You have had a busy start to the year with Panga (directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari) releasing soon after the Amazon Prime series Inside Edge 2.
Apart from acting, I’m trying to explore other hobbies, too. I was getting a little bored of being just an actor. I want to rekindle my relationship with music and dance. Now that I have a team, I can delegate a lot of work, have more time for things that I enjoy. That’s what it means to grow in life.
Recently, you debuted as a standup comedian. Was that a one-off thing?
It was frightening to write embarrassing things about your life, go in front of a live audience and share it with them. I don’t think I’ll become a standup comedian, but it was fun to explore a new side to my personality. I was quite surprised that people warmed up to it.
Basically, you like to challenge yourself once in a while.
Not once in a while, all the time. If I had a good sleep and am fed well, I can keep trying new things.
How much does politics influence your choice of movies?
Very little. Of course, I will not do something that’s sexist, Islamophobic, Hindu-phobic or anything that makes fun of minorities. People are aware of the kind of person I am, so very few such projects come to me. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that everything that I do will be perfect. Because, as an actor, there’s only so much you can control. Someone asked me why I did Gangs of Wasseypur I and II (2012) as it shows the Muslim community as violent. The film was based on true stories, it also had a Hindu villain who was equally violent. In my head, men and women are equally capable of evil. So are all communities. As far as my personal choice is concerned, I would not do something that is crass. What we did when we were young and just starting out is a different story. Today, I’m smarter.
Did you make mistakes earlier?
We all make mistakes. Sometimes, you realise much later, ‘Oh, did they just use me for my youth and beauty?’
Did you have second thoughts about playing an older woman in Gangs…?
I was very young. I had no clue about the industry. I didn’t have a manager, a PR, a stylist. My career was pretty much over after Gangs of Wasseypur. I’ve fought really hard to be here today. A lot of people ask me if I believe I’ve gotten my due. If one looks at my choices, all of them have been unconventional. There’s not a single song-and-dance or romantic film. In spite of these choices, if I’m here, it says something.
In what way did Gangs… have an impact on your career?
After Gangs…, the kind of roles that were offered to me showed how myopic my colleagues could be. It was a bit shocking. Then I took up certain roles because I loved those scripts. But they all explored similar shades of a woman’s personality. I’m the opposite of these in my real life. I’m really grateful for Gangs… but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it was a mixed blessing.
How did Masaan (2015) change your life?
See, that’s the other thing. I’m ballsy enough to not pick the same role again and again. After Masaan, I got a lot of dukhiyari aurat (oppressed woman) roles. In fact, I shared the story during the standup act about being offered the role of a Dalit woman who gets gangraped in jail, gets pregnant, loses a leg, hops to the hospital on one leg, and has a miscarriage on the way. This is a narration that I actually got.
You got noticed with your debut in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008) but you took a while to return to the limelight. Why?
I had just finished my studies then. Within two years of that, when I was 23, I got Gangs…. It took two years to make. So, it appeared like a long gap. Everyone noticed me because I was good. I am still good. I just want filmmakers to open their mind a little bit. I might just write something for myself that explores different facets of my personality.
Is it because you believe filmmakers have not explored your potential?
Very few people have tapped all sides of my personality — comic, vulnerable. They don’t owe me anything. They only owe those children who are born between Bandra and Goregaon, and are ready to be launched into outer space. To be honest, if you’re not from Mumbai, you have a hard time adapting to it.
Do you take time off to nurture your creative side?
I love making miniatures, painting, writing, music and dance. These are the things I’m naturally good at. I’d like to think of myself as a renaissance woman. Maybe I’m a misfit. Maybe 10-20 years down the line, there will be a completely new kind of woman who doesn’t give a damn about anything. There have been predecessors like Smita Patil. One of the anecdotes about her was that she dressed up as a sardar and drove from Mumbai to Delhi by road because she just wanted to drive. I get away with a lot as people think I’m quirky. So, I can just tell them: ‘Hey, I’m not having fun at your party, can I go home?’ They don’t mind.
The sisterhood that’s in Panga, is it there in real life in the film industry, too?
Honestly, even though we do very different work, every time I’ve interacted with Deepika (Padukone) and Anushka (Sharma) or, closer to my genre, Kalki (Koechlin), we have shared a warm vibe. Recently, I went on a holiday with my girlfriends, who are all actors. So, definitely, there is a sisterhood. The narrative of women fighting or trying to outdo each other is a very tacky ’90s idea.
How affected are you by trolling?
You just have to click the trolls’ handle to know if that’s a real person and 99.9 per cent of them are not. It’s just some phone connected to a laptop. They’re copy pasting the same abuses and vile things to 1,500 people. Once in a while, when I meet a human being who’s being abusive, I either laugh or I just block them. They’re enjoying the benefit of their anonymity, trying to find relevance in a cluttered digital space. I find it funny that people question someone like Deepika, who is such an achiever, by posting a bikini photo of hers and questioning: ‘Would you trust her?’ Well, who I don’t trust are the ministers, who watch porn in the assemblies.
After the wave of #MeToo allegations, has anything changed in the industry?
I’m a cautious optimist. The change I see is that a few people, who already had a reputation, have lost face. At the same time, a few serial predators have become cautious. But the kind of experiences I’ve had when I was auditioning, I know fewer girls will have today. Girls are more aware now.
You have been called a ‘filmi Naxal’ on a social-media post…
Honestly, social media is such a bubble, we need to get over it. Even news cycles need to depend less on Twitter. Intelligence is sexy. Awareness is sexy. Somebody coming forward and trying to be woke, not on social media but in the real world, is sexy. Sometimes, I feel like the only reason I haven’t gotten a backlash is because I speak the truth. And I’m gentle about it. I’m not shaming you for your belief.
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