Renée Sen on her debut with short film Suttabaazi, favourite Sushmita Sen films and shooting during the pandemic

Chintan Girish Modi
·7-min read

Renée Sen, who made her cinematic debut in January 2021 with Kabeer Khurana's short film Suttabaazi, is an actor to watch out for. She plays Diya, a 19-year-old social media star stuck at home with online classes and nagging parents in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The only respite is Diya's newly acquired habit of smoking on the sly.

Renée, unlike Diya, does not smoke, but she pulls off the role with ease and conviction. Her choice of this humble 13-minute film as a debut vehicle might seem unusual for a 'star kid' from Bollywood. However, she makes a strong impression with this performance, conveying that there is more to her than being former Miss Universe and actor Sushmita Sen's daughter.

Excerpts from an interview:

How was the experience of shooting for your debut film during a pandemic?

Shooting for my debut has been the best experience that I could have asked for. It was a lot of fun! Yes, there was a pandemic, but we took all the necessary safety precautions. We managed to finish the shoot in a very short time. The workshop took us a week and a half, and the actual shoot was just two days. It was fast! All of us were so enthusiastic about our work, and so excited for the film, that it really motivated me to do better in every shot.

A still from Suttabaazi. YouTube screenshot
A still from Suttabaazi. YouTube screenshot

A still from Suttabaazi. YouTube screenshot

What made you say yes to the role of Diya in Suttabaazi?

I loved how Diya had layers to her character. I had to show and express a lot in a span of 13 minutes. There were so many shades to her personality. We have all had a Diya inside us. The opportunity to bring that to life, and hopefully build a connection with the audience, is what made me really say yes. I enjoyed every bit of playing Diya.

Of all the compliments you have received so far, which ones have been the most memorable?

Every compliment, every suggestion, has been memorable because it has only made me want to work harder in my future projects. I will keep those things in mind. I feel that my mother's reaction, and my family's love towards the film, really made it memorable for me.

What are your favourite Sushmita Sen films?

It's a joy watching her on screen again and again and again. There are two films in particular that come to mind: Main Hoon Na, and Main Aisa Hi Hoon. But I feel that her work in Aarya is her best performance till date.

Sen with
Sen with

Sen with Komal Chhabria. YouTube screenshot

When you were preparing for the role in Suttabaazi, what kind of references did you draw upon from your life experiences, reading, and the films you have watched?

When I was preparing for the role of Diya, there was not necessarily a particular book or film that I took references from. It was a very internal process. I made Diya me, and I was Diya. Every day when I was doing something or saying something, I would change my thought process to: How would Diya think? How would Diya react?

I slightly embodied her for a while. In real life, I am nothing like her. That inner desire to go out and get some fresh air was something that I could relate to because we were all locked down but I didn't fight as badly as Diya. Of course, I too may have rebelled but not as much as Diya. Internalising the character really helped me figure out how Diya would act. It was neither very difficult nor very easy.

You have walked the ramp earlier. How did that experience help you while working on Suttabaazi?

Walking the ramp is very different from acting but it made me confident with having a lot of cameras around at the same time.

How did you benefit from the feedback you received from your director, and the senior actors you worked with on this film?

Every bit of feedback that I got from my director, Kabeer, was beneficial because it made me more aware of how I was performing. Sometimes, while acting, I would just go with the flow of my performance without necessarily being aware of what was happening around me. But acting is also about responding to your co-actors. Sometimes, in a minute of spontaneity, something we didn't expect would come out. That made me more aware as a person and as an actor.

I have two incredible parents in the film. Even in real life, Komal ma'am (Komal Chhabria) and Rahul sir (Rahul Vohra) are the nicest and the most helpful people to work with. They have been doing this for a long time. Their being patient and loving with me was a huge motivating factor. Komal Ma'am and I did bonding exercises where we would sit and look into each other's eyes and just be. That, I think, helped bring out the mother-daughter relationship we share in the film.

Rahul sir taught me to catch the light, which was fun. Learning with them hasn't been like: Okay, you have to sit and now you have to learn. I also learnt just by watching them, and through conversation. The entire filmmaking process was a period of continuous learning. I couldn't have asked for a better start. I am really grateful to everyone who has taught me on this film.

Suttabaazi begins with a disclaimer saying that all views regarding smoking belong only to the characters. What is your personal view as Renée, not Diya?

I have a very simple view on this. Smoking is injurious to health, so please don't smoke. Yes, that's all. Honestly, it's really not good for you. At the end of the day, it's ruining your health, so please please please do not smoke.

How do you feel about the fact that smoking is often associated with freedom, not only in feminist circles but also in popular culture?

Like you said, smoking is often associated with freedom or maybe even as a stress-buster. I personally feel that smoking is definitely not a good habit. I think it's the worst habit there is because it is only harmful to oneself and to people around.

The mother-daughter relationship in the film is incredibly special because there is a generation gap of sorts, which leads to conflict, but there is also an unusual moment of solidarity that brings them closer. How did you relate to it, given that you are very close to your mother?

Bringing the mother-daughter relationship to life on screen was not difficult for me at all because I'm very close to my mother. She has raised me and my younger sister to be strong, independent women, to be able to take decisions on our own, to live life on our own terms. Komal ma'am was my second mother. In real life too, she treats me like a mother would.

What I really connected to was when my character says, "Dad ke permission ki zaroorat kyun hai aap ko?" It is so important because the film also gives this message: "Why are you letting someone else dictate how you should live your life? You are an individual." I too feel that everybody has a right to live their life the way they want to and be happy, as long as it is not hurting anybody.

What did you learn about yourself as an actor while working on Suttabaazi? Would you have done anything differently, if you had a chance to do it all over again?

Suttabaazi taught me that I have to work on my awareness. That's definitely the most important thing. No matter what the situation is €" whether it's a good day or there are mess ups on the set -- I have to be able to give the perfect shot. I would not want to have it any other way. Working on this film has been an absolute joy. I am very happy it happened.

Would you mind sharing a little about the kind of films you are working on, or would like to work on?

I really want to grow as an actor and as a person. I don't have a particular type of film that I would like to do. I want to do all kinds of genres, and probably surprise myself. In terms of future projects, I think they will slowly come by. I am excited about what the future holds for me.

Watch Suttabaazi here €"

Chintan Girish Modi is a writer, educator and researcher who tweets @chintan_connect

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