Now that the film is on OTT and has a wider reach, it will also lead to more appreciation as well as criticism. Do you let negative reviews bother you?
I’ve been in the industry for almost 18 years, and in so much time, you learn to take the good with the bad. As an actor, you do your best whenever you take up a project. You want the audience to appreciate the work that you put in, but again they are honest. That makes me realise that it’s impossible to make people happy all the time. Some people will enjoy it, some will criticise it–and a lot of times it is positive criticism. I think the important thing is that I choose to focus on the positives. Criticism only helps you grow as an actor.
I’m super excited that, given the scenario in India, and that we had a very limited theatrical release, a larger amount of people are going to be able to watch this now. And so far, I’ve been extremely blessed and grateful for all the feedback that’s come my way from people that have watched the film on the big screen.
What was your first reaction when you were approached to play Indira Gandhi?
The first time when Akshay actually approached me for the film was in May 2020, I genuinely thought that he was sitting at home, pranking me. I thought I was the chosen victim of the day, who would be called and told, ‘
Haan tu Indira Gandhi ban jaana’. So, my initial reaction was to ask him if he was bored sitting at home (laughs).
When I realised that he was being serious… See, for any female actor, it would be the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to portray such an iconic character, but it also made me very nervous. Her life has been so well documented; she’s been a very revered person, and a lot of people also had issues with her policies and the decisions that she made. So there was a massive responsibility to portray her accurately. Plus, I look nothing like Mrs Indira Gandhi, which was a massive challenge as well.
But your transformation garnered a lot of attention and a lot of focus was on you around the film’s release…
When you’re going into a film, you’re only focused on doing what you can—to give it your 100 per cent commitment. I don’t think any actor really focuses on how will people react to it. The first important thing is being honest to the role. Only once it has been shot and ready to be released do you wonder what the audience is going to think of it.
You’ve said that Mahesh’s reaction to your ‘Bell Bottom’ look was that he didn’t want to hug you. How did you react when this happened?
When I stepped out as Indira Gandhi, everybody started behaving very strangely—people were extremely polite, they were standing up taller. That was actually quite special and different. Once you’re dressed and in character, you kind of also imbibe the body language of the character that you’re playing. I remember Akshay sitting next to me on the couch while a shot was being set up, and just staring at my look. And then Mahesh showed up on the set just when we had all gathered in a tent for lunch. I was in my ‘Indira Gandhi’ look with an apron tied around my saree when he walked in and just froze. He went, ‘Okay, I don’t know, am I supposed to give you a hug? I don’t want to hug you; you don’t look anything like my wife’. I was speechless, but when I looked at myself, I understood what he was coming from (laughs).
We got to see you in a film after a long time. Are you being choosy about work now?
Yes, I am choosy. As I said, I’ve been here for 18 years, and I think the advent of the digital space in India has changed so much, especially for female actors. I’m doing some of the best work that I’ve done in the last decade in my life! You’re no longer relegated just to playing somebody’s girlfriend, wife, or long-suffering mother on screen anymore. The characters which are being written for women are more layered today. So yes, I don’t want to do the things that I was constantly doing.
Earlier, you had a lot of different reasons for doing a film. Today, from an acting point of view, I just want to come out and surprise the audience. I’m very glad about all the reactions that have come my way with this. Of course, there are people who have wondered as to why would I want to play an older character on screen but I don’t understand the logic. Which female actor wouldn’t want to play Indira Gandhi in her lifetime onscreen?
Saira is too young right now, but if she expresses a desire to get into films later, what would you advise her?
She’s too young; at this moment, she has absolutely no inclination to join. She’ll form her own path. Mahesh and I both are incredibly supportive of just giving her the best life that we can give her right now, keeping her grounded and focused on the things that she loves. I am sure she’ll find her own passion and follow it.
Mahesh and you completed 10 years of marriage. What has changed in this decade of partnership and what has remained unchanged between the two of you?
All people who are married know that it’s not easy. It’s literally a partnership. It’s about two people, working every single day to make the partnership work. Mahesh and I both come from similar backgrounds and have had humble beginnings. Our parents on both sides worked extremely hard to give us the opportunities that we’ve had in life. And so, we understand the value of hard work; we’re both very respectful of each other and very considerate of each other’s careers. He’s extremely supportive of mine.
We had made a deal when we found out that I was pregnant with Saira–that, at any given point of time, one parent will be with her. And in the last 10 years, we’ve managed to keep that promise. So, when I’m doing a film, Mahesh makes sure that he’s with her at all times. If he’s away at work–when he is actively playing on the tennis tour–I take a sabbatical and make sure that I am present in my daughter’s life. As you grow, your relationship evolves. Ten years later, Mahesh and I are stronger, kind, respectful, and considerate towards each other.