Sushmita Sen on why she waited long for a show like Aarya: Wanted something exciting, interesting, and progressive
Sushmita Sen discusses shooting for Aarya, regrets in her career so far, and whether she wanted to be a part of any film she saw over the years.
Sushmita Sen oozes warmth. Any conversation with her is heartening. She is someone who is ever willing for affectionate hugs, and obviously so, does not like the idea of a telephonic conversation. “I miss looking into the eyes, and making it more personal,” says the former Miss Universe, who now returns after a hiatus in Aarya, a crime and family drama based on Dutch show Penoza.
Sushmita was last seen in Bengali movie Nirbaak (2015), and some of her last Hindi releases were No Problem and Dulha Mil Gaya; both released a decade ago, in 2010. Directed by Neerja-fame Ram Madhvani, the nine-episode show, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, Aarya has Sushmita play "an author-backed" role of Aarya Sareen, a happily married woman whose world turns upside down when her husband Tej (Chandrachur Singh) is shot by a business rival, and she deep-dives into the murky world of the narcotics trade, which now threatens her family.
Excerpts from a chat with the articulate actress below:
You had taken a sabbatical from the movies, and decided to focus on your family and health. So what fascinated you to this show?
It was a mix bag of everything. I was either getting a good script but the makers didn’t fit the bill or the makers were amazing but the script didn’t fit the bill. The process of making a film or a web series is the content and the team. You should not subtract any one of these because ultimately, it is a visual medium. If the team doesn’t have conviction, and doesn’t see the same film we end up making different versions of what was written on paper. With Aarya, I got the entire package. It is an author-backed role but it is not just which is all about this one woman. There are a lot of other relationships. We have 23 primary characters in the show, which means there are fantastic actors supporting the journey of Aarya.
It has been one of those things where I had literally crossed my fingers and said nothing should go wrong now because after 10 years, I have finally fallen in love with something. I wanted to come back with something that is progressive, interesting, and exciting for people. I have very loyal fans for 10 years and more, people who have waited endlessly for me to do a film. They have even got mad at me for not doing a film for so long. It is like haq se daant lagaate hain. It would happen that way. So I didn’t want to disappoint them by coming up with something regressive or that was just a blink-and-miss role. It didn’t matter to me if it was 70 mm or OTT platform. I just wanted the content to be correct. I am very happy to have done it for everyone I love.
Didn’t you miss being on set and its process for all these years?
I don’t think being on a set is a process that you miss. I think you miss the process itself. Even if you are not on a set, and you are creating something online between people, it is still exciting because you are connecting with people. What I missed was the craft. I missed getting my thoughts together, trying to create a character which I… now, I am not one of those actors who were born with the talent. I have had to hone it every step of the way. I am not one of those amazing actresses, and I knew that.
It is not something that I had always as a part of the gift. But god knows I am one of those hardworking actors. What I have not known, I have tried very hard to try and learn.
So with Aarya, I got an opportunity to learn more of my craft... going back to workshop and training under some incredibly talented people, and then shooting scene after scene without any cut in between. It is something I will cherish forever. And because I am a people’s person, I was always surrounded by people, and that is the only reason despite not being on a set, I opened every social media account possible to stay close to people.
A lot has changed in Bollywood over the years. What do you like the most about the industry now?
Our Indian cinema at large has become a lot more experimental. It is far more content-driven, and it is not looking at this taboo as much. I mean we are still very far from equality on many levels but people don’t shy away from creating a strong character who turns out to be a woman. You don’t sit there and say, "Achha, woman-centric hai, toh iska budget should be only so much." OTT platform, in that sense, has opened up a plethora of banking of content. Today, you don’t have to restrict yourself because, "Arre, you are older than 25 years, your career is over, you can’t play a certain role, or if you do then you have to play the mother, and that is your role." What I love about Aarya is that if you take away the mother in her, you don’t have an Aarya.
