Tag Archives: Anushka Sharma

Interview: Anushka Sharma #QnA #OpenMagazine #Phillauri

Anushka Sharma: ‘I have never tried to fit in’

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/zAQg6k

ANUSHKA SHARMA HAS done 13 films in nine years, with Bollywood’s leading directors (the stellar list includes Aditya Chopra, Yash Chopra, Vishal Bhardwaj, Raju Hirani, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar and Imtiaz Ali). She is also the only Hindi film actress to feature in two of the four Rs 300 crore-plus grossing Bollywood films. But not one to abide by the rules and rest on her accomplishments; she chose to turn producer at 25 with Clean Slate Films. While the media seems to have an unhealthy preoccupation with her personal life, Sharma has made it clear that she has other concerns and bigger battles to fight—such as trying to bridge the wage gap for female actors.

With her new film, Phillauri, releasing in theaters this week, she speaks candidly about making movies that matter to her and why she hates the ‘Number One’ game.

You are an atypical star in that you have stayed away from masala fare, you have never done a ‘special number’, you are never seen at parties and don’t dance at weddings. What’s the belief system that drives you?

(Promptly) Peace. I’m a big believer in peace (smiles). I don’t do anything that takes away my peace of mind. Going to a party is not peaceful to me, you know. Having done those masala films would not have been a peaceful experience for me.

I’ve always been somebody who doesn’t want to be ordinary; I never had that herd mentality. Like, while growing up, I never even tried to fit in… I was happy just being in my own la la land. I would enrol myself in ‘Art of living classes’ because I used to feel this identity crisis of sorts.. at 12 (laughs). I think, to me, my personal growth, as a human being, is far more important than anything on this planet.

So when people ask me, even when Karan Johar asked me on his show, about the number 1 game, it makes me feel, like, not good, you know? It just feels sick. I don’t even want to walk on that path.

How did you manage to keep yourself away from these trappings, given that you were only 19 when you made your Bollywood debut? It would have been tough to deal with…

(cuts in)…Everything. Yes, it was, especially if you come from an army background, where your life is very different, you know? There’s so much uniformity, you live in the same houses, you don’t see any disparity. I don’t think I faced reality, quite honestly. And then, I’m suddenly, like, this Bollywood actress, and I was so afraid all the time about what I am supposed to say or how am I supposed to be.

I used to get so uncomfortable when people would come to me for photographs. And till date, I’m not someone who goes, like, ’Yeah, please.. let’s take a selfie’ (chuckles). I’m not that ‘cool person’, you know. I really envy people like Ranveer Singh, who go on stage and they’re like, ‘Yeah! I love you all!’ I can’t do that (laughs)! I can’t get myself to kind of embrace this.

But from the beginning, I had this thing where even if I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I definitely knew what I did not want to do. And I think, I met the right people in the beginning of my career, like my first director, Aditya Chopra, who allowed me to be who I am. So I had the courage to react instinctively and then back those instincts, even early on.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to accomplish as an actor? Because it’s interesting how you have done only 13 films in 9 years. Deepika Padukone has 22 in 10 years; Alia Bhatt has already done 9 in 5 years.

I was struggling with what I want to do in the moment, you know (laughs)? So I definitely did not think so far ahead. But yes, when I was growing up, I always knew I was going to be famous (laughs). I don’t know why! But I used to sit in the bathroom and give myself interviews (laughs again). One day I was a sportsperson the other day I was an actor like Rani Mukherjee.

I always had a big belief that some really special things are going to happen with me, you know. I do feel that I’m a very blessed person. And because I feel so blessed, I take risks. I’m an outsider, I come from a non-film background, I did not even think I was going to do this, then why am I doing well? So I have to treat this as a gift and make the most of it.

As for Deepika, you know, she has been a huge, huge motivator in my life. I’m from Bangalore too. When I was in junior college, she was my senior, and she was this beautiful, tall, very popular girl. Everybody knew who she was… and I always thought, ‘Man, this is cool!’ And I swear to God, her life has inspired me. It’s so bizarre that I was launched with Shah Rukh too. So the better Deepika does, I feel like, I’m also going to do that good (chuckles).

So what made you turn producer at 25? It’s a huge responsibility for a young actor to undertake.

There was never like a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Whenever I would watch something good, I would feel this urge to either act in it or create it, you know? So when NH10 came to me, I thought that when I’m taking this film on my shoulder, why should I not do it completely? The success or failure of it will still come to me, then why don’t I get into it as a producer?

