Soha Ali Khan: 'Our industry is ageist, but that is changing, and you can see that in Kaun Banegi Shikharwati'

'With OTT, it’s just you and your performance and no make-up, lights, costumes to hide behind – it’s liberating,' says Soha Ali Khan.

Eshita Bhargava January 06, 2022 14:38:13 IST
Soha Ali Khan: 'Our industry is ageist, but that is changing, and you can see that in Kaun Banegi Shikharwati'

Soha Ali Khan is a versatile actor who has played several impactful roles in films across genres and languages. She is well known for her role in Rang De Basanti that earned her the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress. It has been three years since Khan was seen on the big screen or in a show.

Her last outing was Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster in 2018. However, 2022 looks favourable for Khan since she has not one but two projects in hand. Up next, she will be seen in the comedy series, Kaun Banegi Shikharwati. The show also features Naseeruddin Shah, Lara Dutta, and Kritika Kamra among others.

In an exclusive interview, Khan talks about missing acting, how she is enjoying being in her 40s, if OTT platforms are a game-changer for women, and much more. Excerpts:

Let me begin by congratulating you for Kaun Banegi Shikharwati. What is happening in the trailer? It looks fun yet chaotic.

(Laughs) You are right, it is fully chaotic. Most of us didn’t know what was happening in Gaurav Chawla and Ananya Banerjee’s heads. They have written the show. It was lots of fun, and the fact that Naseer Sahab, Lara Dutta, Raghubir Ji (Raghubir Yadav) are doing it gave me a sense of security, and I knew that it can’t be totally mad. It is an unusual world, and playing Gayatri was an experience. I have never been a part of a dysfunctional royal family on screen – how the four daughters are fighting not just amongst themselves but with their old father, who is making them compete in ridiculous challenges to become the next king. All of it made me feel that I just want to be a part of it. 

Tell us something about your character? What was your reference point to prepare it, and what made you say yes to it? Since you are also a Nawab, are you also like your character in real life?

It’s not that all Nawabs and Begums are the same, and they have their personality, but I would say that I commanded certain natural authority, sophistication that I might have inherited. I was comfortable in the palace and the costume bit. More than that, my character was a bit of a challenge. Gayatri is someone who gave up on all materialistic things to join an ashram, and has devoted herself to a higher purpose. Gayatri feels that she is better than her sisters, and she is the only one who is right. She doesn’t believe in competition, money, but suddenly something happens, and things change for her. 

Soha Ali Khan Our industry is ageist but that is changing and you can see that in Kaun Banegi Shikharwati

It is your first OTT show. What are your expectations?

It’s been great. It’s different and challenging to be a part of something that is not just for two hours, and your character gets a lot more time. You can play with the complexities, add layers, and build a proper graph that can go over for eight to 10 hours. It requires very good writing also to engage the audience for 10 hours, and I feel OTT celebrates writers like never before. It has given space to the female actors as well. It has been exciting – I am in my early 40s, and I am ready to go back to work. I missed acting. I was at home with my daughter for almost three years. Luckily, there’s content out there for actors in their 40s, which was not the case earlier. 

As you mentioned, being in the 40s is fun, but Bollywood does not allow actors to age gracefully. Do you agree?

Our industry is ageist, but things are changing. There was a time when we just wanted to see beauty on screen, and we wanted to perhaps escape our lives as a culture.

Soha Ali Khan Our industry is ageist but that is changing and you can see that in Kaun Banegi Shikharwati

Everyone had to look a certain way, and be glamorous like one had to wake up with false eyelashes, lipstick. Now, people want actors to be real on screen. At least, I never had anybody ask me to put more make-up on. It’s how one can be relatable.

In Kaun Banegi Shikharwati, there’s costume and glamour as we are playing maharanis  (queens) but at no point I am looking extra. You’ll see that.

In my other show Hush Hush, that is released on Amazonit’s the opposite. I am wearing no make-up, and it’s as raw as it can be. It’s liberating but also terrifying as you are no longer hiding behind the costume, lights, and layers of make-up to cover your flaws. It’s just you and your performance now, and nothing to hide behind – it’s wonderful and I have always celebrated being real. It’s healthy, and not deceptive. We all age, in the same way, get lines, put on weight when we become old, mothers. It’s all natural. We need to talk about these things, accept them, and not gloss over them. 

Any BTS moments that we will not see but have been special?

There’s a lot. We all were able to gel well with each other. We were constantly recording on our phones, making boomerangs, even Naseer Sahab is a part of a lot of our boomerangs (laughs). He is very young, and people used to joke that he and my daughter Inaya were the youngest people on the sets. Naseer Sahab insisted that Inaya should refer him by his name. She was following him everywhere, shouting ‘Naseer Naseer,’ which was awkward, but fun. The biggest challenge was to not like each other every time we heard action. We bonded well as a team. I was over the moon as I was acting, and my daughter was with me. 

Soha Ali Khan Our industry is ageist but that is changing and you can see that in Kaun Banegi Shikharwati

How was it working with Naseeruddin Shah?

Inaya had a blast as she was out of the home after three months. I have two children in the show, Lara has two, and she had a gala time. Everyone had dinner together – under the stars. To work with Naseer Sahab was an opportunity. I was keen to impress him – he has been an admirer of my father, has worked with my brother Saif, my mother and I wanted to make a good impression on him. I think I was able to do that – there was a difficult monologue that I had to deliver, and he came to me and said, ‘What you did, you won’t be able to do it again because you were truly good. You learned your lines, and that’s when the magic happens.’ I was happy to impress him.

Do you think OTT is changing the game for women?

I do think that the OTT platforms are changing that. It has to do something with the business as well. Everything comes down to the audience. At the end of the day, the business has to provide what the audiences want. We are a democratic country, and if people will speak up, things are going to change and they’ll get what they want. It is the same for the entertainment industry. You can blame the producers, directors, or the actors for making a certain kind of content that is either hero-driven or portray women in a bad light but people are asking for it. However, now when it’s OTT, the content is changing because audiences are responding to it. They are appreciating the content. It’s reflective of what people want. 

Kaun Banegi Shikharwati will premiere on ZEE5 on 7 January.

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