Priyasha Bhardwaj has been an impressive actor ever since she portrayed Soundarya a.k.a Sushmita Sen’s sister in the critically-acclaimed web series Aarya Season 1. Ever since then, there has been no turning back for Priyasha since she went on to be part of exciting projects like Call My Agent, Mirzapur, Love J Action and the most recent one Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo.
The series which featured Dimple Kapadia, Radhika Madan, Isha Talwar, Angira Dhar, Deepak Dobriyal, Monica Dogra and Naseeruddin Shah was extensively hailed for it’s unique premise, strong characters and praiseworthy direction by Homi Adajania. Priyasha essayed the younger version of Savitri, a character that formed the crux of the story. Speaking with News18 Showsha, Priyasha talked about her journey in the show, working with her idol Dimple Kapadia, Aarya and more.
Here are the excerpts of the interview
You are quite familiar with this genre of the show since you have worked in Arya, but for you as an actor, how different and surreal was the world of Saas, Bahu and Flamingo world?
They are two different worlds in terms of class, in terms of status and culture. Even if it was about illegal business and drugs, the worlds are in two extremes. One is where I was born into that world and I was already privileged. She was aware but Soundarya tried to stay away from those businesses. She was there as a supportive sister to Sushmita Sen’s character. But in Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo, Savitri was thrown into this world because her husband couldn’t feed the family and then when her husband died, she had to take it upon herself. Unwillingly she has to get into that business and one thing led to the another and she made it bread and butter for not only herself but her bahus and the entire nomad community. It was very interesting to explore both worlds.
Dimple Kapadia is a force to reckon with and it’s evident from her body of work, so to portray a character that supposedly traces the younger version of her’s, how intimidating or challenging was it to match that same level of grit and make it look as authentic and convincing as possible?
When I got the part and when I was told that I had to play young Dimple, immediately there was a certain pressure and certain challenge thrown at me. Because if I have seen her earlier work in Rudali, she comes across as an extremely powerful, strong woman. She is not one of those subdued ones. It shows in her eyes. First and foremost, I had to make sure it’s in my mind. That I am emotionally ready. Only then it will reflect in my eyes. I watched a lot of her films and step two was meeting the director and understanding how he wants me to deliver the character. We did in-depth study on what’s going to be her body language, what are the gestures, what is the tone she is going to speak because there is a depth to her voice. So I had to make sure that I bring that maturity as well. So all of those physical work we did. On an emotional level, I was working on how to bring it in my eyes. So I would keep reading my lines. The dialogues were also great and the script was well-written. There was a lot of work I had to do at home before the shoot. After that, when the makeup team, the prosthetics team, the guys who put the tattoos, costumes, everything kept adding and adding. And then Simple Kapadia and I, we didn’t leave any stone unturned to match the characters. We were very practical in that.
How was your camradarie with Dimple Kapadia off screen and what sort of things you took away from your interactions and conversations with her?
The first time I met her was at the reading where the entire cast sat together at Maddock film’s office and we did a reading of the entire series which took the whole day. So I remember during breaks, we used to talk to each other. I introduced myself and she came across as somebody who is shy. She had a slight shy demeanor that surprised me. Because she comes across as someone who is very authoritative and she would have her aura. But she had a shy smile and she met me. We didn’t get chatty immediately and then eventually there was a look test when we were working on how we are going to dress ourselves. That’s when I interacted with her and she would just talk about how her day went, what she had for breakfast etc. Like extremely regular things as if we were friends. So that was beautiful since the barrier between a star and a new actor wasn’t there. I had a similar experience with Sushmita Sen also. So I’ve been very lucky to meet this women and this is how I want to grow up to be. To be extremely humble and approachable and also share knowledge. She was also very giving. I remember when we were working on my first opening scene which was technically Savitri’s opening scene, she read my lines as if how she would have done it. I recorded her voice and I used to practice along with it. So she was very generous about working on the character. She is extremely passionate and she is not about only herself. She was in the project. That is something I learnt from her immensely and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget these beautiful attributes.
Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo is empowering and rightly adheres to the tenets of feminism. As a woman yourself, how important and necessary are shows like this one or Arya or even Delhi Crime where we seen women leading the story?
