Amruta Subhash on starring in Netflix's Bombay Begums: Grateful I'm offered roles which make me vulnerable
Amruta Subhash says she found her Bombay Begums role of Lily difficult also because she needed strength to dance continuously for many hours.
Amruta Subhash may have finally been ‘discovered’ in Hindi film industry with Gully Boy and Sacred Games 2 but the fact is that the actress, a National School of Drama (NSD) graduate who began her career with experimental theatre was already an established name in Marathi films that won national awards and international honours.
In fact, after her first Bollywood film Firaaq (2008), Subhash got busy with Marathi films and only made a comeback in Bollywood with Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) followed by Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019), and now she will be seen in Bombay Begums, a Netflix release (on 8 March) directed by Alankrita Shrivastava.
Subhash says it was mainly because of Shrivastava that she promptly signed Bombay Begums. Subhash plays Lily, a bar dancer in the series that explores the dreams and desires of five women from different corners of society. They fight for survival in the maximum city and set out to win in their careers, love life and relationships. The series co-stars Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Plabita Borthakur and Aadhya Anand, among others. “Of course, the main reason for me to agree to do the part was Alankrita. After watching Lipstick, I kept hoping that I would get to work with her. I love her writing; I think her films give a lot of freedom to actors to perform which I felt while watching Lipstick and Dolly Kitty there were so many revelations in terms of situations and what the characters were going through."
Initially, Shrivastava wasn’t convinced about Subhash playing the part and it was the casting director Shruti Mahajan who persuaded the director to audition the actor, and Shrivastava was impressed with what she saw. “Casting directors like Shruti save you from getting typecast,” says Subhash. She continues, “When I read the script I knew that every character had a lot of depth. My character may be just a dancer but she has so many shades. In one scene, Lily makes Ayesha (played by Borthakur) aware of something which the latter wasn’t ready to face. They come from different economic classes, different strata and backgrounds but since Lily has seen a lot of ups- and-downs, her understanding about life is far more and she could give Ayesha that insight. I was fortunate to be given this part.”
However, the role was tough not because it’s performance-oriented, but, Subhash says, it was the dancing skills and shedding inhibitions required for the same that made it challenging. “I have learnt classical dancing but dancing in a bar is a completely different ball game. Alankrita made me meet Reshma appa who is a very senior bar-dancer. I spent a whole day with her in Kamathipura where Reshma lives. She was so amazing; she opened her heart and life for me. She taught me how bar dancers move their body, how they dress up and wear their hair. She also showed me her old albums. She was the best teacher for me. I have never visited a bar in life but Reshma literally was my guru. It was such a memorable day for me,” said Subhash.
The actress furthers, “Lily's in a different space for me. Reshma gave me an understanding of the character, that how motherhood was dharma for a sex worker like all other mothers. Reshma had a responsibility for her son, and now also for her grandson. She may be a bar dancer but she is fulfilling her duty of a mother and grandmother. When Lily is not dancing then she is the best mother and grandmother. That is what she is struggling with because she is not recognised as a good mother by society like how mothers usually are. This is what gave different dimensions to Lily’s character.”
Subhash found the role difficult also because she needed strength to dance continuously for many hours. “Yes, Reshma taught me the moves but I also needed to have a strong body. I had to follow a certain regime from my fitness guru, Shailesh Parulkar. My body was not ready for that kind of dancing for several hours. I had to go through different forms of exercises. Secondly, I had to practice for hours because it is a different form of dance and that was a bit taxing,” said Subhash, who, however, loves these challenges thrown at her. For Sacred Games 2, she was in the headlines for her powerful, understated portrayal of the no-nonsense RAW agent KDY (Kusum Devi Yadav) while breaking out of her largely good-natured girl-next-door image, and now she plays a bar dancer. “I have been grateful that I am offered roles which make me vulnerable. I don’t want the roles to be easy where I would feel, ‘Oh, I know this space’. I love these kinds of challenges. There was hard work but there was also a lot of enjoyment and I love that kind of fear the roles offer,” she says.
In a career spanning over 15 years, Subhash has made many transitions, from theatre, to Marathi serials, to Marathi films, to Hindi films and now web shows but theatre remains her first love. “Theatre has always been my first love and it will be. I have worked in many formats but theatre polishes your skill. But it feels great to have seen so many phases and transitions. For me things are getting better and better. When I was younger I wanted to do different roles which I am getting now even at 40. I didn’t expect that I would ever get a role where I will get to dance. You keep thinking that such roles come to you when you are really young. Now I am open to anything. OTT has given me a new lease in my career. Even critics and journalists from the US are reaching out to me. It’s a great feeling when your work has a global audience,” says Subhash.
Gradually, the actress is making entry into the world of what one may call Hindi mainstream cinema. She will be next seen in a crucial role in Ram Madhvani-directed Dhamaka alongside Kartik Aryan and Mrunal Thakur. “I am happy to be surrounded by creators who are not slotting me in any character, in any language, or any genre. I am even doing short films, different language films, web series..I would love to be part of any project that has good content regardless of language, genre..There is absolutely no bar,” she says. “The industry has been very welcoming towards me even before and therefore I have not been slotted. With the kind of roles I am getting proves directors trust my abilities, they are creating new space for me. In Dhamaka, I play a character that belongs to the upper class. The language that the directors speak to me shows they want to cast me in diverse roles,” she further adds.
Coming back to Bombay Begums, Subhash says, it was an inspirational journey, and it was not just her character but there was a lot to learn and take away even from other characters. “Actually, all are very strong characters and I have taken from each of them. There is a scene where Pooja says there’s life beyond men, we have our dreams to look forward to and that you are your own begum. Shahana’s character Fatima is going through a conflict between motherhood and career, and Plabita’s character is confused about sexuality. Then, Lily comes from the most trying background, on one hand there is a struggle to make both ends meet, and on the other to get respect from society. She has taught me about surviving daily battles. The capacity to dream in spite of being surrounded by so many problems is the takeaway from my character,” says Subhash, “In our life, too, we are slotted as women, so can we go beyond these slots? Can we ask ourselves this question – Who are you and can you dare to be just that? It can be something out-of-the-box,” the actress concludes.
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