Kirti Kulhari: When I started off, I was an outsider and I didn't know anything except films.

Speaking to a mind like Kirti Kulhari is like exploring the mind of someone who truly just loves the craft of acting. The fame may be a side effect, but when I picked up the phone to have a conversation with Kirti about her journey this past year, with some phenomenal roles, and generally, her headspace today, it truly was exactly about acting. Her work speaks for itself, and here’s what we found out in speaking with her. 

Kirti, You’ve had a journey which started some time ago, but this particular year has been fantastic. I've watched episodes of Four More Shots Please, I've watched Uri, and I really want to watch Mission Mangal. It's been a fantastic year for you. You’ve gone from one promotional spree to another. You have Bard of Blood coming out. What is the headspace like right now? What is your emotional level at? What does it feel like?

K: I'm feeling very fortunate right now. You know what I mean? You keep working hard on things you believe in and finally, they all start bearing fruit at some point and a very sweet one at that. When you get success for things you’ve been working hard for, it's obviously very gratifying and you feel very content. Of course, I'm in a very happy state for everything that’s coming my way. The way my work is being received by people, I’m being appreciated by people. I also feel very validated in the sense that I’m on the right path. The choices I’m making as an actor are being respected and well-received. While that's not the case always and that can't always be the case and you should keep doing what you believe in but it's nice to be acknowledged for all you're doing and I feel all of that. I think I’ve got some interesting work coming my way and that's the most important thing for me. And I’m hoping it just gets bigger and better from here. I’m able to do more work.

One of my favourite films of yours was Indu Sarkar. I’m a huge Madhur Bhandarkar fan actually so I tend to watch a lot of his films. What I’ve seen throughout your journey is, you don't have a particular way in which you’re marketing yourself. In this day and age, in the last 3-4 years, what we've seen is a surge of social media, airport looks - a lot of the extracurricular activities that happen outside of being an actor. With you, what I’m finding is, even when I trace 5 years back, it's always about acting. Yeah, you have Instagram and all of that, but you seem very sorted. You've always had a sense of assurance - that's what it comes across to the viewer when watching your interviews and promotions. Has it always been like that? Or has that been a development/an evolution?

K: It hasn't always been like that because I was a different person ten years ago, three years ago. You're always changing and always growing. You understand what your failures teach you and what your success teaches you. So, of course, I was not always this person who is “sorted”, I’m still not. But yes, some people still may find me a little more sorted than others around me. And that's why it seems like nonetheless, I have some things sorted, but I still have a lot more to sort out,  which I think will happen in the future. And if you are aware of it and if you are consciously making an effort to sort yourself out or sort your life out then it happens. When I started off, I was an outsider and I didn't know anything except films. Films are what I always wanted to do. But what kind of films? Was I making the same choices that I might make today? No, I wasn't. I’ve never really had any training in acting so I just knew Bollywood and Bollywood was all about being a heroine - and today I understand the difference. I can never call myself a heroine. In Indu Sarkar, I played the titular role, in Pink, we were all together. I do a lot of ensemble work. In Uri, I had a special appearance. For me, I’m an actor and I’m playing a character - I’m not able to see it any other way. 

So, is it the character that matters?

You know, people try and when journalists talk to you or when fans connect with you, they're like ma’am, you know we want to see you in videos and give their opinion on what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. I just want to stay away from being seen a certain way. It is my personal fight to maybe just bring back the idea of what it really means to call yourself an actor. An actor doesn't look at whether I am the main person in this film. Or am I the second main person or am I just not important. You don't look at that. You look at the character you are playing and how you are playing it.  

I am not okay with being stereotyped or looked at a certain way. Through the roles I’m doing, I'm constantly trying to break any images that are being formed at any point in time. If I am doing a Uri where I have fight scenes, I can still be noticed and people can still remember Seerat Kaur and next film you will see me with 4 other girls where I am leading the show. I'm not okay with being bracketed, stereotyped or looked at a certain way. I think through the roles that I am doing, and the length of the role, I’m always trying to break any images that are being formed at any point of time. I know it's not an easy one. You know, everyone likes to follow the walked path which is easy. You have the path in front of you. But this is something that I am becoming more and more aware of.  I just want to make my own path and have other followers - and I’m sure there are other aspiring actors out there and it's important for them to understand what it means to be an actor. It is very important at this point. 

Do you feel the pressure of making certain choices though, with the advent of social media?

Because everyone is so hung up on the idea of it, of being something more than an actor. I don't know what it is. Some people are not really actors but it’s just cool to call yourself an actor. You know, so many people in the industry just call themselves an actor when there is nothing about them that is actor-like. You know, so it's like a few things are getting sorted, I’m understanding things on a daily basis and I’m understanding what kind of person I want to be, who do I want to be? What is the kind of actor I want to be? So at the end of the day, it's all choices. Choices at any point in time. As you know, when I started off, I thought I had to be the heroine and that this is the kind of work that happens here and this is what I want to do. So I think as I started learning acting, I started doing theatre, I started being exposed to foreign cinema, I understood that just acting is better. I started getting attracted towards things that were not very conventional. You know, I have also done a couple of so-called commercial things but it is just a very organic thing that has happened for me where I'm not trying to be a certain way and I'm not trying to make a certain image of myself but it just so happened that the roles that I get are so tempting and I feel like there is so much that I will learn through it. Like in Indu Sarkar, I mean just the fact that she stammers, for me, just learning that was so satisfying. For me, the process is very important. For me, the journey is more important than the end destination. So I'm also learning about creating a balance between my commercial standing in the industry plus also being known for good roles, so I’m kind of trying to balance between both, but I mean I'm a very greedy actor. And I would love to explore roles that are tough and not easy to get. I mean that's what is driving me that even if I want to make a safe choice, even if I want to do the same work, somehow, my whole being is not allowing me to do that. I'm just moving towards more meaningful stuff, stuff that I enjoy doing. Stuff that has something in it to offer. So all of it put together, you know, you make choices and life makes choices for you. And now it's just all happening very organically, very spontaneously and it just showed me my path.

