Monday, 30th October 2017

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Netflix stars Aaditi and Vijay speak on characters in Imtiaz Ali written show 'She'

Netflix's new seven-episode series She follows the story of an unassuming female constable

  • Published 20.03.20, 2:54 PM
  • Updated 21.03.20, 2:51 PM
  • 5 mins read
Aaditi Pohankar Twitter/@AaditiPohankar

Written by Imtiaz Ali, Netflix's new seven-episode series She follows the story of an unassuming female constable, Bhumika Pardesi (Aaditi Pohankar of Marathi film Lai Bhaari fame) who discovers the power of her dormant sexuality when she is sent as an undercover prostitute to bust a drug cartel. Co-directed by Imtiaz's brother Arif Ali, and Avinash Das, She also stars Gully Boy and A Suitable Boy star Vijay Varma. We spoke to Vijay – playing a twisted drug gang-lord named Sasya – and Aaditi in an exclusive sitting ahead of the show releasing this Friday…

Aaditi, your character evolves from being a timid pushover to an empowering woman who owns her sexuality. How challenging was it to portray such a wide range of emotions?

It was not really challenging, I was intrigued and excited about it. I wanted to hit every spot of the character's mind-frame and her individuality, from where she begins as a timid person in her small little world in a chawl to where she goes out there. There are moments where you'd always feel she's in quicksand, she's probably going to perish now. She suddenly understands her power as she goes forward and the best part is that you see it in phases. There's so much time and detail given to this character. Imtiaz and I made four sections - A phase, B phase, C phase and D phase. The make-up, the tonality and the costumes were also decided keeping those phases in mind. The script was still being written and was coming to me one after the other, in the beginning it was all in his mind. In the 'D phase', you know she's the same person but she walks a little differently and her whole vibe is that you can't shake her anymore. Even an earthquake or a coronavirus cannot (laughs). She becomes rock solid. I was wearing the original shoes of a cop and it has so much weight that it was literally pulling me down in 'A phase' but as I went into my heels, I started gaining my freedom. That journey has been very well-knitted.

Vijay, you are from Hyderabad. Is that how you got that Hyderabadi accent of Sasya so bang on?

Correct, it was accessible to me. I have heard it far too many times and my friends and I used to enjoy the language a lot. Anybody from Hyderabad will enjoy this language a lot and they'd miss it. I wanted an opportunity to use this dialect. Usually a Hyderabadi accent is portrayed in a comical way in film representations but I just liked the fact that there's this dakshini guy who's a part of the narcotics ring, living in Bombay, and he's a sadistic yet a colourful storyteller. It was interesting to see these worlds come together in my mind.

The sexual tension between Bhumi and Sasya is so palpable on screen. How did you both work together to create that?

We'd do some exercises with Imtiaz sir to understand the dynamics between the two – who's this person and how unlikely they are to be together. They exchange a very personal moment, several of them eventually. Aaditi and I took it upon ourselves to explore more, we took time off after our designated workshops to explore even more. To earn the trust of each other, we'd tell each other how we felt after doing those acting exercises. There are times we would not even speak a word, she would enter the room and sit there and I'd just go around her. And she'd feel it - a certain threat, tension or looming sexuality, whatever it was.

Aaditi, did you have inhibitions while shooting so many intimate scenes?

Not really. I'm a very shy person and the first thing Imtiaz sir asked me was, 'How far can you go with this? You tell me and accordingly we will go step by step. I don't want you to be uncomfortable'. But I never felt any inhibition because Imtiaz Ali is not that kind of a maker. She's fully clothed and you still feel the nakedness of the character. You can see she's so attracted to the energy that is going on with Sasya. She's somewhere excited in her mind where she's wondering what's happening with her.

Did you research on female cops in Bombay to prepare for your character?

In my own way. I silently observed these girls in uniform. If you see these female constables around, they always have a certain look. They are just normal girls but they have something going on in their mind. It's very exciting to see them eat vada pav and be basic. Bhumi also buys vegetables while coming back from the police station, it's a regular life after work.

Vijay, did you take inspiration from any particular person or character for this role?

No, it's so distant from anything, that you can get to know from anywhere. These people work in such a mysterious fashion and you'd never get to see them. You have to tap into individual shades separately and then just hope that they all come together in the right measure for it to taste good. I did not dwell much into the narcotics bit because I realised that whatever this guy says you'd never be able to trust it. He could be saying he was in Bihar last night and you'd never be able to know whether he's lying or not. He's a storyteller, he'd cook up something, he's so untrustworthy. I kept that ambiguity about the character and felt there's no need for a background because he's constantly shocking and surprising people. I had to work on the sexuality though, I researched on sadomasochism and understood that there's a certain kind of control Sasya wants, a certain kind of sexual drive that navigates his life. He's definitely a dominant. I modelled my look and demeanour on the serial killer Richard Ramirez.

Was it emotionally exhausting at times to play such a grey character?

He's diabolical, lecherous, devious, controlling, sadistic... he's all of it coming together. I carried some residue of this part and I had to really undo a lot of hardwiring that was happening because of dwelling in this character for a bit. Now some time has passed since the shoot, so I feel distant from it. But I think I was caught up in it and it manifested itself in some relationships that I had after that. But then I corrected myself.

Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share from the set?

Vijay: I just remember being constantly apologetic to her after every take! I'd ask her, 'Are you alright? I'm sorry.'

Aaditi: At the back of my mind I knew that jo chal raha hai woh sahi hai because otherwise I'm such a shy and reserved person that I'm very surprised that I could do this. I didn't feel weird because he was so considerate about things. It was very humiliating at times for the character.

What are you binging on Netflix right now?

Aaditi: I will start watching Yeh Ballet. I feel like watching Narcos and F.R.I.E.N.D.S again and again!

What else is in your kitty?

Vijay: We are shooting in Rajasthan for an Amazon Prime series called Fallen, which is being helmed by Reema Kagti.

Aaditi: I just shot with Prakash Jha for a series called Ashram.