After playing the central character in all her TV projects, Kritika Kamra has made a switch to OTT with ensemble films and shows. The actress chatted with us about her turn as gangster Habiba Kadri in the Amazon Prime Video series Bambai Meri Jaan for which she is receiving a lot of accolades.
How did you land the role of Habiba Kadri in Bambai Meri Jaan?
Kritika Kamra: Actually, I auditioned for the part. Casting Bay, the agency, was casting for the show for a very long time. And as an actor, you know what’s being made and where. I was really intrigued by it because it’s an Amazon Prime Video show produced by Excel Entertainment, and Hussain Zaidi was attached to it.
When I got a call for an audition, I was surprised because this is not the kind of part I’m generally considered for. Everybody thinks that I am the girl next door and the ‘it’ girl. People slot you very quickly in our industry.
I gave my everything in the audition because I really wanted to be a part of this show. That world was very exciting to me and the people attached to it were credible people. After the first round of auditions, I got a call back to meet the director and writers. I was the last one to join the cast, so I had a lot of catching up to do. We did workshops and readings for a few days.
How would you describe Habiba Kadri in a nutshell?
Kritika Kamra: Habiba Kadri is a confident and resourceful young woman who is stubborn like her father and courageous like her brother. Being the only girl in the family, she recognises the role of the mother that holds this family together. Habiba has a mind of her own and ambitions of her own.
Somewhere being so fiercely protective of her family and being so fiercely independent and ambitious, you see her wanting things that a woman in that era and strata would not generally aspire to and then you see how she gets there. There’s nothing that’s far-fetched for her. She will get what she wants anyhow.
Was it difficult to play a character that is far away from who you are in real life?
Kritika Kamra: Habiba Kadri is not a relatable character. I understand the motivation of this character but I don’t relate to it because the morality is different. I don’t choose violence and revenge but Habiba does. That is where the research and the script really helped me.
And of course, a lot of imagination. Because these are not the things that you can draw from your life experiences. Some emotions are universal like Habiba’s connection with her family. I know what it is like to be a daughter, sister, and friend. But everything else was far from what I am in real life, so there was no reference point as such. I read a lot about that time and people at that time in the underworld.
It is a fictional story and character; it is not based on only one person. Of course, there are parallels being drawn since Hussain Zaidi has written it. I had anticipated that and I didn't mind it. From the response that I’ve been getting, I can see that people are liking it.
As Kritika, I can’t start believing what Habiba is doing is right. I don’t have to justify her actions. I can choose not to judge the character in that moment and just be absolutely present in that scene. It’s not a zone that you can be in for a very long time. You have to learn to disconnect from it and then go back to it while shooting. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be healthy.
You said somewhere that your character in Bambai Meri Jaan is an alpha but she’s not manly or tomboyish. Can you elaborate?
Kritika Kamra: What I meant is that Habiba is an alpha woman. She is still a conservative Muslim girl. She is one of the boys because she was brought up with them but she is not tomboyish. She is extremely powerful in her own way. She has strategic strength.
When you see a girl in the gangster zone, it is assumed that she would be like a man in her mannerisms and body language. But that is not the case with Habiba. The idea was to keep her alpha but she doesn’t have to emulate anyone else. It’s her inherent confidence that sets her apart and makes her do things that a typical feminine girl does not do.
I have always been very feminine. I think nowadays it’s limiting to say what’s feminine and what’s not. Those things are also changing with the independence women have and the roles that we are playing in life. It also depends on how you are brought up. My brother and I were brought up the same way. We had the same values and the same rules. Having said that, I’m a girly girl.
How did you work on the dialect your character uses since it is a street lingo?
Kritika Kamra: The dialect was challenging for me because that was totally out of my comfort zone. And the appreciation that I’m getting now for it is a huge validation.
I’m not a Mumbai girl. I have only seen South Mumbai as a tourist. I don’t know the street lingo well. It is different from today’s slang and is not a part of my vocabulary at all. So, I had to get the dialect right and strike a fine balance because I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb.
What was your most memorable scene to shoot?
Kritika Kamra: I have great memories of the scenes with the family. The bond between the family members lasted longer even after the shoot was over. Avinash (Tiwary) is like a bro to me. There’s a lot of warmth in the relationship that I share with Kay Kay Menon and Nivedita Bhattacharya. Just watching both of them perform and create magic was a big takeaway for me.
The one scene that I was looking forward to is in the last episode. The arc that my character follows and where it ends in this season was a scene that I was really looking forward to ever since I read the script.
You have been a part of quite a few ensembles. Is there a sense of competitiveness among actors in an ensemble film or show?
Kritika Kamra: I don’t look at parts like that. And in the long format, you need multiple characters and multiple tracks. That’s what makes for a rich show. I am very secure in my choices and in my craft. When I take up a role, all I can do is give it my best. I can’t be affected by what others are doing or thinking. I think a great ensemble works when you’re not competitive.
So far, in all the ensembles that I have been part of, the actors have kept the show above themselves and it has paid off. Tandav (Prime Video), however it may have turned out, was a big show. Ali Abbas Zafar made it. Nikkhil Advani made Kaun Banegi Shikharwati, Tanuja Chandra made Hush Hush (Prime Video), and now Excel made Bambai Meri Jaan.
These shows are huge in terms of scale and the filmmakers who made them. My focus was on working with these filmmakers. I think any material that is well-written will do justice to all its characters.
How transformative has the move from TV to films and OTT been for you as an actor?
Kritika Kamra: The transition was challenging at first. But it’s really paying off now. I think that’s the thing with this job. You have to be patient and you have to be clear about what you want and just stick with it for as long as it takes. Sometimes, it gets very tough, but that’s the only way.
And it’s because of television that I feel secure because television is all about its female leads. I have been the central character in everything that I have done on TV. Now, I am trying to explore my creative length and breadth through different characters. And if I want to become a better actor then I have to be a part of different shows irrespective of the length of a character. I want to collaborate with a filmmaker because their voice is interesting to me.
If the part is more than its profession or its relationship with the central character, you’re good. I’m not interested in playing a hero’s love interest unless the character has a journey of its own. If Habiba was just Dara’s sister and did not have an arc of her own, it wouldn’t have been so interesting for me. I want to play characters that are more than labels. Unfortunately, in the mainstream space, a lot of female characters are reduced to their relationship with the male characters.