Pink to Uri, Four More Shots Please! to Criminal Justice. Over the last few years, Kirti Kulhari has made a space for herself, one project at a time. The actor will now be seen, alongside Shefali Shah, in Human, that streams on Disney+Hotstar today. In the series, Kirti plays a doctor caught in the quagmire of human drug trials. The Telegraph chatted with the actor on the show and her character, her foray into production and Kirti 2.0.
Given the kind of gritty, hard-hitting subjects that you have been associated with over the last few years, Human seems straight up your alley.
As an actor, you have certain boxes that you tick off, and those primarily have to do with the subject, the storyline... the writing and your character, of course. And all of this has been very beautifully done in Human. I was given the first five episodes to read, and I was completely hooked. There is so much masala in this for me as an actor.
The overall subject is so intriguing. I hadn’t heard of human drug trials to such a great extent. I hadn’t heard of this story. I thought it would be something new for people to watch and take back something from it. And then there was Shefali (Shah) on board. So I was like: ‘This is something that I must do!’ It was a very simple decision for me.
I have noticed that most of the women you play derive their strength from a space of vulnerability. Is the same true for Saira in Human?
Honestly, I have learnt to not only tap into the vulnerability of the characters that I play, but I have also understood that we are all vulnerable. Someone could be super empowered, but there will always be a softness, a vulnerability to them . Even a villain, an antagonist will have moments of vulnerability, and when that is shown on screen, you see the humane side to them and connect to them. That’s something that I have understood about human behaviour.
I have learnt to really tap into my vulnerable side for my characters, and that helps the audience connect to me and the person that I am playing. It’s something that I look for very, very consciously in my characters. Ultimately, it’s not about whether I am playing white, black or grey... what I want to show you is how human I am. I want to show the viewers that I am just like them. I try and connect emotionally with all my characters. And that makes the viewer connect with them. Otherwise they can just come and watch, eat popcorn and get lost, and it won’t do anything to them emotionally.
I can safely tell you that Saira is the most complex character I have ever played, and I really cannot wait for people to watch her and watch the show because that journey for me was so fulfilling. There was so much that I was experiencing and understanding when I was playing Saira. There are so many aspects to her, and vulnerability is part of it. It’s such a humane character and I am learning to play characters in a more human way. I think I have kind of cracked that as a person and as an actor. You wouldn’t have seen me play anything like Saira before... it’s a well-written part and getting it out on screen from paper is a challenge that I have really enjoyed.
You have just said that Saira is the most complex character you have played. Your co-star Shefali Shah told me that her Gauri Nath is a character that she doesn’t understand even after playing her. For you, is it necessary to understand and grasp everything about every character that you play?
No it isn’t. It’s necessary for me to just acknowledge that it is possible to be like this. We as human beings are capable of being this and that, and that and that.... That’s the understanding which I feel I have already developed. I don’t look at a character and say: ‘Par yeh koi kaise kar sakta hain?’ From whatever I have understood of life so far, I think human beings are capable of worst deeds and the best actions... they can be Gods, they can be demons. We are capable of both. I just need to find a way of expressing both through me.
Shefali’s character, of course, is complicated to another level, and is really, really messed up in a lot of ways. So is Saira, but still there is a huge difference. On this show, I love the fact that there is a greyness to everyone. Even Seema Biswas’s character is very complex. That’s the beauty of good writing, which we have on this show.
When I am offered a character, I always look for more to play with. It can’t be a one-dimensional person. It’s the layering and the complexity of a character that makes them more watchable. In my life, I want the people around me to be simple... to say what they mean and mean what they say.... But on screen, my choices are just the opposite. That’s what I feel will bring out a good performance.
Congratulations for venturing into the production space. How does this move empower you as an actor and as a creative person overall?
It really empowers as an artiste, and when I say that, I just don’t count myself as an actor. I think I am gradually moving away from the idea of just being an actor to that of an artiste and believing that I can create.
Many people will say that this move has been spurred by me wanting to make movies for myself. But that’s not the idea in my head. I may end up acting in the films that I produce, but the idea is much bigger than just: ‘Mujhe apne liye film banani hain.’ In the last two years, I have moved to a position of power and people now take me seriously... that if Kirti is associated with a project, there must be something to it. Now I am meeting writers, directors and my network has grown a bit, and I feel that I have the accessibility and capability to bring likeminded people together to work on a project.
The stories that I choose as an actor won’t be different from the stories that I choose as a producer. I want to have more control... I want to be in a position where I can say: ‘I want these people to come together and make this project for me.’ I don’t want to anymore be like: ‘Okay, I am an actor and I will only stick to this.’ It feels empowering for sure, but it’s also exciting for me because today is the time when I know that if there is a good story, there is a big possibility of it being made. I believe I have gained a reputation and made a place for myself where I can create the kind of cinema I love watching. I am just taking this chance.
And you have chosen such a beautiful name for it — Kintsukuroi — which in Japanese, means the beauty of breaks and imperfections....
For me, the idea is to just mend broken hearts and souls with the gold of art. It’s as simple as that. For me, watching good cinema is a healer. If I watch something nice and it touches me and it makes me think, it invariably makes me want to be a better person. Some connection happens, some healing happens. For me, cinema is a very pure form of art, and that’s why the name resonated so beautifully with me.
We have been seeing a different Kirti over the last few months. Solo trips to crazy-colouring your hair to riding a bike.... Is this Kirti 2.0 or were you always like this and we are just getting to see this side of you now?
I don’t know if the two things are different. Yes, of course, it’s a new Kirti that, honestly, I never imagined I would be. But at the same time, it’s almost like how I work on my characters. Whatever the character is, I believe I have a bit of her in me already... I just need to tap into it. I think I did have this in me somewhere, and with the way life has kind of unfolded for me (Kirti’s five-year marriage ended in April last year), it’s just come out... I have turned into the person you see me now. In some ways, I don’t even connect to who I was 10 years ago. I am like: ‘Oh my God, who was that person?!’
That’s what life is about. It’s about moving in the right direction. As long as there is growth, it’s all good. I am progressing and evolving to being a happier and a more peaceful person.