Nushrratt Bharuccha on Ajeeb Daastaans, breaking out of her on-screen 'urban girl' image and working on Ram Setu

Seema Sinha
·7-min read

Nushrratt Bharuccha marked her Bollywood debut in 2006 and was seen in films like Jai Santoshi Maa and Kal Kisne Dekha before she got the big break with Dibakar Banerjee's critically acclaimed LSD: Love Sex Aur Dhoka, the 2010-release crime-drama that Bharuccha says played a big role in helping her reach where she's now. What further lifted her career was when she delivered her first commercial film Pyar Ka Punchnama (2011) where she shared the screen space with then-debutant Kartik Aaryan. The film's sequel came in after four years.

After a few hiccups, the actress finally found herself in the elite Rs 100 crore club with Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (SKTKS, 2018) and there was no looking back. Since then Bharuccha has been moving from one character to another -- from an urban girl in the Punchnama series to the role of a middle-class girl in Dream Girl (with Ayushmann Khurrana), a Haryanavi teacher in Chhalaang (opposite Rajkummar Rao) and now in a de-glam look in Ajeeb Daastaans. Off-late Bharuccha has been breaking the image with every new film that she is doing. In her latest, Netflix's anthology film Ajeeb Daastaans, she features in a segment called Khilauna, directed by Raj Mehta of Good Newwz fame. Khilauna presents the dark and twisted tale of a housemaid who is struggling to make ends meet, and provide for the best for herself and her little sister.

"We shot the film in November 2019 before the pandemic phase. But honestly, I didn't expect they would take this brave step and do it that dark. I thought they would tone it down and change certain things. But I am glad that the flavour of the film is retained and it is not diluted. I did the film for the sheer joy and the shoot required just eight to 10 days. It was one of those films that I took up essentially for the experience of it and the pure passion of telling such stories. It was really in its truest sense, a creative collaboration of all sorts. I absolutely loved those 10 days of shoot and working with Raj, Abhishek (Banerjee) and Inayat (Verma) on it. It was a very different role for me, and I worked really hard to get into the skin of the character so it's satisfying to see that the hard work has paid off this well," says the actress. "And my house-help was the perfect reference for me. I dug a little deeper into how her life is, how many jobs she is doing in a day, how she networks to find new jobs...Observation was the key element to get that body language right and then I literally practised at home by sweeping and mopping..learnt how they multi-tasked. All this took little time to understand and practise and by the time I went to shoot I had done that enough," she adds.

Ajeeb_Daastaans
Ajeeb_Daastaans

While many of the mainstream actresses would think twice to play a twisted character with grey shades, for Bharuccha that was not the case as she has played many unconventional parts and also finds such characters quite convincing. In fact, the actress is best known for playing a girl-next-door with a twist in the Punchnama series, and SKTKS. "If you look at my filmography, I have only played grey shades. I have often said and people have also said that I played a bitch in many of my initial films (laughs). Dream Girl and Chhalaang are the only two films where I played this positive heroine, simple girl-next-door but all the other characters that I have played so far have had some twists. And I love these kinds of complicated, layered characters because we can connect to that. Such is life," says Bharuccha.

She furthers, "For my character in Khilauna it's all about survival, so she never thought that what she is doing is not correct, and even if she is doing something that is morally wrong she is justifying herself. She knows that she is treading into the unsafe territory but she wants to brave it because she doesn't have any other option in life. I like that quality in her, she is not dumb, she knows that there would be serious repercussions but how bad can it be? How worse can it get? And that is the reason these films and such characters work because you can relate to them. You know they are around you and at some point in our lives everybody has done something grey."

While most actors don't find much difference between shooting for a feature film or a short, Bharuccha feels that it is a challenge to get to that exact emotion, exact rhythm, or sur of the scene and character in a very short time. "Of course, it is more difficult for the writer and the director to encapsulate the film in 30 to 40 minutes without getting much scope and time to build a character, build a world, build complexities, or build conflicts. You need to get there fast, you need to resolve everything fast while keeping the graph real, characters real and not making things look like too much of a coincidence. But actors' challenge is when we are at the last stage when we are performing, when we need to take into account something that is not even written. We are picking just those four scenes and trying to make a world of that character based on those four scenes. You have to use a lot of imagination to create a backstory of the character. Then you start thinking about what your character must have gone through at different stages in life. That is also very challenging and interesting because then it is left to your imagination. It is like a wide canvas through which you can create a whole new world," says the actress.

Bharuccha, who has broken the stereotype of her urban girl image in the most powerful ways with her last few performances, has more surprises in the bag with films like Vishal Furia's Chhori, Ram Setu alongside Akshay Kumar and Jacqueline Fernandez, and Hurdang with Vijay Varma and Sunny Kaushal. For someone who has had a long struggle of almost nine years, it is definitely a glorious time to be in. "Everybody has a path in their journey that they have to tread on and there is a reason why all of that happened to me for me to be here. If I change anything from what I went through I don't know where I would have been in my life and career. In a larger picture and larger scheme of things, you land up exactly where you are supposed to land up," philosophises Bharuccha, who has no regrets or resentments.

"I am in a good space because audiences have evolved, content has evolved, platforms have evolved where we have a chance and scope to break out of the mould of typical commercial Bollywood film heroines and do other things, and I strongly believe that that helps in increasing the lifespan of an actor. That is what I am going to enjoy as long as people let me," she adds.

A few days back the shoot of Ram Setu in Mumbai was halted after Akshay Kumar and few other crew members were tested covid positive, and Bharuccha says, "But I am glad that we could at least do those three days of shoot and we detected the problem in the time frame that we did and took the necessary precautions". And when asked if she feels bad about the roadblocks and hurdles due to the pandemic at a time when her career is fast rising, the actress says, "No, no, I am looking at a larger picture. It's not just about me. I feel bad for my producers and the whole unit because we came together and took all the precautions to have a safe shoot but unfortunately, we had this incident which you can't really help. I am a very small element here, there are people who are suffering to a larger degree. I consider myself lucky. I have all the basic necessities, I am blessed and I don't feel sad or unhappy about anything. There are much more things at stake and we have larger things to solve together as a human race. At this point of time we should forget actors and films, all that is irrelevant," she concludes.

Also See: Ajeeb Daastaans movie review: Neeraj Ghaywan gets KJo’s Dharma to acknowledge caste unequivocally

Abhishek Banerjee on Netflix anthology Ajeeb Daastaans: 'Took time to accept that this was happening at Dharma'

Konkona Sensharma on her clutter-breaking short in Ajeeb Daastaans: 'Was surrounded, supported by authentic voices'

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