When I started doing this, people told me, ‘This is what actresses do at the end of their careers!’ And I thought that was so bloody stupid! Why would you not capitalize on your hard work and your position, that you’ve worked so hard for? I should take charge of it, na? Of course, none of this would be possible without my brother, Karnesh. Clean Slate wouldn’t exist without him.

Bollywood does not have too many great scripts for actresses, so was part of your decision influenced by the fact that you’ll be able to create good work for yourself?

Yes, the best an actress gets is a romantic comedy, where you have a good role to play with a guy. Vidya Balan kind of started a whole phase of films led by actresses, with Kahaani and Dirty Picture, and I have a lot of respect for her. After Queen and then NH10, producers now want to make ‘female-centric films’ – and I hate that term – because this is a business.

But NH10 had no reference. And nobody wants to put in money until they have a ‘reference’. So you start feeling, ‘Kahan se aayenge roles?’ And when you get lesser opportunities, you work even harder. You come at it even stronger, you know. Because you know that you are not entitled and you are not privileged. By that, I mean that satisfaction you get from work on merit.. that is not something that we experience. So if I want things to change, I need to go to writers and directors and put things together and make those films.

But Clean Slate is not to make films just for me, you know? Right now, it’s easier for us to produce a film if I’m in it, but we want to tell stories, and we want to back new people. I come from outside and Adi backed me.. and if I’m in a position today, I want to be able to do that. By doing this, I feel like I’m doing a little bit more than just caring about my life.

Why was Phillauri a must-make film for you?

Karnesh and I know Anshai (Lal) since many years. So when Anshai and Anvita (Dutt) came to pitch the film to us, I thought the idea – of a guy who gets married to a tree because he’s manglik, and he inherits a ghost – was too cool (grins). It was funny and emotional and fresh. And then we made her a ghost who flies, who vanishes, who has fairy dust… she was a character, not just a ghost. I also knew that an A-list actress doing something like this would be interesting for the audience, so it just seemed very exciting.

NH10 made a statement about honour killings and Phillauri seems to take on superstitions like being a ‘manglik’. Do you feel a responsibility to tell such stories?

See, I understand that I may have a certain amount of influence on the society through my films. And yes, the films I act in or the films we produce, will never reinforce something that is not correct. But if you are telling stories thinking like that, that’s being very opportunistic, I think.

As an actor, and as a human being, I do take social responsibility by leading my life in a certain way. I don’t want to say I’m any role model because I’m not a perfect human being. I have a lot of flaws, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I have owned up to my mistakes too. I’ve always presented myself exactly as who I am because I don’t want you to think that there is a right way of being this perfect person, who is not real. It’s really okay to be the way you are. That’s the biggest responsibility for me.

Do you think that’s enough in today’s world? The discourse has become so sharply divided into extremes, isn’t it important for role models to speak up more actively?

(Pause) I deal with a lot of sexism in whatever I do… I think all women do. But I have never shied up from speaking about it not because I’m a role model but because I’m like that as a person. Having said that, when you talk about speaking up, trust me, what Meryl Streep spoke at the Golden Globes, if someone here had spoken about something that was against the grain of the majority, people would have pelted stones at their house, you know.

We can’t say one should exercise free speech here, because look at the repercussions that come with it! You can’t go out there and just be foolish about it because it amounts to what? You are compromising the safety of your family, your own safety and the safety of the people you work with you. Like, you know, what happened on the Padmavati sets.. how can that happen? I don’t even know how it’s possible.. but it happened, na?

When actors in Hollywood talk against things, there may be people who might abuse them on Twitter… but they are not going to come and actually hit them in person, which is an actual risk that we have. For example, because I’m a huge animal lover, I had this positivity campaign on Diwali about keeping pets safe. For something like that, people sent me videos and photographs of meat, and said, ‘This is your chopped dog’. So I’m like.. don’t listen to it na, baba? You want to burst crackers, go put them up your ass and burst them, for all I care, I don’t give a shit. But how can you be so aggressive?

This hasn’t deterred you from being outspoken towards the cause of feminism.

Yes, but I think I have said a lot more in interviews that has gotten me into trouble within the industry. Case in point, Anupama Chopra’s interview, where I went and spoke out against the wage gap. I got a lot of shit from some really powerful people in this place. But I spoke out not because I wanted to be sensational, but because I believe that the only way people can change is you try to change their thought process.

