The OTT boom in India has brought about a much-needed diversity in stories and roles. Gone are the days when the female characters were one-tone, agency-less and ostentatiously virtuous. Now, they have shades of grey and exceed expectations of how they should and shouldn’t behave.
News18 recently had a discussion with actors Ayesha Raza from Ginny Weds Sunny, Amruta Subhash from Choked, along with Shweta Basu Prasad and Indira Tiwari from Serious Men. They talked about their characters, how they got associated with acting and what they look for in a script.
Amruta Subhash played Sharvari Tai in Anurag Kashyap’s film Choked. Amruta said that working on Choked was a different experience altogether. “When I did Choked, I didn’t read the script. I’ll be frank with you. I have been working with Anurag (Kashyap) for some years now. So during Choked he told me that the background of the character that I would be playing was one I already knew. She is a Maharashtrian character, who lives in a chawl, and I had seen such characters in my life. He had just told me that much, and also said that she would be sly. These were the only two things he told me. He only said that he wanted a freshness from the character and did not tell me anything else about the story. I had never done something like this with anyone else.
“But to do this with Anurag, because I had a comfort level with him, was an amazing experience. For me, I was an audience to that character too. I used to go on set and discover what Sharvari Tai would do that day. Because he wanted me to improvise and didn’t want things to go mechanical, he would just ask me to read the lines once and do what I wanted to. So most of the things that Sharvari Tai does, even he didn’t know and I didn’t know that I was going to do them. So when these things happened, Anurag would not say cut and I would keep improvising till we laughed. So we had fun. A lot of these shots are in the film," she explained.
“I don’t do that with any other film. I first see what conflict the character has and if that conflict is visible on screen. Mr. Naseeruddin Shah, who was my teacher at NSD taught me this. For Choked it was completely different and de-stressing experience for me," she added.
For Ayesha Raza, who plays matchmaker Shobha Juneja in Puneet Khanna’s Ginny Weds Sunny, the film offered a substantial part for her to play. “I don’t know whether I am there yet in the process of choosing my roles. I take whatever I get, unless I feel that there is something offensive about my character or there is nothing to do at all. Most mother characters don’t have a lot of choices, especially in commercial Bollywood. And out of all the films I have done till now, I think only Ginny Weds Sunny has been more of a running part of the film. So I wanted to do that film because I liked the concept, I liked the idea of this mom, who tries to set up her daughter, along with the fun parts of it.
“Again with me, if the part I get is alright, it is an instinctive thing that I try to make it work. I think about what I can do, or what I can find in it. Once I get the role, I discuss it with my husband (Kumud Mishra), who is also a film actor. So I have good influences at home. Even if the character isn’t written well at home, I try to see how to take it forward and make it interesting. Sometimes the characters are very well written, sometimes they aren’t. But we work anyway," she explained.
Shweta Basu Prasad, who plays politician Anuja Dhavre in Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men, said that her first association with cinema is as a viewer. Sheweta said, “I have grown up in a house where cinema, culture, literature and music is highly valued. So my first association with cinema is an audience. We have grown up watching a lot of films by Satyajit Ray, Vimal Roy and Basu Chatterjee, world cinema, among others. Even during my college, I used to watch international films in film festivals. So whenever I get a script, my first reaction is whether or not I will give 2 to 3 hours of my life to watch this film, or 8 hours to watch this series. Am I interested in watching this, in the first place? And if my answer is yes from my heart, only then I consider that script. Of course as an actor you want to do different kinds of roles and characters. In 2020, I have been quite blessed as an actor that I had five releases and all of the characters have been very different. They have been very diverse and are different topics. As a human, it makes you explore yourself a lot."
Shweta also said that she has an interesting exercise she does with all the characters she plays. “In Serious Men, Anuja is a politician. Now, I have grown up in Mumbai, so I have studied Marathi in school as my third language. That becomes a plus point. I try to explore the character and her psyche, along with the background. Here, Anuja was not a character in Manu Joseph’s book Serious Men. It was screen-written. It gives you the liberty as an actor to write your own backstory for the character. For Anuja, I wrote a seven-page backstory. It is an exercise I do for all my characters. And then Sudhir (Mishra) sir and I sat down and exchanged notes.
“So I think it is very important to understand human behavior and see why one behaves the way they do. And in a very non judgemental manner, as the character can be grey as well. So for me, it is a, as and audience and b, how much am I exploring human emotions and behaviour," she said.
Her character Anuja Dharve has a disability and a back-story where she is a survivor of domestic violence. Shweta said that she planned out every detail about her character and walked from the vanity van to the set with a limp, which is why it looked natural in the film. “Anuja is a Dalit woman, and a survivor. But she doesn’t want to be victimised," she explained.
Indira Tiwari, who plays Oja Mani in the film, is still a new face in the industry, with Serious Men being her second film. She said that she believes in using her discretion while piclong a script. “My journey from theatre to cinema [is new], in which I did two films in a year. It has been two years for me in the industry and I have done only four films. The initial projects I got were really good. I read them, and I could connect to them very well. I had to unlearn a lot and make something new out of that. And it is a practical process, so you cannot learn without doing it. Even if you talk about acting for your entire life, when you reach the set and interact with people, you will find out what it is.
“When I was reading the script, there were some things I could connect to and some I couldn’t. It is said that a director has already seen the whole film, and when you read the script you can figure out what you will bring to the table. Then you can make something. So the curiosity and the surprises happen after you have taken a project. So the whole process of reading the script, interacting with the director, thinking how you will work on the film, is fun. I also believe a lot in our gut feeling, if I have fun while reading it, I fast-track the process. Sometimes I think that I shouldn’t be doing a particular film, so I don’t do it as I want to do something else," she said.
Choked, Ginny Weds Sunny and Serious Men are all streaming on Netflix.