The Media Is Just as Responsible for Nepotism: Anushka Sharma

There’s a wide smile plastered on Anushka Sharma’s face when I meet her at the lounge at the Yash Raj Films office. Sui Dhaaga has been enjoying a great run at the box office and critics and audiences have praised Anushka’s turn as the meek Mamta.

In between our conversation she suddenly asks, “Are you from Bangalore? I can tell from your accent.” This spontaneity finds its way into most of her answers as she candidly talks about her career, nepotism and why being ‘de-glam’ is no big deal.

Anushka Sharma in Sui Dhaaga.

You’ve said that a big deal was made out of the fact that your look in Sui Dhaaga was de-glam, but isn’t it true that there’s so much pressure on female actors to look a certain way?

Anushka Sharma: I feel like that pressure is fine because you’re seeing them as these cine stars or whatever at an awards show or events like those. Over there I’m happy to dress up and look glamorous. As a girl I enjoy it! But for films, why should actresses look glamorous? We’re playing characters. That’s why I find it strange when people call it risky. Honestly its risky if I’m playing someone like Mamta and am wearing lipstick and my hair is in place. With each film I do I want to transform myself into that character, and you shouldn’t see traces of Anushka anywhere, that’s the real success for me.

The reason I say not wearing make-up is the easiest thing because people make a big deal of the effort that you’ve put which is actually very silly. Its the prerogative of the make-up artist, the costume designer and the hairstylist are responsible for the way I look in the film. Clover, my make-up artist has studied women like Mamta and then come up with this look...even small nuances like curls around my face. I feel like we get so caught up with this obsession over no make-up that we very easily give compliments for it.

"My make-up artists though have often complained to me that why do you want to be so much like the character, nobody else is doing that. But for me I feel more secure if I am looking the character. Also for all the people saying I’ve gone de-glam, when have I looked very glamorous? The only film I can think of is Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and even there I created a reason for that in my head that my character was insecure and has got self-esteem issues and so will dress overtly. " - Anushka Sharma

Anushka Sharma in a still from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

I also want to tell you about this one instance, where there was this journalist who told me that, “I’ve not liked you in this role, because you don’t look glamorous.” He didn’t understand how wrong it was what he was saying to me, but he kept saying the same thing again and again. Thank God, the audience is accepting us in this different avatars, I feel like they are sometimes more evolved than our own industry.

Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan in a still from Sui Dhaaga.

I noticed that your head was always down and your shoulders stooped. What went into playing someone as submissive and quiet as Mamta?

AS: As an actor firstly I have an inherent ability to understand the tonality of the film. Secondly, I think you can understand any character if you understand yourself fully. So enhance qualities of your own that work for the character and suppress ones that don’t. I tend to react to things very quickly, whereas Mamta doesn’t have the luxury of doing that. I knew that her opinions were not going to be encouraged - not that she doesn’t have any - but just that she never had an environment to exercise it. Even in the film, the instances where she speaks out are when people ask her to.

"As Mamta, every expression is controlled, I laugh very freely but she would cover her face and laugh. Strangely on other films it’s taken me three to four days to become that person, but on this one, it happened on the first day. We went on set a week earlier, spent time in that house. I learnt to control the pallu of my saree, spent some time in the kitchen of the house. I would make the rotis instead of the prop guys, which was quite funny actually.  "

You’re not a trained actor, so is this the sort of preparation you always do? Or for some films do you rely on spontaneity?

AS: I always prepare, and create a graph for the character like where does she start and end in the film. Then when I’m on set, I don’t overthink. I stay in the present and that can’t happen if you’re constantly thinking, especially when I’m playing someone like Mamta who is so different. I would immediately question what I’m doing because I’m uncomfortable doing something that is not like me. I just then started killing that voice inside me. Basically I just need to be completely convinced when I’m doing something.

Do you feel like the more successful you get the more the walls around you increase and these rooted characters that you’re trying to play become difficult to grasp because you’ve moving away from reality?                                                                                       

AS: I feel that you can play any character because there is access to so much information about anyone around you. With experiences, yes one can’t experience everything, I don’t think most urban people for example have experienced Mauji or Mamta’s life. But you need to use your intelligence and see that given basic things like the social structure, I would wonder how much of a voice would she have been given in her childhood and the answer would be not much. That I can understand because I’m aware as a person and also because I’m constantly observing people.