The fact is that this disparity exists today is not because people are against it but because it’s a deep rooted tradition of looking at women actors in a certain way. So I wanted to bring that out to the surface and I was fine with whatever I got out of it too. I will continue to be vocal about feminism.

After multiple 300 crore+ films, are you in a position where you can demand the money you want for a film?

See, my trajectory is always going to be a little different because I do a really successful film and then I produce two of my own films where, there’s obviously no money. So, for me, my success of any film is important so that I can produce and push the stories that we want to make through Clean Slate Films.

As far as the monies are concerned, you have to have the ability to say no and walk away. I guess there’s this sense of fear that’s always put in actors where the media, industry insiders and the biggies pit you against each other. You have to be very cautious of that, so you should just walk away. That’s why I have a lot of respect for women who are doing that, like Kangana. She’s asking for what’s hers, and more power to her.

Do you face misogyny as a producer as well? There are very few women in the top management of Bollywood studios, barring Ekta Kapoor.

At Clean Slate, no, because we truly believe that working with good people is the most important. But otherwise, let me tell you, misogyny is not male centric. I meet a lot of misogynistic women, who cannot see somebody else doing well, and if they are in the power to do something to bring you down, they will do it. And that, I think, is a lot worse.

But since I’m one of the first actresses to do this, I will face it in small ways because, to see a female actor who’s having a conversation with you is something that they are used to. For example, you will be asked to explain how you produce films. Like, journalists will ask you, ‘So what do you do in it?’

And then this recent thing, where people started crediting my ability to make a big film like Phillauri, to my partner. You will face people thinking that a woman cannot do something on her own… she needs a man to help her. And that’s like a dagger, you know… and I cannot believe people think like that. And of course it affects me, but you have to ignore it and move on, because that’s the only option.

How do you deal with all the social media abuse that has come your way because of your relationship?

You know, if my film tanks, or if I do badly, and you abuse me, okay, it is something that I will take. But when you get blamed for somebody else, (pause)… you feel belittled, you know. You are made to feel small. You have blamed me for someone’s failure, which is something that is a part of their life, while the success also is. (Pause) It’s heart-breaking.

But what do you do? I don’t think anybody will be able to understand who I am as a person or the nature and simplicity of my relationship. People look at it as some high-profile relationship, when it is actually the simplest relationship you can think of, of two very simple people, who want nothing out of their life but to be peaceful and successful in what they are doing, you know?

People like to speculate even more about your relationship because you keep it private now.

I was not at all private about it; I was not hiding it. But then, it became only about that. While I know that my partner is not going to experience that in his place of work, unfortunately I will have to, because I come from the entertainment industry, and my personal life is entertainment for somebody, you know. And I want to be taken a little bit more seriously than just my relationship. I’ve been subjected to journalists literally.. what is the right word for it (pauses)…

…Bullying?

…Yes, bullying me. You’ve called me to your own office and you are asking me questions about my personal life, which I have answered jitna I want to answer, then you are constantly asking me questions only about that. Why should I allow you to do that? Why should I allow you to use a part of my life to sell your own magazine, newspaper, or channel? It’s not for sale, you know. I’m a very private person and I’m very guarded. I don’t have that many friends also, quite honestly. I don’t even open up emotionally to too many in my family. My brother is literally my best friend. And my relationship is a very personal thing.. and I have to protect it. Because it means a lot to me.

I’m not someone who puts up vacation pictures on social media, or ask people to come to my house on Diwali and shoot it… I don’t even like people seeing my house. For me, the important thing is to safeguard my relationships. And that’s just how I am.

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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on March 24, 2017
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/i-have-never-tried-to-fit-in
Picture courtesy: Anushree Fadnavis for Open Magazine. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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On Bombay Velvet: How internet is killing the movie and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap #NotaReview

This is not a review of Bombay Velvet. Because whatever I say about Bombay Velvet doesn’t matter to you at all. You’ve already made up your mind about how you feel about Bombay Velvet, even especially if you haven’t seen it, because you have read gossip about the film’s edit issues before its release, or you’ve read Komal Nahta’s tweet about how two shows of the film got cancelled in the morning, or you’ve read a review of the film by critics who were ‘let down’ by this film.

