Anupria Goenka: Creating her own space in a dynamic way

Anupria Goenka is one of those actors who you take notice of right away. When she debuted in the Telugu film, Potugadu, and followed with Bobby Jasoos, we knew she was here to stay. Whether it be Tiger Zinda Hai, Padmaavat, or War, she has made her mark with prominent roles in the blockbuster films. In the OTT space, she has some incredible work to her name, including The Final Call, Criminal Justice, and the recent Aashram. We take a walk down memory lane to recap the last seven years and the roles that have stuck with her, who she is as a person today, and more. A warm conversation with an actor who is easy to speak to and listen to – Anupria Goenka.

I want to go back to 2013 – a walk down memory lane, so to speak– do you remember the person you were and have you changed drastically?

(Smiles) You know that is a very difficult question. I’ve actually sat back recently to think about whether I have changed. I don’t have a straight answer to that, unfortunately. Maybe I’m more spritey, more gusto for everything in life – when you are more impulsive, temperamental as well. A lot more of all those things put together seven years ago. I’m more solid in my resolve now. At that time, when I started off, I wasn’t sure if acting would be the be all and end all. I’ve always been a floater in some sense. I came from a business environment and I knew earning for me regularly was always high on priority. I never in my head made it that I have to do acting and I cannot do anything else, because that would give me no sleep and jitters. So in the back of my head, I always used to say to myself, if there comes a point three months down the line, where I don’t know where I’m heading, I will go back to my corporate job. I always gave myself those three/four months to keep checking where I am (laughs). I genuinely fell in love with acting more and more as I went along. I’m genuinely more mature now in regards to the craft, what it requires. I’ve changed in terms of appreciating the different genres that are there. I know how difficult it is for an actor to say the so-called Indian masala lines, to dance around the trees, all this is talent and art. I have now seen how difficult filmmaking really is. My sense of business and what works with the people is also improving. I have changed like that, but at the core, I’m the same person mostly.

Do you remember a moment when you realized that you are in love with acting – instead of that three to four check-in?

There were many such moments. When you are auditioning, forget when you are on set, or doing a scene on stage in theatre, and whenever something goes really well, or you have so much to do in a day that has been challenging and not comfortable, those are the moments you realize you really love this. It gives you an adrenaline rush. It gives you the feeling that there is still something you need to learn and achieve.  There will always be levels you will be crossing hopefully, if you are growing as an actor. Some of us become stagnant as well because we do not know better or do not meet the right directors. 

There was a time working with Sanjay sir (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) for Padmaavat where he was directing me personally because we were shooting the song “Ghoomar” – I was across, watching Deepika dance. That was my job for most of it. But there was a time in which my close-ups would be taken, and that was the first time, I was briefed and directed by him. It was scheduled all of a sudden. I was supposed to be on an off that day. I was very nervous. He briefed me so beautifully – he was so indulgent as a director. This was about four years into my acting journey and I was like, “wow, this is the reason why I started to act.” That is one moment I can pinpoint, but there were many such moments.

Has there been a moment that you have played a character and you’ve come out and thought that you have learned so much because of the role or the character you were playing? 

Yes, in a way. Exactly what you are saying – if I was playing astronaut, I would learn a lot about space. For me, that happened with a film that has not released by Nagesh Kukunoor. This was in 2015 and I was a very different person then, I guess. In the film, I was playing an actor from a small town, who is docile, very simple, innocent. She changes through the course of the movie. She becomes more aware, more aware of her sexuality. It comes to a point where she uses her sexuality to get work done; starts engaging in transactional sex and ends up killing somebody. There was a huge graph for her. So that attracted me and of course, Nagesh Kukunoor. 

The entire film was being shot in a house; the camera would never leave the house. It was an independent film. Three years of her life are depicted in that setting. We really needed to then put in some intimate, some crude intimate scenes because of the changes she was going through. Some scenes required nudity and extreme exposure. And I was someone who was very comfortable with exposing; even in my personal life, you could call me uptight maybe even. 

I did not understand what frontal nudity is. I thought it was top-up nudity. I did not realize it was all nude. I signed up and two days before the shoot, I realized what it meant. My mother, who is extremely conservative otherwise, encouraged me to do it because I loved the role. 

We were doing a reading and I said, “she loses her way”. And Nagesh sir stopped me and he said, “no, why has she lost her way? It’s her choice. She’s very aware. If a woman chooses sex for her to get a job done, the agency of choice is huge and you cannot judge her for that.” That conversation really changed my view of things, in a very subtle manner also. 

You’ve done a whole host of web series and character graph is something that 

I think what happens is – you have ten hours to tell a story. The writers get the opportunity to create many layers for a character via the themes. The writing needs to also allow the character to grow and not just put the character into different circumstances. Think about Criminal Justice – she is very into law, extremely righteous, and doesn’t know how to carve her own identity. At the beginning, I had to reflect someone who is not so opinionated, not so worldly-wise. But as she grows, she finds her internal confidence. That was very interesting for me   For me to play that character is something that I have to think about. It doesn’t come naturally until you sink into the character, which happens while you are filming. Everything else helps you also – the relationship with your co-actors, your director. It all internalizes at some point. Web series have also given us a lot of liberty right in terms of the content we want to play with. 

Now, Aashram is Prakash Jha’s foray into the world of series and it boasts of a huge ensemble cast but the beauty of Prakash Jha is that he makes each actor vital to the story. What was your takeaway from Prakash Jha, the director, and Prakash Jha, the human being? 

My first thought was that I was doing this immediately. I have admired Prakash Jha since I was a child. There are certain directors you never think you will get a chance to work with easily. It didn’t occur to me that I would ever get to work with him. He’s one of the few directors that my mother admires as well. Part of me also wanted to do something that my parents would like (laughs).  I did have a certain amount of doubt later after my initial yes because there were so many people involved. But I could never get myself to say no. I didn’t even ask to read the script, but I did get a narration. And as you said, Prakash sir is that person, who big or small, each character has been given importance and stands out. In Aashram, every character is written very beautifully, each character graph is very interesting. 

Apart from that, working with Prakash sir is the best thing that happened to me last year. I am in love with him. I have never been so kid-dish in front of a director. Whenever I see Prakash sir, I’m smiling. Initially, I was scared because his personality is so formidable. But he is such a chilled out person, so much fun, so giving, and so supportive. He makes you feel like an equal. You have to remind him that “sir, you are Prakash Jha.” I love him as a human being and as a director. 

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