Lisa Ray opens up on her role in Four More Shots Please! Season 2 and how her best work is with female directors
Lisa Ray plays Samara — a Bollywood star, battling bipolar disorder, who is also in a same-sex relationship with her trainer Umang — in Four More Shots Please! Season 2.
“Acting is like a side gig for me,” says Lisa Ray, who has recently featured in the new season of Amazon Prime Video show Four More Shots Please!, where she plays Samara — a Bollywood star, battling bipolar disorder, who is also in a same-sex relationship with her trainer Umang (played by Bani J). Not an easy, conventional role, by any standards. But Ray isn’t known for being conventional. In fact, quite the opposite.
“I don’t think I’ve ever taken on a ‘conventional’ role, though I’ve been offered many,” is how she puts it, drawing the examples of Kasoor, her Bollywood debut, where she plays a lawyer, struggling to understand justice and morality, or Water, where she plays a young widow, or even The World Unseen, which explores the romantic relationship of two women in South Africa, during the apartheid period. None of these characters or stories are quite like what the Indian audience is exposed to regularly, and Ray seems to revel in that. “I’ve also worked and lived all over the world so I don’t consider any particular audience. I do what I please,” she says.
Ray has been getting positive reviews for Four More Shots Please!, the second season of which just released. Same-sex relationships are rarely depicted in mainstream Indian shows or films, and women in same-sex relationships are even more rare to see. There’s always an apprehension as to how the audience will see it, and so the popularity of this relationship is even more sweet. “It has been uniquely positive and overwhelming. I’m obviously delighted that a bipolar, complex, bisexual character has been so warmly embraced. We all worked hard on normalising the relationship from a performance point of view. That’s the most surprising and biggest breakthrough- it seems Umara’s likability transcends gender,” is her response to all the love for #Umara, as show-viewers have termed it.
Portraying someone with mental health issues is obviously challenging, and most actors tend to stay away from it. There is very few, and especially very few sensitive portrayals of mental illness, on Indian screens. Ray, however, felt no qualms playing this role. In fact, she says that she didn’t refer to any previous portrayal or character to draw inspiration from. “ I just surrendered to my director, Nupur (Asthana). We have a great dynamic and I respect her craft and vision,” adding that some of her best work seems to be with women directors whether it is Deepa Mehta (who made Water), or Shamin Sarif (the director of The World Unseen).
Four More Please! too had a largely female crew, which changes the dynamics completely on set, believes Ray. She also adds that the comfort level on set allowed them to share their own experiences and stories with each other. “I remember Rangita (Pritish Nandy, creator of Four More Please!) saying it was time that modern, urban, ambitious, independent Indian women were reflected on screen. I mean, of course everything is heightened in terms of styling for the screen, but there’s emotional truth and honesty in the girls’ journey and I suppose that’s why everyone is enjoying this season,” is her take. She also believes that 4 More Shots Please has an inherent female gaze, and that’s what is important and needed at a time like this.
While Ray has worked extensively in movies, on television, and even as a model, Four More Please! is her first foray in the world of web series and she admits that global streaming platforms have changed even her own show-viewing experience. “ I seek out interesting new streaming content much more now than film,” she says. For an actor or filmmaker, streaming platforms have the advantage of allowing more character development, and exploring themes that might be censored on films, is her reason for being partial towards these.
Away from all this, Ray is currently in Singapore, with her family which includes two young daughters. On whether she has any advice for young mothers in a lockdown situation, her answer is, “Nope. I have no advice. I’m trying to figure it out myself. Fortunately I have a live-in nanny and that keeps me sane.” She’s using this time to focus on what seems to be her first love- writing. “I’m a writer who occasionally acts,” is something we’ve heard her say many times, and her novel Close to the Bone was published last year by Harper-Collins India. Working on her second book now (she has a three book deal with Harper-Collins), and also writing articles and opinion pieces, Ray says she has to spend most of her day locked up in a room, and coming out to play with her girls is a welcome break.
What next? “No clue. Given the times we are living through, I don’t like to speculate on the future. I just live with gratitude for every moment, every opportunity and surrender to whatever comes my way. I will produce as many books as I can, and look out for my articles and opinion pieces. I do love to subvert the status quo in everything I do, so you much understand, I mean it when I say acting is a side gig for me,” she signs off.
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