We Are All Much More Than What Meets The Eye: Shruti Haasan, Film Companion

A week after the release of her show Bestseller on Amazon Prime Video, Shruti Haasan talks about her character Meetu Mathur, her foray into the OTT space and her key takeaways after more than a decade in show business. Edited experts below: 

Spoiler alert. 

This is your first project on OTT playing a lead role, even though you had earlier starred in anthologies. What made you choose this series as your first?

I wanted to enter the OTT space with a female-led story which is centred around performance. So when Siddharth approached me, it was really amazing. I was so happy to be offered this kind of a role with a lot of depth, and gravitas. And when I wanted to enter the OTT space, I wanted it to be like, ‘Oh, she did this because she couldn’t do this in a movie’, because we have so many other parameters there. 

It was a longer process than one would imagine because I wasn’t used to being required for so much work. The number of days and the number of hours were longer and it was exciting because I was really committed to the process. 

As an actor, do you think OTT paves way for more freedom to perform and are the kind of scripts you get for OTT closer to what you wanted to do?

I don’t think it’s freedom. I think, because unlike a film, you have an episodic format in OTT. With eight episodes, Bestseller is longer than any film. You get the opportunity to tell the story for longer and more in-depth than you would in a film.

I think that it’s more about what you attract, right? In the sense that around the time I got this, I got other scripts also that were interesting. And then I had to make a call whether I do this, whether I do something else. The funny thing is, a smaller version of this was what I played in X Life, the Netflix anthology, as well. I thought this is amazing because I’m being offered roles where people are finally able to see that women don’t have to be one thing. I’m definitely not just one thing. So now people are starting to say, ‘Oh, Shruti is much more than what meets the eye’. And I’m like, “Yeah, well, that was your perception”. Of course, we’re all much more than what meets the eye.

So it was very ironic to me that I got X life and Bestseller, around the same time. I thought they’re very similar women…women who are willing to do whatever it takes to get to where they have to go. They’re willing to crash a few men along the way, which is not something you see very often.

When compared to a film, there is more time in a web series. Is there any difference in how much you tend to think from the character’s shoes, in this case, Meetu Mathur?

With Meetu Mathur, the first half is as written in the script and insisted upon by the team. She has an accent that is from a place that is kind of nondescript. So the accent is a big part of it. She’s an extremely modern girl playing a part that somebody else has and I found that really fascinating.

Because it wasn’t even about me convincing the audience, it’s about me convincing the audience that Tahir Wazir (another character in it) had to believe it. It was interesting because it was about appeasing one man’s ego, and that would not be the audience’s ego. At no point were we playing with the audience. We were playing with one man throughout.

What I found really captivating in the screenplay was that the character was written in a way where she’s like an assassin. So even the accent was, later on, explained—it’s a mix from certain parts of the North, Uttarakhand, and certain parts of Middle India, which is not the kind of Hindi we normally speak. That is the call the creators and the writers have taken, so it was really intriguing.

Then, of course, for the switch, a lot of that was left very open-ended. It wasn’t that much even in the writing. Adya could be any one of us, so there wasn’t as much specification as there was for Meetu. So I really got to explore what kind of woman she is and what work she does, where we explore and collaborate on making her even better and stronger.

I think most of my favourite scenes are the ones with her brother because she’s really domineering and scary as a sister, but she’s also really loving and protective. She’s amazing in the sense, there’s one line where her brother says something like, ‘why did you have to sleep with him?’, and she’s not going to take slut-shaming from anybody. I really relate to that part of her very much. I’ve had moments in my own life, where I’m like, ‘Oh, no, you don’t get to do that’, to the men in my life. 

Meetu Mathur has different shades. In addition, you are already acting as Adya, who in turn, is acting as Meetu Mathur. So how exciting was that? And what is the one thing that you learned from the character?

It’s like a Russian doll, only you know the layer within the layer. So it is thrilling. It’s like solving a puzzle and you have to remember. It’s like playing cops and robbers with your friends where you know where to hide. The writing and discussions with a director help up to a point, but most importantly, you have to map it out in your head and that was really exciting for me.

So, what I learned from Meetu Mathur/Adya is her perseverance. She is fully goal-oriented and determined. She’s quite a badass. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it.

Bestseller is a very serious series, but your Instagram posts of BTS look fun. What was the energy on the sets like and how was your rapport with your co-stars?

Really nice. I believe in being very serious when we work, but also having a lot of fun doing the serious work. There’s a lot of things and a set is like a family where there are days you get cabin fever and there are days you realise, ‘Oh my god, this is my last few days, I’ll never see them again in this same energy’.We go through a lot and it’s very important to have fun through all of it.

Throughout your career, your script choices have always been unique. You have played characters that are different from one another. Do you intentionally choose unique scripts?

I think I’ve been lucky and unlucky as well. There was a point where I was getting just very mundane roles. But you have to do work as well, you can’t just be like, “I’m not going to work till the universe gives me a great script.” I was seeing other actors get amazing roles, and I wasn’t being offered the spot at a certain time, but that didn’t stop me from working.

It’s like a job and I have to do it. I have to pay my bills. I’ve been financially independent from the first day I stepped into this business. I didn’t really call anybody for help, or ask to come and bail me out. So I had to work like everybody else. I had to just stick to the job and keep my nose to the grindstone.

There were tough days when people didn’t believe in me at all. I had people around me who were like, ‘let me advise you on how to do this, otherwise, you will never succeed’. When they say you will never succeed, you remember that you’ve not succeeded yet, the whole process is very painful.

But in the middle of that, there were a few people who believed in me and gave me the chance and the right opportunities. So I have been lucky as well and I’m very thankful to those people. In my entire career, I’ve always had people show up like angels for me at very pivotal points to take me through.

You have been in the film industry for over a decade, what has been your key takeaway? Also, do you still have a certain kind of role you want to do?

My key takeaway is that the film industry is a business of people and stories and that’s really it. We encounter so many beautiful stories that we get to tell and some that we choose not to tell and we see other people telling it. Then we also make our own stories and bonds within this business and the family. So if I were to just look back, I would say it’s truly about stories and people.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a dream role really. I just look forward to meeting the next part that I get to play – this new woman that I didn’t think of. Also, there are women I do think of, I’d love to play and I’d love to be a part of putting those stories out there as well.

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