For that matter, you have decided that no matter what others say, you will like this film because you are a Ranbir fan, an Anushka fan, or an Anurag Kashyap fan (are there any left though?). You may like it because everyone’s disliking it and you are a hipster, or you may like it because of the amazing irony of how a Rs 100 crore budget film has become an underdog. You may just like it because your expectations were lowered by the reviews of critics or your friends, and now you don’t find the film *that* bad.

It’s beside the point that I loved the film and its characters and its setting and the outstanding music, it’s pointless reviewing Bombay Velvet because invariably, I must belong to one or more of the sects I mentioned in the previous paragraph, perhaps without even knowing it. Because clearly, no one’s reviewing movies anymore, everyone’s reviewing their expectations of it.

Expectations vs the Film
Let me attempt to explain: When was the last time we walked into a movie theater without any expectations from the film whatsoever? Even if we didn’t have high expectations of the film, we certainly didn’t have no expectations else why would we spend your hard earned money and our precious time watching the film?

The reason we had these expectations (as little as they may be) is because we liked the trailer of the movie, or we like the actors in it, or the director of it or because it came recommended to us by a critic or a friend. So the film ultimately either lived up to these expectations, or fell short of them, and our opinion on the movie is an outcome of that. That’s largely how it’s always been when it comes to movie watching but ever since social media has happened to our lives, our expectations have started getting skewed much more sharply than ever before. With the groundswell of opinions on every movie, especially if they are STRONG and LOUD (whether positive or negative), our expectations have *become* our review of the movie. Think about it, we now rarely feel any different after watching a movie from what is being said about the movie, or the opinion we formed about it beforehand.

We already liked Piku before we entered the theater to watch it because EVERYONE LOVED IT. We were already impressed by the excellence of Court because EVERYONE WAS IMPRESSED BY IT. We were already disappointed with Detective Bymokesh Bakshy because EVERYONE WAS LET DOWN BY IT. We were already blown away by Fast and Furious because EVERYONE WAS BLOWN AWAY BY IT. Perhaps you are one of the rare people who felt the opposite for every movie I mentioned or you genuinely liked/disliked the previous movies and that has nothing to do with ‘everyone’. The truth, as they say, is probably somewhere in between.

The curse of being Anurag Kashyap
Let me put it another way: What if Court was made by Anurag Kashyap? What is Piku was made by Sajid Khan? What if Byomkesh Bakshy was made by Chaitanya Tamhane? What if Fast and Furious was made by Michael Bay? What if Bombay Velvet was made by Anand Gandhi?  Just think over this for a second. Would we still feel exactly the same about these movies? More importantly, would the *critics* feel the same way about them? Of course we wouldn’t. Because somewhere, we can’t disassociate the filmmaker from the film and that is true even moreso for critics.

Prove me wrong by showing me a review of Bombay Velvet that does not talk about Anurag Kashyap’s ambitions with this film, the film compared to his other work, the film with respect to other gangster film, the budget of the film, the expected box office, the negative buzz around it, etc etc etc. You’d be surprised if you find a review that only talks about the film and nothing else but the film because Anurag Kashyap is intricately linked to this film, but is that really fair? Why isn’t it only about the film anymore?

If you completely disagree with me on this, here’s another perspective: What if Woody Allen, who has been accused of being a pedophile, gets convicted? You’d certainly not be inclined to revere him as a person but would it have any bearing on what you think of him as a director? But that’s actually immaterial, to be honest, because the only question that matters is: would it change the way you feel about his films? Will Annie Hall make you feel any differently or will you love Midnight in Paris any less, knowing that the director behind him may not be a very good man? It won’t and it shouldn’t because it *really* doesn’t matter who has made a film. Only your connection to it matters.

Internet criticism
But that may not be true in the case of critics in the internet age. I read the reviews of a few critics who found Akshay Kumar’s Gabbar mildly enjoyable and gave it around 2.5 stars. I saw the film and it definitely didn’t suck as much as every other south remake but 2.5 stars? Bombay Velvet has got 2.5 stars. Byomkesh Bakshy got 2.5 stars. Are Gabbar and Bombay Velvet/Byomkesh Bakshy at the same level in ANY way? I’m not trying to be a condescending asshole or a cacophonous fanboy (although that’s beside the point too because you’ve already made up your mind either way, haven’t you?). What I’m trying to say is: Did Gabbar make you FEEL for even one second? What did you take back home after watching Gabbar? On the other hand – are you saying NOTHING in Bombay Velvet or Byomkesh made you feel? You took back NOTHING after watching them?

