You seem to have had a fantastic year even though you faced a lot of trolling.
I don’t think I had a fantastic year. Padman released and that’s a good thing. On Netflix, barring Ghoul, I was not leading any other project. I admire the way Netflix cashed in on those trolls. I was marvelling at how they promoted Ghoul based on the success of Sacred Games by painting bloodstains on the hoardings.
Did the trolling upset you?
Not at all. I had no idea about it since I was in London. Soon after Sacred Games released, I left for London on a two-week break. When I am away, I usually don’t check my phone regularly nor do I respond to messages. So, I was taken aback to get messages from friends saying that ‘We don’t think there is too much of you’ and ‘We support you’. Then I realised what was happening and wondered how could I be trolled for doing my job. Anyway, it turned out to be great publicity for me.
Asthe #MeToo movement sweeps India, why do you think women have been silent for so long?
I completely support the #MeToo movement. It is high time we talk about harassment, abusers need to be exposed. This has piled up for centuries. If someone grabs a 21-year-old woman, we forget about it. These things keep happening and we normalise it. We need to come out. Since it is so deep-seated, it’s coming out in an explosive way. But I also think that if we are trying to fight injustice and abuse, we shouldn’t subject others to it. We need to find fairness and justice in how we deal with the cases. It’s important that we have a constructive way to do that and a system. Which is what people in the industry are trying to do. It is not just about women, even men have been abused and there is abuse of all kinds. It’s not just sexual.
Do you believe the current atmosphere is enabling for women to come out?
When you are a part of a group, everyone starts speaking because you’re not the odd person out. The fear is whether people will believe you. We know people can take advantage and level accusations against men. However, if you compare and see the percentage of such (false) abuse, you would realise we need to support this movement right now. When you have faced abuse and people tell you that you have caused it, it adds to the abuse and is heartbreaking. When I was in college, a close relative told me that people stare at me because I wear shorts and sleeveless tops. I was very angry and told him: ‘You know what, that’s exactly what I’m going to wear.’ Women have often been blamed for the harassment they face. Also, some people enjoy a lot of power. Producers, directors and actors who are close to the government and have contacts can finish your career in no time. So, there is a lot of pressure.
Have you faced abuse in your career?
When it happened to me while working in the south Indian movie industry, I have spoken about it. Like one man tickling my feet or another who constantly kept calling me to the extent that I stopped looking at him during the shots. I have known some of the people who have been outed, however, they have not tried anything with me. That doesn’t mean I am immune to such incidents.
Your celebrity management agency, Kwan, has been under fire.
It’s funny because I got on board with this agency after I was humiliated by a producer. You can call it abuse. He called me in the middle of the night to ask: ‘Have you refused to wear a bra and a towel in a song?’ I said I wasn’t even told about it. So, he asked me to meet him. I told him you have not even paid me and walked out of the project. He filed a case against me. Since my co-actors stood by me, he took it back. After a couple of incidents like these, I went to Kwan. I have been in touch with my point of contact there, who is a woman. I have never worked with Anirban Blah (co-founder of Kwan Entertainment). This woman and my manager have protected me and made me feel safe. An agency consists of many people, you can’t put everyone in a state of unemployment because of one person. I’m waiting to see what happens.
In the BBC documentary, Bollywood’s Dark Secret, you speak about how men and women together need to fight patriarchy.
It has to happen. For example, in the case of Section 377, people with different orientation came together. Maybe, I’m naive but I think this cause can unite men and women. I’m definitely trying to speak up for myself. I have a very strong family to support me. Many leave their family and come to Mumbai and their stakes are higher. But it can’t be a brief answer, this is an ongoing conversation and needs deeper understanding.
Tell us about the character you play in the forthcoming film Baazaar directed by Gauraw K Chawla.
I play a girl called Priya. She is an urban, ambitious go-getter who would do anything to achieve her goals. The backdrop is the stock market but it’s a very human story, a drama. It’s a story that can happen anywhere. There is nothing remarkably different about her, in terms of appearances and all, so the research that I did for the role was more about the plot, how she fits in, and how to add layers to it.
A major boost to your career came with Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur (2015). How was the second outing under his direction?
In Badlapur, I was a key part of a very dark plot. My character in Andhadhun is described by Sriram as a “sunny person”. The character is very unlike the other roles I have done and unlike a regular character from Sriram’s movies. I am always happy to be back on his sets. He and Pooja Ladha Surti are such good collaborators. I shot both the movies in Pune, my hometown. Shooting in Prabhat Road Lane was nostalgic. During shoot breaks, I used to bike to my friend’s home for lunch.
With NFAI and FTII around, did growing up in Pune influence your desire to work in films?
In school, my ambition was to be a Bollywood actor as I was mostly watching Hindi movies. In college, I started watching world cinema at the NFAI (National Film Archive of India) and FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) screenings. Artist Madhuri Purandare and critic Samar Nakhate used to hang out with theatre lovers, suggest movie titles and invite us for screenings. We would gather at someone’s home to watch a movie. During my first such gathering, I watched Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Even today when I meet some cinephiles, I feel I haven’t watched a lot. There are brilliant series on streaming platforms and festival favourites that I try to watch. I also have a backlog of classics I have to catch up on. Sriram gave me two terabytes of classics. The days I return home early, I watch. The best thing, of course, would be to focus on one international festival a year and devote those 10 days to watching that year’s best.
How did a neurosurgeon’s daughter become an actor?
I always wanted to be an actor. In fact, my mother wanted to be an actor and study at the National School of Drama but circumstances didn’t allow her. Maybe this desire stems from there. But I have not yet achieved what I want to and it’s a good thing. I wish to do world cinema but don’t know how to crack that. Doing a Michael Winterbottom film (The Wedding Guest, 2018) is exciting but there are only a handful of movies being made with Asian actors in the lead, and not so many parts. I hope this changes visibly in my generation. I have agents in the UK and US, but it’s hard to bag such movies. Today, Dev Patel is playing David Copperfield in a movie. That’s a major step.
Do you take out time for dance, too?
I have not been able to do that in the last four years. I have been considering joining a short-term course. Earlier, I took an instinctive decision to devote a year to dance.
How do you balance living in London and India?
It is hard but I try. During my last break, we redid our kitchen in two weeks — removed the tiles and put new ones. It was not a holiday, I was doing hard labour.