Since the time I got hold of the script in my hand, till the day I was finished the last scene of the film (which was the court scene for us), I think I was constantly in and around this world, trying to work through what points I would want an audience member to see and what points, as an actor, I want to address. My mind was not just working as an actor, but also as an audience member. As a person who likes to challenge the conditioning of society, be it when I did Pink or when I did Mulk, it was always to challenge societal norms.
As an audience member then, I always wanted to figure out what I had been subjected to, and what I had seen happening around me. And if and how I should address those issues in the film and how should my character address it? It was constantly running through my head – this particular topic because it is so relevant. It is so topical, it makes you open your eyes wider, and open your mind more. All of us would look for ideas and inspiration – you are in and around this particular topic constantly.
I felt a sense of responsibility when shooting for Mulk. I was playing a Hindu but I had to keep things equal. I had to present the secular idea of what was taught to us, but presenting both sides of the coin. There was an intent, being a Hindu girl, married into a Muslim family, fighting for them, so I knew I had to be balanced and felt that sense of responsibility.
There have been now a few courtroom dramas, but many that show some over-the-top scenes. How did you manage to maintain a sense of professionalism and decorum required in a courtroom but the emotions as well? How did you maintain realism?
So, I’ll tell you honestly, from whatever feedback and research we did, we met with people with lawyers and people who work in the courtroom, I think you’d be surprised to know that in real court, things can actually be more dramatic than what we show in films.
There was a lawyer (a Supreme Court lawyer), who was there throughout whilst we were shooting for Mulk. He used to be there from the first shot to the last – so everything happens in accordance with the law. To make sure any of us playing lawyers could not violate the decorum in any way. He helped guide us.
Also, when we’re showing something so personal, where a family has been targeted because of religion, it becomes extremely personal when the lawyer representing your family is also a part of it. There was a very thin line I had to follow in order to be a lawyer but also be a part of the family – I couldn’t be as emotional because I am a lawyer; but I am also their daughter-in-law so I could also not be entirely detached, seeing them go through these issues in front of so many people.
The cast of the film is so impressive. When you are approached with the film, what made you say ‘yes’?
You said the cast is impressive and that entire credit goes to Anubhav Sinha, who was able to pull off this kind of casting coup I’ll say. When I was there to read the script, I think I was one of the first actors to actually be on board. At that point, everyone was in Anubhav’s head. I did not know who would play what part.
He called me and asked me to come to his office and read the entire script, and tell me right here if you are going to do this film. He was not like, you know, go back home – he’s like, either it shakes you or it doesn’t. Either you jump at it and you want to be a part of it, or you don’t. It is not a film in which you can calculate. Otherwise, you will not understand it.
When he said that, I didn’t even know what the film was about. He did not give me a brief or anything. He just gave me a script and asked me to answer one way or the other once I was done. So, I just sat in the office, read for 1.5 hours, and then I immediately said definitely to doing the film. There were no two ways about it. I was just shocked and slightly taken aback that someone had the guts to write it, make it, and spend their lifetime working on it. You just don’t know how people will take it, with the kind of situation we are currently in.
So how do you empathize?
I haven’t gone through anything like this firsthand, but I can empathize and think about, well, what if I was in the same position? How would I feel? I could feel that I could be a part of this topic – especially for my generation – before it goes towards a direction where there is no point of return. Our motive is to present them with a secular or a nuclear picture because things are so lopsided currently. Not to present what side ir right or wrong.
We spoke during Pink. You spoke about being in front of Amitabh Bachchan and it being a shock to the system. Rishi Kapoor sir has done very different roles and is from that vintage. What was the relationship was with him?
I think our screen space from Chashme Badoor really helped because we were familiar with each other when we came on Mulk. We had shot together initially so breaking the ice was not required.
But one thing, is the Punjabi background. We are both hardcore Punjabis – it helps us understand each other’s frequency. Everybody already knows about how hot-headed or opinionated or whatever you call him – but Rishi sir is all heart, out there. It was amazing for someone like him to come on board, because for me, he is the hero of the film. It is his story. How Pink was my story. This is about his family. at this position, he does not have to actually get into these kind of subjects. But the fact that he was willing to go through the effort of being in this film, and go through the look (which took over two hours) – so that is something I admire.
I’m not a huge Bollywood fan while growing up. I am not an obsessively crazy fan so I am not intimidated in that manner. What is intimidating is having to perform in front of these talented actors because you know the kind of stakes are involved and how bad you will stand out if you are not at par with them.
I remember entering the court sequences – and Ashutosh sir was entering before me. I actually told him how intimidated I was feeling right then. I just remember his performances in films, growing up. I just wanted the earth to swallow me. I told him that – he just laughed and he just encouraged me. It is intimidating to be standing in between them and performing.