Generally when I work on these projects, I don’t look at it with such a worldly perspective. My job is to make sure my character comes across as a real woman. I look at it on a very micro level. And automatically, It translates into and sits right in the world of Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo or Aaryan or Mirzapur. Even in Mirzapur, I played a police officer’s wife. It was not like she was subdued. She was somebody who would scream at her husband if he was spilling blood in the drawing room.Automatically I am playing these women and it’s not like they are fictional characters. They are real women. They are also soft at heart and also commanding in a certain way. They know what is right, what is wrong. So all these years, the media, entertainment industry and Bollywood has been portraying women in a certain way. And it was a biased way. I am so glad that it is now beginning to show the other side and both are equally important. We are soft as well as hard. So it’s important to show all sides so that men and masses in general should understand what a woman is truly about. Because if you don’t show it on the screen. For example, people in the metro are watching. OTT works because people watch it while they are traveling. And all these men are getting exposed to this side of a woman and men who have been naturally brought up in a way, even they are accepting the different natures of women. Even they are going to treat their wife with respect. So it affects the man’s psyche. Shows like Delhi Crime, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo, Aarya etc are very important for our society. So I am very happy that I am a part of this.
Homi Adajania as a director plays a huge role in bringing about that echt, that grittiness, that complexity, that authenticity in this story. Since you were there on the sets and you must have observed him in the process, what are some of the things that you admire about him and his craft?
So the first day when I met him, he spoke to me as a human being and not as a woman. Later, he would tell me he is grown up among women, he is grown up among equality. There were no demarcations in his personal life. He has never seen a woman as a woman, and that woman is supposed to be a certain way and a man is supposed to be in a certain way. He treats every person as a human being. And that is something that was very stark in his behaviour, on the sets, off the sets and even when we were sitting down to have dinner, even when we were talking about a particular scene and he is talking to me as another human being. So at no point, I was made to feel uncomfortable. When there is a gang rape scene or any kind of intimate scene, we would be able to talk about it so openly. That’s how I was able to open up in terms of delivering a performance. At no point I was made to feel like this might be looked at in a wrong way. Because he was fully into it. He gave me that trust. He trusted me and he also gave me his word that Priyansha that I will make sure this scene or all your scenes will be filmed in a certain way. And trust me, I will not show it in a negative light. Even if it was skin show, I will make sure that it is shown in a certain way that emotions come across rather than the other side. So when he gave me his word, I thought I had to surrender to my director and process completely. And that’s how the magic happened. Because unless the director gives you that much confidence, a woman and a female actor to perform these scenes, there will always be a slight fear as to what is going to come out. But he was so sure how he wanted to show. He gave me that confidence and that was extremely helpful. I would forever be thankful to him and I keep messaging him every now and then. He is like a collaborator. I remember the first day I met him, we exchanged numbers, he told me if I had any idea, I should bounce it off him. So it was not a hierarchy between him and me. We created something together and that was the most beautiful part.
How demanding and strenuous was the whole process of preparing for this character and in what way did you evolve as an actor, as a person before going in this show and now coming out?
In terms of physical preparation for this character, it’s like I was already preparing for it. Because I am a dancer essentially. Before I got into acting, I used to pursue dance, I used to choreograph, I used to do stage shows. So I was always physically fit to a certain level and flexible to a certain level. And then eventually, when I got this part, I wanted to tone up a little bit that required me to do weight training. I realised this character required me to have a little more muscular strength. It actually made a very, very big change in my life because not just the character which had so many shades, there was a certain aggression that Priyasha was able to bring out and not only bring out but release. There is a certain anger and aggression that is waiting to be released. With Savitri, that aggression and anger for whatever reason were inside me, I was able to release it. The scenes where I am running and the scene which is visible in the trailer also, when I am running towards the cop and I am hitting him with the matka, I remember there was something that came out of me without any conscious effort. The entire scene was shot in half an hour and it needed my anger level to be on 100. So I went straight for the 100. There was no gradual progression. That brought out some other energy altogether and at that point, I didn’t realise what I was doing and I remember the director said cut and the camera kept rolling. And I kept staying in character and that’s when some of the scenes were shot accidentally because the director got his best shots. But I witnessed an out-of-body experience and I don’t think I can ever forget that. Only I know what I felt that day. Not only on that day but the day when I had to shoot the gang-rape scene or the scene where I choked Gobar to death. I felt the closest to my character in those instances which I will never forget.
