“He has taught me everything. But does that mean that everytime he passes by I should spread my legs?” asks Maya in Inkaar. We have rarely heard a Bollywood heroine shoot from the lip like this!
That it is a different kind of role is what actually struck me right at the point I was told about it. More than the issue of sexual harassment, which I found very pertinent, I liked the fact that this is a very different kind of love story. It’s not the usual holding-hands-sitting-on-a-sofa saying ‘I love you’ kind of story. It’s about real people who are ambitious and are not apologetic about it. It’s a woman who knows what she wants and that it’s a man’s world is not going to stop her from getting it. She’s a very independent-thinking woman and then she meets a man who is equally strong-minded and there is a sort of electric chemistry between them. They have a short but tempestuous relationship. They fall out of love. And then begins the twist in the tale. Besides the sexual harassment angle, there is a thriller element which makes the premise even more interesting.
Maya seems to be walking a thin line between right and wrong…
Most of Sudhir’s (Mishra, the director of Inkaar) women characters are flawed, they have their grey areas. I never wanted Maya to be right; I just wanted her to justify whatever she was doing. Even when she is jealous, it should seem right to her. Even when she is manipulating, she should feel that it’s justified. And that’s where Sudhir’s women work because they are so real in their faults. Like you said, there’s a thin line between right and wrong throughout the film; you don’t know who the victim or the perpetrator actually is. But at the same time, there is a certain honesty and vulnerability in her that will make you reach out to her. There are a lot of layers to Maya.
How rampant is sexual harassment within the film industry?
The film is based on some high-profile cases, but all within the corporate space. There have been a few cases of sexual harassment in Bollywood in recent years that we all know about, but to be honest, I feel that it is far less in the film industry than it is in any other job. In the industry, you have a choice and you are not at the risk of losing your job if you turn someone down. If an indecent proposal is made to an actress, she has the choice to not work with that person and still have work, whereas in the corporate set-up, it would invariably mean risking your job and that becomes a problem for most women because so much is at stake. Reacting against sexual harassment in the industry would probably mean that you end up doing smaller films, but you at least have the choice to walk away.... As we kept shooting, I realised how big an issue sexual harassment at the workplace actually is and how difficult it is for women because even filing a case of sexual harassment is so difficult in our country. I think it’s time the country, as a whole, starts speaking up about women’s issues. I think, in this country, we focus too much on matters concerning men. I am happy that the film talks about sexual harassment instead of brushing it under the carpet. I am sure those who come in to watch Inkaar will definitely go out with an opinion.
You apparently signed the film even without a narration!
I trust Sudhir immensely. Sometimes the characters that he has offered me have read wrong at the script level, but I have trusted him enough to know that eventually it would all turn out right. I have that comfort level with him where I can approach him with my own suggestions and we always have a discussion and a dialogue. Even for this film, Arjun (Rampal), Sudhir and I have had a lot of discussions, a lot of readings. Arjun had a point of view, I had a point of view… it was nice to get that freedom and respect from Sudhir.
How was it sharing screen space with Arjun Rampal?
Arjun’s been wonderful and now that we are travelling the country promoting Inkaar, we are getting to know each other quite a bit more, away from the set. Whatever you need a co-star to be on set, Arjun is all of that… very professional and involved. He would sometimes come up to me and tell me how I could better a certain take and I really appreciated that kind of interest from him. But he can be moody at times (laughs)… it’s not always all good with him, but he’s great overall.
Desi Boyz turned out to be a misstep. Has that made you wary of commercial cinema?
I took the film as an experience and I enjoyed my time in it. There were lots of people who complimented me for Desi Boyz. It was also very heartening to see how well the audience reacted to a more-sexy me in Kaafirana (her item number in Joker). I am really looking at a mixed bag. If there is an interesting part for me to play it doesn’t matter whether a film is commercial or less commercial. I always like to keep it interesting both for myself as an actor and for the audience watching me. It’s always good to keep it coming a little different, you know. Considering I was on a three-year break between my first two films (Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Kal) and my third (Sorry Bhai!) and then another three-year break between the third and fourth (Yeh Saali Zindagi), I feel I have done quite well.
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