Yami Gautam Dhar is basking in the success of OMG 2 and the emphatic praise coming in for her character in the film that also stars Akshay Kumar and Pankaj Tripathi. Yami, whose purple patch started with Uri a few years ago and includes winning turns in Bala, Dasvi, A Thursday, Lost and Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga, is now increasingly emerging as the go-to actor for roles both poised and powerful. A t2 chat with the affable and effervescent actor.
Congratulations! It’s always great to have a critically acclaimed film that’s also doing massively well at the box office. What have the last few days been like since OMG 2 released?
It’s been great! I am getting so much live feedback from people around me, my family and friends. Social media has, of course, blown up. All the messages that people are putting out after watching OMG 2 are really personal. They are also laughing at the film’s comic moments and appreciating the messaging. And most of them are saying that they wished that teenagers could watch this film based on such a pertinent subject as sex education (OMG 2 has been given adult certification). Just to see audiences thronging the theatres is the best thing ever.
I am being told that my performance is very nuanced and that my silences speak as much as my words. They are saying that the way I have been presented in the film, from my look to my speech pattern, feels different from what I have done before. Viewers are appreciative of the fact that my character may say the same things over and over again but that I have managed to make it different each time for them to remain engaged.
For a film of this kind, it was important that both sides (of the case being fought) presented balanced arguments and it was portrayed in a manner which seemed convincing to the viewer. The response has been very wholesome and there is nothing like it when it translates into box-office returns (laughs).
What do you think makes your character Kamini different from the parts that you have played before?
A good script will always give an actor more freedom to imagine better and interpret the character, but, of course, within the parameters of what the director has in mind. In terms of what I brought to the character and made her different, I think it would be best if I quoted my director (Amit Rai) who said: ‘Had you not said yes to the film, I don’t know what I would have done. I would probably have to turn it into a male character.’
That is very high praise!
Yes (smiles). He said that he had imagined the dialogues to be delivered in a certain way, with nuance and confidence, and he had me in mind for that. He said that he wanted Kamini to present her arguments in court with conviction and subtle aggression and at the same time, have poise and dignity. He said he had no face in mind other than mine for this part.
I told him that I had played a lawyer before (in Batti Gul Meter Chalu) and asked him how should I make Kamini different. He told me that he didn’t think any parallels would be drawn between the two films. Kamini is very powerful, she is the only female talking and discussing such a sensitive topic in that town.
Even as I say this, I am very embarrassed because I never quote what anyone says about my performance (laughs). But I have to tell you what (director) Ramesh Sippy sir told me after the screening. He said that it’s never easy for a protagonist to do a film knowing that he/she will lose the argument in the end. He said it takes a lot of guts to portray it with so much conviction and grace.
You should start talking about what people say about your performances because you did put out a social media post two days ago admitting that, unlike your contemporaries, you don’t ‘market’ yourself enough....
I have never been able to. I feel that what people tell me about my performance is personal and I shouldn’t be re-quoting it. Maybe it’s a very normal thing for most people, but I just can’t do it. It could be a very old-school thought. The idea that agar kuch achha hain toh hain, woh baar baar bolne ki kya zaroorat hain? (Smiles) I have always believed that if I say it out loud, it’s not going to add any value to it. But maybe it does and that’s why others do it.
But again, it’s just the kind of person I am from childhood. I think one should let a person be whoever they are. The kind of person I am, there is a price to it and I am aware of it. That’s why I work harder on the other aspects. I try and do such good work that even if there is a shortcoming or inability in me to tom-tom my achievements, people still get to know about it. And if I have to be critical, I would rather do that to myself because I know I can take it.
You wrote in that post: ‘Some people are great at marketing their talent (or lack of it), some people only want their talent to speak.’ What prompted that?
I feel that certain roles which require an actor with the potential to pull it off in a certain way should be cast only according to that parameter and merit and not any other criteria. Decades later, when audiences look back at the films that we are making now, they should be able to say that this actor did fit this character and justified it.
Like when I look back today at the kind of work that Shabana Azmiji and Smita Patilji did in those days, it’s remarkable how they balanced commercial films and parallel cinema at that time. That was at a time when the conversation around women’s empowerment and our role in the industry wasn’t talked about as much as it is today. They acted well, they were graceful and poised off-screen.... I listen to their interviews now and I marvel at how well-spoken they were.
My tweet had much more depth than perhaps how people are interpreting it (smiles). But the fact is that the day people start casting just on the basis of talent, I don’t know if half the actors who are doing so many films would be working as much. Everyone knows the truth.
Coming back to OMG 2, while making it, did the team have any apprehension about the response since sex as a topic is still so taboo in our country? The film was also stuck at the censor board for quite some time....
I debuted with a film like Vicky Donor (which dealt with sperm donation) and I have never been shy of being a part of this kind of cinema. I don’t want to be a part of just projects, I want to do cinema that has something to say.
Amit Rai’s intention with OMG 2 was very clean and clear. Akshay sir (Kumar) told me: ‘Yami, this has to be one of the best scripts of my career. I really believe in it and that’s why I want to back it.’ We all want to be part of films that will stir up conversations. Things don’t change with one film... it takes generations to make a change for something so pivotal.
The biggest challenge, despite its subject, was to make OMG 2 a family film, to make it palatable for every kind of audience. And I think the right intent of the film has helped in achieving that. There was no attempt to sensationalise because Amit and all of us really believed in this film.
After content-driven films like Uri, Bala, Dasvi, Lost, A Thursday, to name a few, do you think film-makers approach you now with only a certain kind of cinema that promises quality?
I think they do. It is reflecting in the kind of offers that are coming my way. I can feel that trust when they come to discuss their films, the feeling that they know I can pull it off and can carry a film. I have been very consistent and versatile with my choices. I take it as a huge responsibility and I feel grateful that someone decides to spend ‘x’ crores on a film led by me. I will do everything in my might to prove their trust in me, and that of the audience eventually.
Which is your favourite film on a taboo/ prickly subject?