Deepak Dobriyal is another underrated actor in my opinion who has a lot of layers to him. Can you recall something about working with him since you both share quite an intense action sequence?
Because he and I had only one scene, Homi had told us not to meet and interact before the scene. We were specifically asked not to get too friendly with one another. They wanted the tension to come on the screen. Even during our look test, we say in seperate rooms. We did have an eye contact where we acknowledged each other but there were strict instructions given to us about not interacting prior to that scene. So whatever happened, happened on the sets. We met as ‘Monk’ and ‘young Savitri’.
What are your views on censorship of OTT platforms? Do you think it limits one’s creative freedom?
This is a very debatable topic. There’s not one right answer or wrong answer. It’s something that we are dealing with. Infact, even I am dealing with. The show Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo was not called Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo. It was called Saas, Bahu Aur Cocaine. We had to change it afterwards. But this is a very small example. But yes, it makes film-making and storytelling difficult when you have to constantly think about facets that can be questioned by the masses. Censorship is like clipping the wings of a bird. Creativity, if let be, it can create magic but it can also be used in an improper and reckless way. One needs to know how to use it properly. And because there are people who have misused this medium, it led to the talks about Censorship. Now it is constricting even the good film-makers. That’s why it’s like a double-edged sword.
When you look back at your character in Aarya and your portrayal, how do you feel?
Arya was my first big show. I will never be able to forget. The fact that they gave me a break. It wasn’t like it found it’s way to my lap. I had auditioned for it. But what I mean to say is that the makers were able to envision me as a primary character. There was already a pressure on me as I had to audition for Sushmita Sen’s younger sister role but I gave my best. I made sure I read the part. I was the first Soundarya to audition and then eventually there were three Soundaryas who were shortlisted and then finally I got the call. My dream started unfolding from that point onwards. In my childhood days, I used to imitate Sushmita Sen and my younger sister would be Aishwarya Rai. So imagine from that to meeting Sushmita Sen in person and then sharing the screen with her, it’s an unbelievable story. So I treasure all those moments so much because when I am on sets, if I don’t do my part with passion, I won’t be able to look myself in the mirror. I gave 101% to that character. My acting in Aarya or Saas, Bahu Aur Flamingo was not limited to my technique or tools that I used. It was at a spiritual level also because I have been manifesting these things unknowingly. How of all the people in this world that I had to imitate Sushmita Sen? And when it actually happened on a physical level, when I play her younger sister, Priyasha is Sushmita Sen’s sister rather than Soundarya is Aarya’s sister. That show was also shot in a very different manner. We were told to improvise a lot so there are many places where Priyasha is talking to Sushmita Sen.
What do you think about your career trajectory? How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with whatever that came your way and in what way do you want to push yourself more as an actor?
My first OTT project was Made In Heaven where I played a nurse. It was a very small part but I remember Nitya Dutta had told me that you are very good. She wanted to know more about me. I was based in Delhi back then and they needed local artists. I was just happy to be on the sets of Excel Entertainment. That itself was a big deal. But the director saw something in me and I wasn’t even confident because I hadn’t trained in this craft. So I really believed Nitya Dutta and that’s when I started taking acting very seriously. And after that, when I came to Mumbai in 2019, I auditioned for Aarya, then Mirzapur 2 happened, then Love J Action happened. So I have been extremely fortunate that I have been mentally prepared to give all the auditions. It’s a difficult task to act in the audition. I cannot be insecure during that. I have to be like this is bound to be ny ‘make’ or ‘break’. So that’s why auditions have worked for the makers. There is a big part of me and my partner who supports my work that I was able to ace those auditions. Going forward, I have to maintain this discipline that I started with because this has brought be to where I am today in a span of just few years. I have to make sure I don’t let it get to my head.