My roles so far, have been very organic, says actress Aahana Kumra
Actress Aahana Kumra is one of the very few actresses who chose characters that other actresses decided to give a pass to. But it worked for her, and she has now gone on to become the new face of content-driven cinema. In just a few years of her career, Aahana has worked with Amitabh Bachchan in Yudh and went on to feature in films like Lipstick Under My Burkha, Khuda Haafiz, and Accidental Prime Minister among many others. An actress with no filmy background, she proudly says that she doesn’t owe her career to anyone. It’s her sheer hard-work and talent that has worked for her. And that’s the only reason she believes that 2020 was rather fulfilling for her. With several web series and movies hitting the internet, Aahana is now a popular name on OTT. Amid her newfound stardom, she finds time to talk to Indulge about her celebrated play Sir Sir Sarla (with actor Makrand Deshpande, famous for his role in Satya in 1998) that has now found its way to an OTT platform. Excerpts:
Theatre is a live medium and theatre practitioners have reservations about moving off the stage. How do you see this change?
I think you have to move with time. When I was shooting for it, I wasn’t keen on doing it because I always felt theatre is a live medium and it should be performed on stage. If people are so interested then they should come to the theatre and watch the play. But then I learnt that there is an audience who wants to watch our play on a different medium. We performed the play after a year and there was no opportunity to perform during the lockdown, so it was a great experience to revisit the play and watch it online.
How has your association been with theatre and the play Sir Sir Sarla since you got into films?
I keep my plays very separate from my films. I feel theatre is very pure. Theatre is the most non-judgmental space that an actor can be involved in and can evolve from. On the other hand films or OTT productions are very judgmental. They judge you within seconds, the look is not good or the casting is not good. But with a play, it is always evolving. I have been performing Sir Sir Sarla for 10 years and I have been doing theatre since I was 14-year-old. But I always feel like a newcomer when I go on stage. It’s a feeling of unanimity. I don’t carry the burden of stardom to the stage. The day I do that I will no longer be a part of theatre.
Sonali Kulkarni was the face of this play and there has been a lot of talk about you stepping into her character, Sarla. Was there any pressure?
I am glad someone is asking this question. When I got a call for this play, I was so naive and had no idea what it was about. When I read the script I was like: are you really asking me to do this play? A lot of people around me were talking about Sonali doing the play before me, but my director never brought that up. So, I decided to bring a new perspective to the play. So much so, I now understand what Sonali meant when she said that she was “attached” to the role, and why that kept her from viewing my performance for almost 4-5 years.
Do you carry an attachment with the roles you play on screen?
I don’t attach myself to the roles I play on screen. Films are very fast and they get over quickly. You spend a year on a film and now it’s just been three months and it’s all over. It’s a very mechanical way of working. You feel attached to your character but not the process.
Is it challenging to work with your co-actors, many of whom are already stars?
I made my debut with Amitabh Bachchan and he knew where I came from. I worked with Naseeruddin Shah, and he is my teacher, so there was nothing to prove. And Amitabh Bachchan never came with any baggage. He never made me feel burdened; on the contrary, he asked me if I was okay during many rehearsals. He guided me through the scenes. I am thankful and feel blessed that I have had co-actors who have been supportive. The same happened with Vidyut (Jammwal) in Khuda Haafiz. He actually knew about me and he is a very good friend of mine.
Your choices of roles have been very different, is that a conscious decision?
I have been offered a very large variety of roles. It is now that some roles are becoming repetitive and I have decided to stay away from them. I have always been a ‘yes’ actor and taken up the roles that people walked out of. I was just filling in for characters because that’s what you do in theatre, so that was my attitude. This wasn’t conscious but it just happened. I never paid attention to what kind of roles were being offered to me; they were very organic. They all have been very interesting and I am lucky. Now I have started saying no to some roles.
For the last 20 years, Sonali (Kulkarni) and Aahana (Kumra) have performed Sarla, the cast has not changed much, except Anurag Kashyap and Narendra Gupta. It is difficult to have actors leaving. Sonali used to manage everything for the play and now Aahana left her shooting and came to perform. I completely believe actors come with their own perspective and they mould the character accordingly. Aahana’s energy, intensity and personality is very different from Sonali. It is very difficult to take off your eyes when she is on stage. On the other hand, Sonali was a part of the inception, and we all were evolving at that time. For Sonali, it was difficult to play the first half which’s a college-going girl and she was effortless in the second half of the play as a married woman. For Aahana it’s the opposite. I never doubted their abilities as actors.
Makrand Deshpande, writer, director, and actor of Sir Sir Sarla on Aahana Kumra