Interview: 'I believe in enjoying everything to the fullest': CAT actress Hasleen Kaur on life mantras, and wider acceptability in films and fashion
The actress speaks to us about finally arriving on the acting stage and breaking the mould in her professional and personal life by going for long-term goals.
The best kind of marketing is the one that travels by word of mouth and Netflix’s new crime thriller CAT defines that. The series has been ranked as the top trending in Indian shows for the first three weeks, thanks to the raving reviews! It continues to garner attention even after a month for its tightly knit plot that has strong actors, and a narrative that follows political undercurrents and personal tragedies. It sees laudable performances by central actors Randeep Hooda, Hasleen Kaur, Geeta Agrawal Sharma, Suvinder Vicky, Pramod Pathak and Sukhwinder Chahal, supported by actors who speak a mix of Hindi and Punjabi. The plotline is formulaic — it follows a former police informant’s journey of being used by men in power to bust a drug empire, instead he uncovers a dangerous link to his dark past. However, what sets the series apart is its nail-biting twists and a paced up narrative.
While Randeep Hooda’s performance is the highlight for being consistently stupendous, Hasleen Kaur has grabbed eyeballs with her role as Babita, a young and fairly new police officer, who has joined Punjab Police with an ambitious streak to curb crime. While Babita is dutiful, she’s oblivious of the ulterior motive of senior cops played by Suvinder and Pramod, who are using her and Randeep as pawns to fulfill their vested interests. Hasleen shows a strong screen presence anchoring Babita’s character with her staid demeanour, authoritative voice and principled nature. Her de-glam rustic avatar makes one forget for a moment that she had been a former Miss India Earth! As the role finally marks her commendable arrival on the acting stage, we dialled the model-turned-actress to talk to her about her experiences in the industry.
Sharing with us what got her interested in the series, Hasleen says, “I had a lot of belief in the storyline, as it is very well written and the casting is superb. Honestly, I did not expect it to trend at No. 1 in India. The response has been overwhelming with people calling in from Australia, UK and Canada!” The 34-year-old actress, who was in Vancouver when we called her, goes on to share an interesting anecdote of being able to tap into an audience beyond India. “I was walking down the street in Vancouver the other day and an Indian origin policeman stationed on duty stopped me. He said my face was very familiar and then recalled watching CAT and me being a part of it. He was astonishingly happy and said, ‘I am a policeman. I’ve watched the show and I have to compliment you on your performance’. I must say, whoever has watched the series must have binge-watched because the show keeps you hooked.” The actress plays a strict and plain Babita who helps catch perpetrators of crime.
Hasleen tells us how she prepared for the role and brought the dichotomy of emotions, “The role challenged me as an actor. The Punjabi dialect was not easy to pull off as it changes after every 20 km, if you travel the state. So being Babita required constant efforts to get into her skin. Sometimes, I would go so deep into her mind that it gave me headaches! I had to portray her challenges of life, her vulnerabilities and personal issues. To portray the firm side of Babita, I observed women in Punjab and Haryana very closely. They are not soft spoken at all. They are tough and you can’t take them for a ride. Also, there is a thing about the uniform. The minute you don a wardi, you start to naturally exude power and authority,” Hasleen says.
From crown to glory
The Binnaguri-born actress has spent most of her time in Delhi. An army kid, she made headlines after being crowned Miss India Earth in 2011, followed by a life at the runways. Later, she made her Bollywood debut in 2014 with the film Karle Pyaar Karle. The movie was inspired by the 2003 French film, Love Me If You Dare, but could not fetch the numbers at the box office. “After Karle Pyaar Karle, I made a conscious decision to go back to modelling. I just wanted to focus on myself and hone my acting skills further. During COVID, while we were locked in our houses, all that time gave me an impetus to read books, give auditions, and create a YouTube channel. I also started to self-tape monologues for my practice and share them with my family for feedback. I think that kind of exercise coupled with right timing, worked for me in bagging a role in the series,” she tells us.
The hunger and passion to excel has kept Hasleen going, all these years.“In our profession, one has to face a lot of rejections. The only way to cope with them is to not take them personally and keep working on yourself. Eventually, I also realised that there isn’t one straight smooth line to success.There are pitfalls in career and what you do at that time is what really matters.”
Now that the actress has arrived on the acting stage with an impressive performance, she tells us how the unlearning happened on the sets of CAT under the aegis of its brilliant cast. “Earlier, I had the notion that one needs to come prepared with the script on set, be thorough with dialogues and maybe conjure the scene in mind. But CAT taught me that it was a misconception, and that most of the learning actually happens on the sets. After working with fine actors like Randeep, Pramod and Sukhwinder, I felt they were all pretty flexible performers which is a quality to emulate. They can change themselves in an instant, depending on what the script demands. Their performance opened new horizons of understanding the nuances of acting — that it goes beyond preparedness and requires one to be quickwitted.”
Hasleen further tells us that Randeep was an easygoing actor to talk to in between shots. “He would suggest how I could better my shot and experiment further. He didn’t come across as someone who is so focused on his acting that he won’t pay any heed to his co-actors. Similarly, the other actors were also very helpful and eventually, all of us established a camaraderie which is needed for on-screen chemistry,” she adds. Hasleen’s next is a rom-com titled, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in lead roles. Telling us what she looks for in a project before signing it, she says, “I try to understand the character I am being chosen for, its representation and how important it is for the curve of the story. I always look for something that adds value to my body of work.”
Being in films and fashion for a decade has made Hasleen an industry insider. She tells us that both the industries have evolved tremendously and have broken stereotypes pertaining to representation. “There’s a lot more work available now due to wider acceptability. We are ready to embrace people, irrespective of their shapes, sizes and genders in the fashion industry. For instance, the Amit Agarwal show at the FDCI India Couture Week this year had drag queens making a splash at the runway. As far as films are concerned, we have new entrants coming from various backgrounds. Our films have also changed — they do not have a type cast image of hero, heroine, villain or side actors any more. There are all types of characters and shades now. Another important change is that movies have become more realistic — they are not just a figment of imagination or utterly fictitious.”
About 10 years back, when the beauty pageant winner entered the fashion and entertainment world, it was exclusively tailored to fetch quick results. It made people fit in a rigid mould. But now, Hasleen is rational to prioritise long-term health and happiness. Revealing her life mantra, she tells us, “I go by the rule of completely immersing myself into the surroundings, be it when I am with my family or in a gathering or in my professional life. I believe in enjoying everything to the fullest. That gives me the elixir of happiness and translates to emotions. If I completely disassociate myself from the other aspects of my life to get into acting, then I will perhaps become cold and emotionless. I won’t be able to portray characters on screen too as I have possibly never felt those emotions. Hence, rich personal life experiences are not only the essence of life, but will enhance an actor’s performance too.”
We took the opportunity to ask what keeps her married life sparkling and she quips, “That’s something my husband can only answer (laughs). He is very good at managing things. Between the two of us, I feel it’s kind of a collective effort we put into the companionship. It’s always a two-way street between partners. I make sure whenever I am with him or with family, I give my hundred percent. That keeps us in a happy state of mind.”
Besides family life, Hasleen also gives her full heart to well being. She tells us, “I come from a modelling background where you have to be of a certain size. I’ve done all what it takes to be in shape like cutting carbs, but honestly, it doesn’t work like that. You only get temporary relief from such solutions. I don’t stick to such stringent regimes now. I eat what I like, but I also make sure I move a lot –— it can be running, swimming, gyming, yoga or just household chores. Over the years, I have learned to look at the bigger picture, and shifted my focus to being healthy.”
CAT is currently streaming on Netflix.