SHAHANA GOSWAMI & MAANVI GAGROO
Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR
They’re aren’t the quintessential Hindi cinema heroines – despite the fact that they’ve grown up being Madhuri Dixit fans, dancing to her songs. But somehow, naturally one sees them as unique – be it their work so far, the more natural style of acting or the approach, managing to carve their own niche path. While Shahana Goswami is known for some critically acclaimed films, including international work, Maanvi Gagroo is a web-series star. These ladies are honest, bindaas and intelligent! Find all that out in this chat, where they speak about their upcoming release, ‘Tu Hai Mera Sunday’ and cinema in general…
What is it that you’ll really liked about ‘Tu Hai Mera Sunday’?
Shahana: For me it was the script and for a lot of us, it was the language of the film. The way we talk in the film is very much how we talk in real life and that gets reflected very less in our cinema. The mix of Hindi and English, each person speaks a different kind of Hindi and English, Bombay has its own English and Hindi. So, it’s a right mix of all that in a way that you forget you’re watching a film, you think you’re just following a bunch of friends somewhere. The second thing specifically was about characters. I’d say, every character is very well structured. When you watch the film, I don’t think you come out not remembering any one of them. As a woman, I feel that a lot of women like us, don’t find the right representation of our reality – modern, global, urban, upper middle-class women. That we don’t see being represented much in cinema. In this film, all the female characters are people that you see around or what you yourself are like. They’re all people who are strong but in a quiet way. They’re not underlined, they’re not made into devis, they’re not put up on a pedestal, they are women who are going about their lives but you can admire them for their strength and perseverance towards life. So, I think these are the things which drew me towards it.
Maanvi:Yes, she’s actually spoken for both of us. We’re both very instinctive actors while choosing a film or project. It’s more about the vibe which you get from everything – from the script, makers in general. We got a very positive vibe from this from the word go. It was so light yet meaningful. It is not frivolous in the name of light. It feels like our story, and that’s why it feels light. They’re very normal characters and there’s a quiet strength about them, and not in the face.
Shahana: It’ll make people appreciate women around you in a different light.
Has it been difficult to find more such roles which you see yourself doing?
Shahana: I would say that everything I’ve done are things that have come to me. Of course there are things you say no to. But the fact that things that have shaped your career have come to you, the fact that such roles exist is the biggest luck factor. It also means that there is some synergy between the choices you make and the makers of those kind of movies. That’s something which I’ve been lucky with. Therefore I don’t call it a struggle. My personal journey has been a series of luck and co-incidences. Maybe the only thing that I inadvertently ended up doing is that I can only be myself as an actor and I can only project myself in the way that I feel and how to be as an actor. Maybe that worked for some people and those are the kind of people I want to work with. Now the only thing that I understand and have no resentment about is that, there are many films that have an interesting female character or the female character is a central character, but those films always need a big star to bring the audience in, for the business aspect of it. That’s the way it is. It’s not some evil structure. I understand why it happens like that. But why the virtue of that, I realise that some things that I want to do end up going to the bigger stars because I cannot guarantee many people coming and watching my film. Yet, the fact that I have got work from all over the world, randomly based on previous work, means I’m doing something right. Then it’s my job to choose correctly. And that’s something I’ve focused on, instantly. The only conscious choice I make is to avoid typecast. After ‘Rock On!!’ there’s been a lot of typecasting. I still get a lot of mother roles and I have to fight that because I realise that I’ve played a mother at 22 and now at 31, I’m still getting those. I’ve missed out that whole section of playing characters that were in the 20s. Now the 30s are the new 20s so there are younger characters but I still get roles which are of 40-45 year olds just because I played older when I was young. That’s something I’ve consciously tried to break down as a barrier. With this film, people see a different side of me. People think I’m dark and serious because of the kind of roles I’ve played but for real, I’m out there, laughing all the time so this character is more relatable to how I am. So, I’m glad this film explored a new side of me.
And do you think the advent of digital content further helps actors like you? Despite the fact that many think it poses a threat to cinema?
