Going strong!

Bollywood diaries

Going strong!

In a conversation with RAJIV VIJAYAKAR, Anushka Sharma discusses her learnings as a producer, her continued passion for acting, and her convictions on celluloid nepotism

It’s about a decade since she started working in films. But Anushka Sharma has come a long way since her debut in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) opposite Shah Rukh Khan. One of the few top names of today to work with all three Khans in meaty roles (also Jab Tak Hai Jaan and the forthcoming Imtiaz Ali film with Shah Rukh Khan, PK with Aamir and Sultan with Salman.)

Anushka has also been paired with leads including Shahid Kapoor (Badmaash Company), Ranbir Kapoor (Bombay Velvet, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil), Imran Khan (Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola), Ranveer Singh (Band Baaja Baaraat, Ladies Vs. Ricky Bahl, Dil Dhadakne Do), Sushant Singh Rajput (PK), and even Neil Bhoopalam (NH 10).

Her resume also includes big-name filmmakers (starting with mentor Aditya Chopra, besides Rajkumar Hirani and Karan Johar) as well as new and offbeat names. In 2015, she made her debut as producer (along with brother Karnesh Sharma) with NH 10, a thriller that was critically acclaimed. Obviously, her blockbuster list is led by PK and Sultan.

As she puts it: “If you see the 12 or 13 films I have done, they are all story-oriented. In that sense, I have done fewer films compared to others. When Adi (Aditya Chopra) offered me Sultan, I wondered what I would be doing in a Salman Khan movie as he is a mega-star and so larger-than-life. But my role was not only strong, but it was a different film and role even for Salman. With PK, I was less unsure. Though it had Aamir Khan, I knew that Rajkumar Hirani always had strong roles for his female leads, and I just had to work with him!”

Elaborating on her choice of films, she adds, “I am excited by anything hatke (out-of-the-box) that I have not done yet, or has not been attempted before.”

And that’s what drove Anushka and her brother towards launching their banner, Clean Slate Films, with the duo preferring to go by instinct but strive for excellence rather than just money.

Laughs the actor: “We even chose the company’s name by instinct! A clean slate is a completely fresh start, and that’s the kind of stories we are looking at! And the letter ‘C’ does not just stand for our banner but also for our clarity, confidence, conviction and content! And that is also noticed by a studio when we pitch our scripts to them.”

She goes on, “Anshai Lal (director of Phillauri) brought this story to me. But it is not necessary that every production of mine will have me featuring in it. All our selections are instinctive. I want to do work — as both producer and actor — that excites me. Money does not drive us. Clean Slate has a vision that we hope people will like, or it means nothing!”

She declares, “Our first film as producers, NH 10, was liked, yet it was a less commercial movie than Phillauri. The very fact that we produced such different films shows that we only chase good stories.”

Reactions to the plunge

Anushka is amused by the advice she received from some ‘well-meaning’ industry colleagues when she turned producer. “They all told me that only actors who are past their peak produce films, which, I think, is stupid! As for Karnesh and I, we are not making films only for me as an actor. He and I have always been discussing films, including the roles I’ve chosen. We would dissect a movie’s potential and also that of stories that were not yet made into movies. But we started out only — and again, instinctively — after he left the Merchant Navy.”

About the casting of Phillauri, Anushka has an interesting take on taking Diljit Dosanjh, the Punjabi superstar. “Physically too, he is perfect for the role, and today, I cannot imagine anyone else in his role, but we were considering several names,” she reveals. “Then one day, while on a flight, I happened to watch his Punjabi film Jatt And Juliet and I told Karnesh, my director Anshai and our writer Anvita (Dutt Guptan) that he could fit in. We had not imagined a character with a turban and a safa, but we spent a whole day looking up his videos. All of us got excited and decided to tweak the character, and he luckily came on board!”

Suraj Sharma’s role as a young bridegroom also was interesting. “We wanted a Delhi ka ladka (a boy from Delhi) who would speak Hindi in the way they do in that city,” the actor recalls. “I was under the impression that he could not speak proper Hindi. But because he was so easy and new to our cinema, and a tremendous actor, we mailed him the script, and he liked it. When we first spoke on the phone, I realised that he could speak Hindi very well.”

She smiles as she adds, “And he is such a hardworking actor that when we had our first reading of the script together, he had made so many notes on his copy of the 100-page script that it seemed like 200 pages. And I became not-so-confident after that!”

How confident was she playing a ghost in a significant part of the film? “I think that the physical aspect was a shade difficult and also a bit inconvenient for the co-actors,” she smiles. “There I was, hanging in air with the rigs and harnesses, with my body and limbs at weird angles, and talking to them as well!”

Finally, on her views on the hot topic of the season, as generated by the heated remarks of Kangana Ranaut and Karan Johar — nepotism... She smiles at the first non-Phillauri and non-Anushka query, ignoring her team member’s instruction to stick to questions about the film.

With typical Anushka-esque directness, she dismisses the instruction and says, “I will answer this one!” After all, she made it big with her very first film, and has been going bigger.

Let’s get this straight

“I was introduced by Adi sir, and was a complete outsider. He trusted me in a big film opposite a superstar like Shah Rukh Khan, and in such a good role,” she says. “The film was a hit and I was appreciated. But the film that really made a difference to me was Adi’s Band Baaja Baaraat, and after that, I began to get so many films with every filmmaker. I think that in this industry, everyone will take you if you are good, but no one will take you if you do not deliver, whoever you are and from wherever you come.”

And Anushka continues with a cautionary note. “Adi has also introduced other outsiders like Parineeti Chopra and Ranveer Singh. However, I know that each and every person’s experience here is completely his or hers, and is unique. I’m speaking for myself. I’m speaking from my experience. But I accept that other people’s take on it can be different because of what they have gone through.”

Now, that is honesty and candidness, Anushka style!

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