Q. You did your graduation from Delhi University and your master’s in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was an academic journey through and through. So how did acting happen?
A. Well, you cannot really be born in India and escape Bollywood, especially in the generation when I was born, late ’80s. So I had a childhood addiction to programmes like Chitrahaar and Superhit Mukabla because my parents did not have cable TV for long. That was my only connection to Bollywood. I always had a secret desire to be an actor. After completing my master’s from JNU, I basically realised that I can’t spend my whole life thinking what if I had gone to Bombay or what if I had tried in Bollywood. It’s better to try. That is how I came to Bollywood and I was a complete outsider and was no different from those 10,000 people standing outside for auditions with a dream to make it big in B-Town. I was exactly like them with no contacts, no connections with the industry. And I have been very lucky. I have been lucky with my auditions and I got the right path at the right time, and got noticed by the right people. It’s been like a good mix of luck, destiny and consistent efforts from my side.
Q. You remained unnoticed for your performances in Guzaarish and The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project. How tough was it to get noticed in the Hindi film industry, where everyone is struggling only for box-office success?
A. Guzaarish was something which I don’t consider much because it happened by chance. Some actor they had confirmed had opted out and the casting director then called me up at the last moment for me to fill in. And The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project is a very hardcore indie film. A very young filmmaker had made it. The idea was to make it into a short film. So, I have never considered them as my official releases. My first official release happened in 2010, Madholal Keep Walking. It was a small film which released but did not make it that big. My official recognition as an actor happened with Tanu Weds Manu in 2011. Last 5-6 years have been pretty good.
And to get into Bollywood is definitely tough. It takes time. It is difficult for them who are never going to be launched as a supers stars. I don’t have a god father or any famous actor boyfriend for that matter. I knew this would be my journey when I planned to come to Mumbai where I will have to start off with smaller roles and supporting roles and then eventually make my way up. And that pretty much happened with people like me, Nawaz [Nawazuddin Siddiqui] or Rajkumar Rao, Richa Chadha. This is how everyone’s journey has been. But I think today, Bollywood is a very amazing place. It’s very open, encouraging new talent every other day. It is a good time to be an actor now.
“In Bollywood, I was a complete outsider and was no different from those 10,000 people standing outside for auditions with a dream to make it big in B-Town.”
Q. You chose to be a mother in Nil Battey Sannata. Do you think for an actress to play a mother at such a young age risks her film career?
A. If I look at my career, I actually did what people told me not to do. I did the role of a heroine’s best friend, it is something which people say one should never do. Throughout my career, I have broken all the rules in Bollywood. I don’t judge the role offered to me as long as it is good. If it’s a good role and if it is going to add to the value of my performance, then I do it.
Q. Why did you choose to do a web series?
A. Web series are very interesting platforms in terms of content and for actors. They don’t have the pressure of being box-office hits, don’t have pressure of TRP’s, like we have for television soaps. I think that’s amazing. A very creative and imaginative work can be done here.
Q. What is your series It’s Not That Simple about?
A. It is about the way we look at the complexities in modern relationships, from the point of view of a woman living in an urban space. And that is what it deals with, extra marital affairs etc. Different from mainstream Bollywood films, like Biwi No. 1, this web series has been shot solely from the point of view of a woman.
Q. You seem to be very vocal on many social issues. Is it tough to have opinions when you are a known face?
A. It’s true that we get extra flak compared to other people for having an opinion but you should also remember that actors are also people. We also live in the same society where everyone else lives. We also have a right to speak over what has been happening in the world. It’s not that complicated. I don’t know why we all judge actors more harshly for having an opinion than we do a normal person. It’s a very silly and immature kind of understanding. Actors are also part of a society and good art is one which is constantly interacting with society and I think films should not be seen as only entertainments. It’s a very negative and shallow kind of understanding of the power of a film.
Q. Do you think celebrities who have opinions are easy targets?
A. Yes, for sure. Especially in the kind of society we are currently living in, which is very ill-mannered, impatient and stupid, also masculinist. We are living in a time when tokenism and populism are being replaced with real thoughts and issues. The only means to showing patriotism today seems to be by breaking the laws of our own country, dishonouring our very own Constitution, and by abusing people. I think this is a time when public figures like a Shahrukh Khan or an Amir Khan are more vulnerable for having opinions.
Q. Young actors are speaking out on colour prejudice in Bollywood and in our society in general. What is your take on it?
A. I think Bollywood is a glamour industry and your face is important. At the end of the day, it’s not in our hands. Films tell stories so the space has to be given to the story and to the character. And people have different notions of beauty and I don’t think there is any one definition of beauty. There is a lot to it. Beauty is something that lies in the eye of the beholder. People who are judging others, especially women, by only one aspect of beauty are just uneducated people.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have got Anarkali Aarawali. It’s a film about a singer from the town of Aara in Bihar. Then I have, Tikli and Lakshmi Bomb. It’s an independent film about sex workers in Bombay.