Did you ever feel after watching a particular film/films that you wished you were part of it, or wished to play a certain character?
We have had some amazing scripts and amazing films in the last few years. Now, because of me being me, if I start naming one, I had to name all. It is going to be very difficult because it is unfair to just rely on your memory to name one. I genuinely believe that Indian cinema has jumped leaps and bounds in the right direction but I don’t really look at a role, and say wish I had done it because I like to believe that if I had done it, it would have been different. So when I am watching as an audience someone else’s performance, I only look at them, and say, "Wow, what a job man!"
If you look at the younger lot of actors today, do you compare their graphs with your own journey, or wish you could have done something better or differently?
Like I said, I never compare journeys, I don’t compare roles. Everyone is an individual. Their life is a bundle of their choices, my life is a bundle of my choices. When I look back at my career, I start with the fact that I never wanted to be an actor. Then, thanks to Mahesh Bhatt, I got the opportunity, and I got to fall in love with the craft. I had no idea that I even had a seed potential for. Given that as the source, and the fact I am me, which means I like to do things for the love of it, and not because everybody thinks that it is the right thing to do. I went with my instincts, I put my call, and there is not a single film, whether the film worked or not, that I am ashamed of. Each one gave me an opportunity to grow. Each one of them paid my bills, and allowed me to be financially independent.
I have zero regrets, and I say that with all my heart. If it weren’t for all those choices, 10 years later, I wouldn’t have an audience that said I want to still watch her. So I must have done something right.
Was it a bit frightening initially when you started the shoot considering that you were acting after a long gap, and there is a whole lot of change in the work system?
Of course, there is nervousness. I would feel a certain amount of butterflies in my stomach even if I was shooting every day of my life, and I had not taken a 10-year hiatus. I am made like that. I like nervous energy. It helps me to stay focused, and not to take anything for granted. But having said that, there was more excitement than nervousness this time because before we came on set, we had three weeks of workshop, so we had already come in that zone. All we had to do was carry the same zone onto the set. But that little bit of nervousness, butterflies in my tummy, I make sure I have (laughs).
What did you enjoy the most filming this time?
I have never worked on a project before where a call sheet was honoured like we worship it. If it was a 7 AM shift, nobody came at 7.01, and if it was a 7 AM to 3 PM shift, we would finish at 2.30 PM. It was one set where punctuality was honoured, and where hospitality was incredible. We had chefs of our own, and they made sure that we don’t put on weight. It was for the first time I didn’t have even a manager on set. I was managed by the team completely. I have never had these experiences, and then watching actors performing in real time because these are long takes, and there are no cuts in between. I was like a newcomer on set. It was like going back to school and learning the craft again, and I was actually paid for doing this. That kind of an opportunity very few actors get.
How has your lockdown experience been? Any advice that you would like to give to people?
I have been practising patience (laughs heartily). Actually I have been relishing this time. I have had a very packed four months before the lockdown. I was shooting in Jaipur and outskirts of Mumbai. So it was nice to stay home, and be around my family and just zen out. But after a point, it did start getting a little restless, and for that, the practice of patience came back on.
But having said that, it was a great time for us because we were doing the post-production of Aarya during the lockdown period, which kept us busy with some purpose. I also started learning new apps, and I was spending time with my daughters doing some kind of edits and coming up with new ways to entertain yourself. It has been a nice learning phase, and I just wish the world is in a better place at the end of it because now, everyone has endured a sense of solitude. But one should not lose heart. There is hope. Things will turn around, and hopefully, change for the better.
Now, are we going to see you more often on screen?
Absolutely. Now that the wheels have turned, they should hopefully keep turning. But as always, it will not be a factory production one after the other. Every time I do something, I do only because I actually believe in it. Also, it should respect my audience’ sensibilities, and my need to be a part of the craft. So I will continue to work, and definitely look forward to some good stuff coming.
Aarya is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
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