It's an industry that when you're low, it's very low and when you're high, it's the highest of highs. Were you ever at a point where you didn't know if it was worth it? As you said, there are lots of people in the industry who put themselves out to be so-called actors. In this rat race, where you’re still competing with the “heroine formula” and there are projects around that focus on the woman being just a side character, which isn't adding much to the story of the film. How do you deal with that as an actor? Or does it affect your morale?

K: What helps me deal with this is the fact that I don't choose to be that side character who’s not important to the plot, who is just there for other reasons. There are heroines who do films that are so male-dominated, that all they have in the film is a couple of songs or scenes, and they're also marketed or projected as a typical heroine - and that film becomes their film - whereas they don't have much to do with the film. On the other hand, I do an Uri, and you have seen the film, it's not just that I'm doing a special appearance. The role I play in the film is super important. The mission would be incomplete without me. Some people might not see why I chose to do that role and in my head, I'm like do you have any bit of wisdom or intelligence in you to ask me that question?

I would rather have five scenes and have a greater impact as an actor and character than be in the film for its entirety and do nothing. So if this the choice I’m given constantly, I would always choose the former. So that's really clear in my head and I think people in the industry get that so nobody offers me shit. So whenever anyone comes to me, it's very strong. People know that there is one person that can do this, I’m one of the names that comes up and for me, that is important, the fact that I have created that space in the industry that when people think of good actors, they think of me and I’m very happy in that space. During the journey, there have been multiple times when I have gone down and not known what to do next. There are so many phases when you're not doing well and things aren't happening for you - and even though you're not ready to give up, you almost want to because you're doubting yourself. You're wondering if this is meant for you. You're figuring it all out, time and again. 

At the same time, I’ve decided that the day I don't like acting, I'll give it up, even if I'm on top I'll give it up. Because for me, the process is what gets me going. Like I can't tell you the kind of energy that I feel when I’m working on a role, when I’m preparing for a role, when I'm having discussions with my writers, directors and co-actors, figuring out scenes and figuring out characters. Like that's for me, when I’m shooting or giving a shot, when I'm putting myself out there for me, that is what gets me going. And the day I don't enjoy it, I will not do it. So even during my low times, I know I love acting. And I think that's one reason why I stuck around and didn't let it get the better of me. 

I also kept working on my craft, and I do a lot of that through theatre. So even if you don't see me in a feature, even if you don't see me actively working, because I had the time and I wanted to learn more, I was almost always involved in a play. And that took like 4-5 months. Every day you're in that creative space, every day you are learning something and your craft is getting better - and I knew that when it is my time, my craft is what is going to get me there. And my craft is going to be my USP, that’s what is going to differentiate me from the rest. And that's exactly how it is now. So even when you feel down, you have to get up and do what you need to do if you really want to do it and that's something that has kept me going and as I said, using the same energy, towards channelling it towards becoming a better actor rather than sulking on the side.

I think it's paying off because you have such great projects coming up. You've shot with Parineeti Chopra. A Girl on the Train. You have season two of Four More Shots Please. You have a film coming up in which you play a musician. When you're going through this headspace, It's almost as if you're going back to back to back to back. Are you switching on and off? You talked about having a break and in that time, you do theatre to make sure you're working on your craft. But how are you going from one character to another? Are you able to stop, pause, take a deep breath and reflect?

K: Honestly, I'm actually not used to working so much. You don't see me doing a lot of work. This year, somehow I've been actually working from day one. So yes, it is actually very tough for me to just switch on and switch off and go to another role. And it's not so much about switch on/off. I'm somebody who can give a shot and switch off. I mean there is a lot of preparation that I’ve done. There is mental activity. Figuring out a lot of things, understanding a lot of things as the character. But I’m very switch on/switch off. I don't take my characters back home. I do my work but then I leave it there. What is tough for me is, doing one project and then straightaway getting into another project. I always make sure I have the time to take a break before getting into something new. I take a two-week minimum. 

As I said, I take this work very seriously and I’m trying to give myself and the audience a different experience of me as a character every time - and that requires work. I can't be Kirti Kulhari in every single film. Of course, I am the same person. But, I need to get as close to the character I’m playing, rather than giving you the same thing every time. If I were to do that, then I could probably work for the whole year. But I don't work like that. I need time to sit down with my directors, writers discuss everything, prepare a background for my character and go through every line. There is a lot that goes into it. That's the fun part for me. So if I just move from one set to another, that's not fun for me. It's the process in between that's fun for me. So I have to take out time to firstly mentally, physically and emotionally come out of the project I've just finished, take a break to get back my energy and recharge. Experience life to some extent, which I do a lot through travelling. That way I can be fresh for the next one. And then again take a break and all. So London was great, I was so exhausted working back to back. I was on antibiotics for three months because I was falling sick continuously. So it takes a toll. For me, nothing else is important if I’m not feeling well. So that takes a priority for me. So thankfully London was a great mix of just chilling, taking care of myself, getting back my energy and shooting this film. And now that I’ve come back, I feel recharged I feel like I'm ready to take on something new and do justice to it. So I think breaks are very important and I will make sure I take them so that I can work in films for a longer time, otherwise I will exhaust myself of everything creatively as well. 


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Armin Sethi

Bollywood Film Fame Canada has been a source of original content consisting of real conversations, reviews, and news of everything film, music, and entertainment for 15 years.

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