Hina Khan talks about the elitist 'classist system' within the film fraternity, trying to fight the stigma attached to being a TV actor and why the film industry is harder to get into.
Did being to Cannes two years ago have any direct impact on your career?
Cannes changed things for me. I can't deny that. Things did get a bit easier when it came to getting work, when it came to meeting people. How they looked at me and how they greeted me changed. It also became easier in terms of getting designer stuff to wear. Of course, there are still many who have reservations, but many who did reach out to me and say that I could definitely reach out to them in terms of work. I always look at the brighter side. I see that I am welcomed, and at the same time, it's tough as well to create your own space. Sometimes, you may not even be allowed to to enter a certain space so you have to create your own table and your own seat. It's very difficult for me, given the background I come from. People still call me a 'television star' and not 'an actor from India'. But I am happy with my journey.
We have all kind of birds, black, white, small, big. What is the common factor among them? They all fly. A bird flutters its wings, takes flight and then just moves on. If it keeps flapping its wings, it'll eventually get tired and drop from the sky. I don't want to do that. Given the kind of industry we are in sometimes, it's so important to pause, just to a back seat and to heal. I do go through such phases in my career. I had a very difficult year last year and I took a break. I'm still in that process of healing. I take inspiration from the birds – I don't have to try really hard, I don't have to keep fluttering my wings all the time to get noticed because eventually I'll fall. I have to know when to stop. I will take my own time to come back, and come back stronger.
You talked at length about the class system between television actors and feature film actors, and how people see you as a television actor. Hasn't emergence of streaming helped to blur those lines?
To an extent, yes. But I'll just give you example – all of us (Indians) at Cannes belong to the same industry, we are from the entertainment business, we have all come here to represent India and I am very excited about the launch of the poster of my film. But there is this elitist system that exists. There was an opening ceremony at the Indian pavilion, which all my contemporaries attended. And there weren't just Bollywood actors there, there were singers, there were many well-known talents. It's not that I envy them – I am so proud of them, but at the same time, it's a bit disheartening that I wasn't invited. I could have been there, in the audience at least, cheering for them when they were dancing. I loved that video, I felt so proud of my country, but at the same time, it's disheartening. I don't blame the actors. We all talk about women empowerment, we talk about equality, but it's easier said than done. We still need a lot of change. I will probably get to be a part of this next year when I come to Cannes.
You're optimistic, you're looking at the brighter side.
Yeah, I wanted to address it since you asked me this question. I am very vocal about my thoughts, I am very open about what I feel and do.
So what you're saying here is that things have changed, but not enough.
No, it's not enough. It will still take time. This elitist game still exists.
I saw an interview in which you said that television actors work so hard because they work such long hours, and for so many days without a break. You said: I think people see us as mazdoors of some kind.
Yes, but that's only in India. It doesn't happen elsewhere. In any other country, people who work in television are given equal respect and honor. We will have to bring about change.
You are such a massive star on TV, why hasn't that success translated more to film? Do you think it's a harder game to play?
Yes, it is. When you don't get access to events, when you don't get a simple invite despite being part of that fraternity, how am I expected to audition then? But things have changed. I do get noticed by good filmmakers. I don't ask them for projects, I don't ask them for auditions, I only ask them for the opportunity and tell them that they might like me. Reputed filmmakers have contacted me and asked if I would like to give them a screen test. That makes a difference, it makes me feel nice. Whether or not you get selected is different, but at least they're thinking of you, they're calling you. After my debut walk at Cannes, a lot of people in India wanted to interview me, they wanted to spend time with me.