In an interview with indianexpress.com, Kubra Sait talks about Sacred Games and playing a transgender character in Netflix’s first Indian original series.
“Anurag’s first three words were, ‘Honestly kartein hain.’ I was confused as to what does that mean. But that’s all he said. Mukesh Chhabra (the casting director) was the first one to break down the character to me. Also, Mukesh sir walked up to me and said, ‘It has frontal nudity. You know that right? Are you okay?’ I replied, ‘Yeah, I am aware of it and I am fine.’ I was super comfortable. Honestly, I didn’t think it was a very big deal. Also, it’s the commitment to my character. Once I have agreed, then I can’t back off at the time of the shoot,” says Kubra while sharing how it all began.
“I saw the sensitivity of the character and her vulnerability. There were many layers to the character. In the beginning, Gaitonde (Nawazuddin’s character) tells her it’s his dream that she lights two cigarettes for them while being in bed with him. And you see her doing that just before her death. How do you say no to such a character?” reasons the actor.
Kubra Sait’s confidence and ease with frontal nudity also came from the fact that she was going to work with Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. “I knew I was working with stalwarts. People who could not be mistrusted.” After three months of search for an actor to play Kuku, Kashyap and team zeroed in on Kubra, just 10 days before the series went on floors. That left the actor with little time to prepare for the character, but enough to get some important things right.
“The only preparation that I had to do was to learn dancing. I am a horrible dancer and that was the biggest challenge. As far as the lines and the delivery go, I knew she would be a man, so she would be a little more sturdy when she walks. Also, because she has a male private part, her stance will be wider than women. I am very tomboyish. So, I just had to enhance that. I had to work on my voice, so that it’s not very feminine but also not too masculine. It had to be somewhere in between. I smoked a lot for this,” says Kubra.
What made it easier for the actor to dive into the universe of Kuku in a few days time was the tight script co-written by Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath. “I had to just feel the character. Her emotional graph was solid, She is cocky, confident and gorgeous. She knows she can have anybody she wants and she also knows her shortcomings and thrives on them. But once her shortcomings are exposed, her world comes crashing down. For the first time, she thinks what the world will think about her.”
The biggest assistance to Kubra, however, came in the form of her director’s ability to make use of his actors’ personal emotions. “What I love about Anurag is that he is somebody, who has in-depth knowledge about human emotions. He humanises his characters. So, when he is working with you, he understands you as a person. He plays to your strengths and weaknesses and then says, ‘Compare them and keep them in the shoes of the character.’ He makes you feel the emotion and asks you to lend it to the character.”
Explaining Kashyap’s process to extract performances from his actors, Kubra recalls the shoot of a scene between her and Nawazuddin, where the latter gifts her a necklace and tells her, ‘Tujhe dekhte toh sab hain, tu dikhti nahi sabko.’
“For this scene, he walked up to me and said, ‘You know if you are on stage and hosting a show, imagine one minute when you go invisible. You are dead. You know everyone can see you but they can’t see or feel you.’ He told me only because he knows I am an attention-craving person. So, the minute he said this, my eyes just changed. Then he said, ‘Let’s shoot.’ When Nawaz asked him what he had told me, Anurag told him, ‘Aap jo use Hindi mei bol rahen the woh maine English mei samjha diya’ (Whatever you said to her in Hindi, I repeated in English.),” she laughs.
While the internet continues to shower praise on the actor, if there’s one response that has stayed with her since the show’s release is the criticism that why she, not a transgender actor, played Kuku. Kubra says the comment has changed the meaning of what she thought equality was.
“There has been a lot of learning from playing Kuku. If absorbed and understood correctly today, this character will open doors for many actors, who can do whatever they want despite their gender and sexual orientation. They shouldn’t feel shy about getting and claiming what’s theirs. I never thought this way till we were shooting for the show but the day it released, I saw this article where this question was raised and it made me think.”
But at the same time, she says once an actor has been given a role, it’s important for him or her to make it their own. “These people searched for three months for Kuku and I am sure they saw something in me to cast me. And now that it was given to me, I was supposed to do it to the best of my abilities. Having said that, if a transgender had played the role and done justice to it, I am sure the whole world would have lauded the performance.”
Liberated as she feels after playing the character, Kubra Sait says it has helped her embrace herself more than ever before. “In the world we live in, where we say we need equality, we don’t think highly of ourselves. We don’t give much importance to ourselves. We are cheerleaders of equality but how much do we believe in it? Because if you do, then you will be the voice of change. That’s the kind of power I saw in Kuku. She was so confident of who she was as a person. She was not living a dream. It was her confidence that was getting her everything.”