"I’m very interested in knowing people. Sometimes I ask such weird questions that you might think that I’m judging you but I just want to understand how you think, how you react to things. It really helps, in fact I’ve been asking questions since I was young."

Anushka sharma with Rajkumar Hirani on the sets of Sanju.

You’ve worked with some of the best directors in the country, what makes a good director?

AS: Someone who is a great leader. Also actors, we are very vulnerable- you’re crying in front of hundreds of people, being slapped around - so it’s quite hard. A good director is someone who can understand that vulnerability and work around that.  Generally I’m also very awkward with appreciation but the only people I need it from are my directors. When I’ve done a shot, nobody but the director can objectively tell you how you did it.

"I enjoy working with Raju Hirani because he is crystal clear, so even if you have a doubt about what you’re doing, he’ll remove that doubt. He’ll say that he doesn’t want that in the first place. He is also a great manipulator of emotions, and you understand that. One of the great things about his set is that everything works like clockwork, if the scene is supposed to finish at 5 it will finish exactly at that time, which is super rare. Anurag Kashyap on the other hand works in mayhem but on the sets of Bombay Velvet, there was so much passion to make films that as an actor I felt very alive."

Anushka Sharma played a jazz singer in Bombay Velvet.

Are you more immune to the failure of a film now? I remember you saying that the failure of Bombay Velvet felt like a death in the family.

AS: I think failure is the best thing. If a film does well, I don’t have this inflated feeling of success that wow such a great thing. I feel a sense of relief that my choices have been right so I can continue to make those choices. When my conviction is rewarded with success, it’s a good feeling. Failure allows me to check myself that am I taking the wrong decisions. This place (Bollywood) is such that it can really fool you.

"I don’t keep yes men around me. I can suss out people who are trying to give me an inflated sense of ego and I don’t want these people around me. I’m always very doubtful of people who compliment me, you can call it a persecution complex but I think it helps. "

With Bombay Velvet, the way the criticism came was horrible. At that time I don’t think I was zen-like about it, but its been a while since then and for me it’s been about my personal growth as an individual over anything else. I love working in films, that I can probably shift things with the movies I do, but ultimately I am only working on myself.

You had an interesting take on the nepotism debate. You said “I don’t grudge star children, but I was making decisions everyday about things that I had no idea about.” What were these decisions?

AS: You’re taking calls on your career without being consulted by somebody who really knows about the industry. My parents can’t consult me. They’d say ‘Oh he’s a really good actor, you should do this film.” But that film would not have much for me to do, so should I really do it? I never had the luxury of going to people and seeking that help. Also what was difficult for me was accepting fame, which I don’t think I have accepted till date. But when you’re not brought up in a film family, you realise that when you go to a party, they’re still these movie stars for you. Even when you interact with people, it’s different. I can’t explain it but it is different.

You’re running a production house. How can one increase the influx of outsiders, is the problem that the industry is very disorganised?

AS: I think it has happened a lot. I am an example of it, so is Ranveer Singh. In fact Yash Raj has introduced a lot of talent from outside the industry. The opportunities and chances are much lesser but I feel like you can’t just blame the industry.

"It’s the media also. The media is writing about star kids because they feel like their lives are important and people reading it also feel the same. No one is really interested in the life of an army officer’s daughter from Bangalore. For a star kid, you can get reactions from parents and so all that makes it a more interesting read, at least at the beginning of your career. The industry that launches them because the hype is so much, the environment is only such. "

I agree, star kids have hundreds of Instagram fan pages even before their film has released.

AS: Exactly, so it is very easy to blame the industry, but it’s a larger issue. Which is why my stand is different. Of course nepotism exists but there a lot of a reasons for it. So let’s understand the environment instead of just blaming one party.

What are the plans for your production house Clean Slate, what is the slate going to look like?

AS: The future looks very exciting because we are going to be doing a show with Amazon Prime, which will go on floors in January. Sudeep Sharma who wrote NH10 and Udta Punjab will be the showrunner of the show. Also I’m not going to be acting in it, which is a real victory for me and Clean Slate that people are willing to accept content from us even if I’m not in it. There are some movies also in the pipeline, again not all will have me acting it, but yes exciting times ahead!

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