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Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar

Just as she walks into the room while we are waiting for her at Janak, there’s a sudden burst of energy. “Were you’ll offered tea/coffee, biscuits?” is the first thing she enquires, making sure one is comfortable. Evidently, her charm has more to do with her soul apart from the mesmerising outside. In the middle of a long day, just as ‘Sarbjit’ releases, she makes time out for a chat to speak all about the film and balancing work with motherhood….

“I have a very full personal life and very full professional life because of my attitude towards work”

With the kind of appreciation that ‘Sarbjit’ got at Cannes and even otherwise, what is the feeling like?

Firstly just the kind of scale and amount of worked packed in such a short span of time for this film is incredible. This is the fastest film of my career and I can’t believe, we’ve shot, completed the film, took it to Cannes and released it so fast. And I couldn’t be there at the screening of the film there because of the other commitments and media interactions as the L’oreal brand ambassador. But it’s overwhelming that we got such a reaction. Although, I find it awkward to use the word ‘happy’ for this film because the subject is so sensitive. It’s all just overwhelming.

What has been the most difficult part about this one?

It’s a big huge responsibility. With this film and even when I did ‘Provoked’, I used to just tell the director, that we will have to be very sensitive with the subject. It was necessary to retain the sensitivity and we all recognised that as a team. If Sarbjit’s family have let us into their lives and allowed us to share that with the rest of the world, it’s a huge responsibility. Apart from that, the process for every film is the same in the sense that you embrace the script and recognise the perspective of the director. Your production also plays an important role. For instance, for this film, we weren’t told to make a small budget film but I felt that the budget should be tight because this is a sensitive film. We want people as investors to feel that it’s a success so that such subjects can be made. That’s the nature of the industry. So, the budget had to be tight and for that you need to pack so much in a day. Those are the kind of challenges for a film like this.

Of course, you’ve also paid a lot of attention to the detailing of your character….

Because my character would go through such a range in terms of ageing, you kind of make your own little assessment so that it doesn’t look technical or fake. So, I worked it around with Omang. Factors like if she’s roaming in the sun or is in stress, how grey will her hair be or how will her skin become had to be kept in mind. In stress, you either put on weight or lose weight. We had to make it all look seamless, that’s again the detailing for which I had to make my own chart, me and this one assistant, we went nuts. So, the preparation was a lot more technical and emotionally the writing was very strong.

I think our Utkarshini has done a brilliant job. See for me, getting into the character, genuinely, ‘main use saraswati maanti hoon’. That for me is very precious, so I become the character just naturally. I didn’t even really meet Dalbir ji before the film started. Thankfully, she has been documented very well in the media, so I could see those videos and I got her vibe. I didn’t need to meet her. She came on the set on the first or second day of shoot and that’s when I met her. That time also we were doing such an emotional scene when Dalbir and Sarbjit meet in the prison after 18 years, just on the first day of shoot.

Is it difficult to snap out of characters like these?

When I said yes to the film is when I knew that this is going to be a very emotional experience. Because the writing is so good, you easily get into the moment. Everyday we had a lot going. I’ve given so much of my soul to ‘Sarbjit’ everyday, I was completely invested in it but at the end of the day, I am Aaradhya’s mom so I would immediately get out of it once we finished shooting. If I was a single actor, not having any other life, I would have thought about it everyday on my way back home, but now there is no question of carrying that baggage with you. You’re completely living that character for that moment and then you’re out of it. That was the idea of doing the film. It is to give a voice to such experiences. Such stories are captured on celluloid, at least for that time you made people realise what’s happening around us. If you are someone like Dalbir, and you’re making so much effort, you run the risk of being judged also, but then you also have a larger hope. So for all these reasons I was happy to be on board.

“I’ve given so much of my soul to ‘Sarbjit’ everyday, I was completely invested in it but at the end of the day, I am Aaradhya’s mom so I would immediately get out of it once we finished shooting”

When you live such varied experiences as an actor, does it somewhere change your perspective or enrich you in any way?

That’s why we are blessed for the job that we do, and it’s true for you’ll also. Whether our lives get impacted, yes sure, but not that you’re consciously thinking about it! Genuinely change is the only constant, experience is the greatest teacher and I think we are blessed that we get to call our work, our passion and our life actually gets enriched because somewhere we are in touch with humanity and emotions on a daily basis.

Because you’re so invested in every film, would you also like turn producer someday?

That’s an interesting question simply because the thought crosses your mind considering the way in which I have worked on every one of my films. It’s true that I am so invested as a professional that you can club me into anything. Like here, they would laugh and call me an AD, I’m a part of everything (laughs). Then I’ll also be thinking as a producer. I have always been a director, producer, writer, co-actor’s actor. But I cannot just take on more responsibility to prove a point or for a headline, which is not what I’ve ever been. I always take on as much as I can on my plate. I have a very full personal life, very full professional life because of my attitude to work, so everything that I take on is full throttle. So maybe when that happens, it’ll happen.

How has the transition from motherhood back to films with ‘Jazbaa’ been? You seem to be balancing both pretty well!

It is tough to explain the dynamic. Even I didn’t know how I would deal with it. I would joke and tell my mother that you are also a mother of an 18-year old for the first time. My point it, every day you are also a mother of a child for the first time so there is no rule book. You take each day as it comes. Nobody can say this will happen and that will happen. When I got Jazbaa, I liked the subject. Again I evidently, didn’t want to play into the pressure of which is the first film she will do after motherhood because I have never worked around these headlines. Even when people wondered which is the first film I’ll do after marriage, I went and did ‘Sarkar Raaj’ and ‘Pink Panther’. I don’t want to play into now what and why. If a film comes, I like it, it’s an interesting team, I want to do it. Around the phase around ‘Jazbaa’, I was discussing a lot of subjects and when Sanjay Gupta said he was ready to roll, I came on board. Wonderfully as it panned out, it was a fabulous team to work with, and I had never played a lawyer before. I knew that the pace again would be very fast and you got to come all guns blazing. In the hindsight, it was actually a perfect film for me as Aaradhya’s mother to have embraced the same rhythm as well as new rhythm of working. It was just 8-9 days a month of crazy work in full throttle. You are doing double the work during those days but as it worked out, I would drop her to play school and go to shoot and most days also pick her up. On days that I couldn’t, my mom would pick her up and bring her to work. By the time she’s on the way, her nap would also be done and then she would join me. It was also the kind of film where post afternoon it would involve lighting and I would get breaks and while coming back we would be stuck in the traffic for 2 hours, so why should I lose out time with my daughter? That time would be utilised to have a mother-daughter bonding. So even personally, Jazbaa worked out brilliantly. I will always love that film forever. And now by the time we moved to ‘Sarbjit’, she’s grown up. We still refer to the vanity van as bus office, then Janak office, dubbing office. We have these terms, so it’s office for her (laughs). But now there’s an understanding from her end as well.

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