I’m not at all comparing popcorn films with ‘cinema’ and trying to draw a fail parallel. Because I LOVE popcorn cinema. Absolutely LOVE it. Because the best popcorn cinema also makes you FEEL – it could any feeling from awe and joy to aww and joy. (If you get the time, please do read this piece by Sady Doyle on popcorn cinema; possibly the best written article on cinema this year: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/marvel-killing-the-popcorn-movie/). Gabbar didn’t make me feel, neither do any of the umpteen other South remakes. Avengers (not part 2) did make me feel though, as did The Fault in our Stars in the same way that a Dhoom 3 and 2 States made me feel *something*. They are the epitome of popcorn films but I took away something back home after watching them. I took away something from Bombay Velvet and Byomkesh too, but nothing from Gabbar. Yet they are all given a star rating of 2.5 stars and to be honest, that blows my mind.

I am not calling out critics too (I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and how am I to say my opinion is better than yours?) but I do have a problem with criticism connected with expectations. Because I fail to understand how ratings can be flexible according to expectations. The reason Gabbar got 2.5 was because the reviewers went into theaters expecting to see an absolutely horrible film but were surprised that it didn’t suck THAT BAD. On the other hand, Byomkesh got 2.5 because the reviewers were expecting to be blown away but that didn’t happen; and Bombay Velvet got 2.5 stars because the reviewers expected to be let down and that’s exactly what happened. I admit, some of this is informed from my understanding of criticism because I was a ‘critic’ for a while for Firstpost.com and to be honest, I occasionally suffered from the same issues too.

It may have been JUST me and perhaps I wasn’t qualified enough to be an opinion-giver (‘critic’ is too strong a word to my liking), and I may be ENTIRELY wrong and presumptuous about internet criticism (because criticism without the support of the internet today does not exist). But the truth is, it was only after I left my opinion hat at home and started watching films as a filmbuff that I began to see them for what they are. My feelings towards any film, now, are based on what I feel *because* of the film, or if I feel because of it at all. It has nothing to do with the perception of the film or the cast and the crew.

Why Bombay Velvet cannot be left to die
I loved Bombay Velvet. I didn’t connect with it in the first thirty minutes at all, but then I was slowly pulled in by it and by the end of it, I had been wholly consumed by all the complexity at play – the class divide of Khambatta and Balraj, the love story of Johnny and Rosie, the angst of Balraj to rise above his so-called aukaad, the loyalty of Chiman, and all else. The music was the true champion of the film and Amit Trivedi’s OUTSTANDING score interpreted on film is reason alone to watch this film. I loved the world of the film created by its superlative cast (Ranbir, Anushka, Satyadeep, Karan and Kay Kay took my breath away) and crew, and contrary to what many have said, I felt that the film didn’t reach its full potential because of the edit, done by the great Thelma Schoonmaker and Prerna Saigal.

In the first thirty minutes, to give the film a certain pace and atmosphere, what I felt were crucial scenes of romance between Rosie and Johnny weren’t allowed to breathe and were cut off just when they needed that little pause for us to feel deeper. The uneven pace of the film throughout is its biggest downfall and somewhere, there is a director’s cut which could be 3 hours long but which I suspect I may love more. But I still love Bombay Velvet, but as I had mentioned upfront, what I think of the film doesn’t even matter.

The more time spent on the internet consuming about movies before watching them, is killing the experience of watching any movie for what it is. Remember the unparalleled pleasure of being in a cinema hall at one with a movie, and discovering it unfold one scene at a time, before the onslaught of teasers of teasers and trailers 2,7,10? Before Twitter and Facebook told you EVERYTHING you didn’t want to know about the film but would have liked seeing or deciding for yourself? Before opinions were jammed down your throat because you live on the internet and opinion-givers do too?

Hence my opinion of Bombay Velvet is immaterial. What matters is what *you* think of it. And the only way for you to decide is not by reading snarky comments about it on the internet but by going to the theater and watching it yourself. Watch it not because I or anyone else liked the film, but because such an intricately created and painstakingly mounted film is certainly worth your time – at least worth more than reading all the gossip about it. Whether you love, like or dislike it, watching a movie of this scale, design and feel isn’t an experience you get often in India cinema, and will certainly not get anymore if this film is doomed by the wrath of the internet and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap.

Do not let the internet kill Bombay Velvet. Do not let the internet kill movies.

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.