audiences a good product, people will watch it.
In Indian cinema people categorise movies in two sections – mainstream films and art films. A movie like Masaan will be put under the category of an art film. What kind of cinema you aspire to do?
I want to do the kind of cinema I would like to watch and that would mean all the genres. It’s not that I would only like to watch Margarita with a Straw (2014), an Indian film based on a rebellious young woman with cerebral palsy who leaves India to study in New York,but I also love watching mainstream films such as Dil Dhadkane Do (2015), Kapoor and Sons (2016) because they are good films. If the script excites me, I will do a film. After a narration I take into consideration certain parameters – do I like my character, will it excite me enough to wake up at 5 or 4 in the morning – so there’s no deep analysis. Also I don’t want to get bored doing the same kind of roles; I shouldn’t feel that I am repeating myself. I love acting and as far as I am bringing something new and challenging, I am at peace.
But do you think a movie like Masaan labels you and you are not approached by mainstream Bollywood directors?
I think one label that all of us have got after Masaan is that we all are actors, which is a label I would love to live with. In fact, people who do mainstream films they are also type cast and directors wouldn’t approach them for a film like Masaan. For me, the script is my hero, everything else will fall into place. If you are good then I would like to believe that you should be choosy and make sure there’s a certain kind of quality that is attached to your work and people will come to you. Even if you are doing an advertisement, it should create a desire amongst the viewers to buy the product after they see the commercial.
Many finest directors have appreciated my work in Masaan. This feeling is incomparable. So it might take long but I have to be patient. Look at Bryan Cranston, he is almost 60 and got recognition only after Breaking Bad (American drama series, 2013) and then did an award winning film Trumbo (2015), which was nominated for Oscars. For him everything has fallen into place after 50. If you love your craft and that’s what you would want to do, then there are no second thoughts.
From Delhi to Mumbai and then to Cannes – how did this journey happen considering the fact you are not coming from a cinema background?
Since I was a child, I wanted to advertise for Maggi (instant noodles brand). It might sound like a cliché but I have been on stage doing either dancing or theatre since childhood. My parents would also go to watch plays and musicals. So we might not had any direct connection with the film industry but we used to appreciate cinema. My parents also were very encouraging, they let me do whatever I wanted to – I mean I was free to learn anything that would made me grow. I have learnt Indian classical dance forms as well. And then I shifted to Mumbai for a full time job but I still wanted to remain in touch with this side of theatre and art. Then Disney Channel India’s show ‘Kya Mast Hai Life’ happened. I had to eventually leave my job as the show makers wanted me to be on the sets for 12 hours. My parents asked me if I was sure of what I am doing but I had no second thoughts about it. It was paying me more than my job and I was getting to do what I am passionate about. After that I never went back to Delhi and now Mumbai is home.
You started your career with Disney Channel India’s ‘Kya Mast hai Life’ in 2009. Internationally Disney has produced names like Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, you think it did the same for you?
No, I don’t think that it has done that for anybody in India. But yes it gave me a platform. Kids who used to watch that show, they recognise me till today by my character in the show. In India we don’t make shows like Games of Thrones or Breaking Bad. We do have some really good shows such as Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, so again it boils down to quality.
Why you think so much attention is being given to what Indian actors are wearing to Cannes?
There is obviously a pressure because you are on a world stage. At Cannes everybody is so glamorously and beautifully dressed, it feels great. All around, you see women in gowns and men in tuxedos. Of course people will talk about fashion and it’s fine. If you are there for the premiere of a film, people write more about the film. However, if you are there for a brand endorsement than what else they will write about if not your outfit and makeup.
Do you expect any Indian film to be featured at Cannes this year?
Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav should definitely make it to Cannes. I have read the script and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Anurag is one director I would live to work with and plus the film has Nawaz and Vicky, my co-actors from the last films, so I really hope and wish that it makes it to Cannes.
Do you also aspire to work with the Khans of Bollywood?
More than working with the Khans, I would love to work with directors such as Vishal Bhardwaj, Vikramaditya Motwane, Anurag Kashyap, who have carved a niche for themselves in the Indian cinema. If I get to work with such directors then it doesn’t matter who my co-actors are because if an actor is a part of their projects, he or she sure has calibre and everything is sorted.