Congratulations on all the raves for your performance in Zero. It’s a polarizing film but everybody has said you were terrific. How does it feel to be acknowledged as an actor?
It’s a tricky question. In my film journey, it’s been interesting for me because I feel I went in different directions at different times. Namastey London was character-based, very female driven, for which I had gotten a lot of positive reviews. I was super excited. And the vivaciousness that you bring which is a certain aspect of your own personality, when people like that, you get a lot of confidence in you. You feel like what’s naturally in you is working. At that time also, you have a lot of innocence that’s working for you.
After that I was really interested in filmmakers who were doing films like Rajneeti, even New York. In any industry, it’s very easy for people to typecast you. If you do a few films which are blockbuster, glamourous-based films like Dhoom 3, people very easily forget anything else that you’ve done before. People’s memories are very short lived and that’s who you become.
Unless you’re really conscious to balance that. What I feel is during that time, I perhaps could have done films which have a more difficult character to play, more author-backed roles. Looked for that kind of scope.
What I started understanding in the last year is that when you take your work home, the good of it is that in the peace of your house, you think about it. ‘Where am I finding loopholes, where am I not connecting to this? Why am I not connecting to this? Why don’t I try and find a bit more understanding of creating this character?’ I started to look more into where I can find these answers and I think for me in that process, I started finding there was so much to explore because most of my choices have been in a particular zone.
Now that I have this knowledge, for me it’s become such an interesting and fulfilling process. When I go to the film I’m doing, maybe it won’t work on every film I do, but for me in my process I feel excited. There’s now a process before I get there. Before there was a lot of instinct but at least there are other things I have now besides instinct. There are other ways you can make this work.
What I loved is that you didn’t have any vanity about being the mess the character is, which is rare. You don’t have too many female characters like this in Hindi cinema and then you don’t have actors, especially A-listers like you, who are willing to be a mess on the screen. Was it tough to do?
You know, I think all of us want to be a mess on screen. The problem is people are not writing that. It’s not there as much as you would like it to be and if it’s there, it doesn’t have the support of an interesting script. A film which has a light at the end of the tunnel or some positive resolution has the right balance in this zone.
Then there are films which just go too much into the darkness. There’s no tunnel, there’s no light, there’s just the worst aspects of human nature. For me, I don’t think I would go that far because I don’t like to subscribe to that thought as a human being. If the humanity is there, then there’s nothing you wouldn’t want to do as an actor.
I hate it when half of what you have to do is based on looking correct. For me, it’s the biggest trial. Let’s say in a character like Suraiyya which I play in Thugs of Hindostan, her look is a big part of it, if you’re playing that kind of a dancer. That’s the trial part for me. The hair, the makeup, trying to look nice, looking glamorous.
A character like this allows you to forget all your vanity, physicality, costume, hair, makeup. She’s out there to kind of shock people and to be obnoxious on some level. I personally feel she’s behaving so obnoxious because she herself doesn’t want to face the pain. It’s a self-destructive mechanism where you want to lie to yourself. It was very clear she wasn’t going to care about how she was looking. It was the last thing on her mind. That allows you so much freedom, that really is liberating.
Do you ever think of producing, like Anushka (Sharma) and Deepika (Padukone) are now, of controlling the material that you appear in?
That’s a beautiful example because what I would assume happens in a case like the film Deepika is doing with Meghna (Gulzar), she would have been approached for the film, expressed interest in being a co-producer or producer and that comes about. That’s exactly the situation that I would love to do. I said this years ago. I haven’t been able to do it.
Maybe I also lost that desire in the middle. What now really interests me is looking for the kind of material which is there in my mind. I don’t know if it’s out there. The studios have teams reading books – they scan for content, and for books to build a screenplay on or ideas from real life. I’m constantly talking to people about the kind of material I’m looking for right now, I want to see being made. I hope that kind of stuff is out there and if it is getting developed, that’s the kind of association I would like to be involved in.
But as an actor, you’re absolutely willing to do anything that’s exciting?
Absolutely. As long as long there is an element of human decency. There’s some content you see sometimes on Netflix or Amazon where..I can’t watch the shows. So if I can’t watch it, I definitely won’t be doing it. As you gain more experience, you have a lot less fear. When the biggest things you fear have already happened and you realize this is where you are today, you think, “Ab kya? What is there to lose? It’s not in a defeatist way, it’s in a good way.”
What did you fear?
Probably being the age I am today and not being in a relationship. One of my biggest fears when I was 16 or so!
Did you think you would be married with kids and all?
Is that something you really wanted?
Wanted, yeah. Now I think I’ve made peace with the fact that it doesn’t seem things in my life are going to go according to my timeline. Now I’ve gone the Sufi way. Now I let it go according to the universe’s timeline.
Look at the good side. It gave you time to think and look what you came up with.
It gave me time to explore myself. To understand myself more, to understand my work more, understand my craft more. And that’s something I’m really enjoying now which I hadn’t for a few years when I was working. I think I had lost the joy of work. I was grasping at random things.
I think now in Zero and Bharat, I’m really enjoying the process. It doesn’t mean you don’t have your battles – that continues for all of us every day. But there’s a lot of enjoyment going home at the end of the day and feeling good, like we tried something. Whether it will work or not work, nobody can know. But you have to feel that you have tried something.