Maanvi Gagroo: What has happened with Netflix and all coming in, is that we as people have been exposed to some very good content. I don’t think our generation watches TV anymore and then if we watch a film which isn’t up to the mark, we feel disappointed. It is affecting content in a good way. And I think, there should never be a dearth of good content as it will only help better content to be created. It’s healthy competition. Good content on the web will push good content in the movies and vice versa.
Has that also helped you evolve as actors?
Maanvi: I believe that for you to get better at your craft, you have to evolve as a person, otherwise you’ll be stuck. If your kind of experiences are the same then your output will be the same. So, you need to have newer experiences. We’re all walking pieces of emotions, so for us, to dip into that pool, we need to have exposure to it. Empathy is a big factor. At least the kind of acting we do, which is also evolved. I’m a huge Madhuri fan, now if you see her films, you still love it, but when you see those films you realise, it’s slightly over-the-top for today’s day and age. Although, for that era, it was tremendous. We’re lucky that way, for being able to move ahead with times or the times are moving ahead with us, it could be either way. But you must hone your skills. I’m a horrible actor if I’m acting the same way that I did 10 years ago, because how have I grown? You have to be aware also about things around. We’re also fairly intelligent people, so we’ll always think about it and internalise the character, however simple it is.
Also, there is a certain emotional intelligence that’s needed as an actor, isn’t it?
Shahana: For me, I feel, it’s important to live life and that’s the whole gamut of things. From when I was a kid, I was always fascinated by emotions. When I used to hear stories, I would be like, what would I do if I was this, or how would I feel if I go through that? I would always play around with my emotions that…can I think of something and cry right now? Immediately the next second, can I laugh thinking about something? I just think it comes from being interested in human beings. That from a young age, even with my friendships, we’ve discussed all this in great detail. I’m lucky to have friends who’ve added to that sort of understanding of human mind and oneself. There are times and phases when you feel you are stuck and are not being able to absorb. So, that awareness has to be there, to check if you’re being rigid. I would say, this is something I wanted to do even if I wasn’t an actor because that’s something I want in my personal journey, in life. I feel my aim in life is to understand who we are and what this journey is, emotionally, mentally, how does it evolve? Just the psychological and emotional quotient of human beings is something which interests me and therefore it comes handy with the work we do. And like she said, I remember when I started acting, even though I grew up watching Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh Khan and I wanted to do those kind of films, somehow I put up an image that ‘oh she must have grown up reading books!’ No, I was watching Bollywood, I would dance in front of the mirror, I did all that. Somewhere when I started acting, my life experiences were different, my style of acting didn’t suit commercial cinema. But I’m happy there were projects that I could fit into. May be if I would have done a commercial film, I would have been lost and done a really bad job of it. I’d not have had a career perhaps. It helped that I got projects that I was suited for, and then it gave me the strength to continue in that personal growth and using that in my professional growth as well.
Maanvi: While acting, we also come up with tricks. And everyone has a certain set of tricks, in case you get stuck somewhere. Sometimes it’s as simple as realising that it’s not going to happen today. So, you go tell your director, that let’s do it tomorrow, because I know it’s not going to happen today. And if your director is understanding, sometimes it works like magic. Sometimes you need a fresh perspective or just a good night’s sleep. The kind of actors we are, it’s not always a good thing, because we are never satisfied. The director has got his shot, but we’re not satisfied.
Do you agree Shahana? Is that the case with you?
Shahana: That I’ve stopped. I’ve stopped looking into the monitor, and I just go with what the director says. Sometimes if I feel that based on what the director has told me, I can do a better job, then maybe I want to try again. But if the director says, ‘I’m very happy with this’ then I go with that. I don’t even allow myself to dwell too much into it. Because you see, when we are doing the take, we go into the whole flow of that scene, but only 30 or 40 seconds of that is going to be taken so maybe you have done those perfect 30-40 seconds but you didn’t feel it in the flow. A film is a collaborative piece by piece thing put together, so it’s very important to have faith in the director.