Mirror, mirror on the wall... Who's the fiercest of 'em all?

‘It feels spectacular’ — Meera of the moment Anushka Sharma is thrilled that people have ‘got’ her NH10

  • Published 20.03.15

NH10 has opened to rave reviews —  none, well, raver than Virat Kohli tweeting... “Just watched #NH10 and i am blown away. What a brilliant film and specially an outstanding performance by my love @AnushkaSharma. SO PROUD:)” — and packed theatres. Not surprisingly, Anushka Sharma couldn’t be happier. Also not surprisingly, she’s not letting little things like being unwell bring her down. She was grinning from ear to ear when t2 dropped in to meet her in the plush office of producers Eros in Andheri West in Mumbai. Over steaming cups of hot water, lemon and honey, Anushka chatted about the difficulties of making this little big film, wanting to write and not being pressured by success. 

Anushka Sharma as Meera in NH10

Thank you. It feels spectacular.

Many people warned you about not doing this film. Do you feel vindicated? 
I was just talking to Navdeep (Singh, the film’s director) about this before you came in. I am so glad that people have understood the film for what it is. Some people have really got the film. So, I am really glad that nothing and no one deterred me from doing this film. I am very stubborn and that clearly helped me. Before doing something new, I reason a lot with myself. But once I am convinced about something, I hold my ground.
Yes, a lot of people told me that I shouldn’t do this film. I was told that I am at a high point in my career and I don’t need to do a ‘small’ film like this. I didn’t understand what they meant. I have the capacity to put up a project like NH10 and release it... so why wouldn’t I do it? And why should actresses only produce films when they are towards the end of their career? Who has made these rules? I have a problem when people say, ‘This is how things should be done’. I have a free will and I will do what I think is right for me. My belief in the film and in Navdeep was so strong that the naysayers had no chance. 

One walks out of the film thinking ‘This could happen to me’. What was it like for you to live with that thought and that amount of violence through the whole shoot?
It was very disturbing. Even when I was watching the film, I was reminded how what happened when we were shooting. And it shook me up all over again. It was emotionally draining. Like, when the honour killing scene was shot. We met those actors for the first time then. They played out the dhaba scene where Neil (Bhoopalam, who plays Anushka’s husband) gets slapped for the first time. And they started to improvise and they continued the scene and hearing them talk only increased my fear of them. Like I couldn’t talk to Darshan (Kumaar, who plays the antagonist Satbir) through this shoot. I maintained my distance from everyone. I held on to that fear and then developed on that.
There was an incident when we were shooting and about 2,000 (people) turned up and we had a bit of a crowd control issue. That incident instilled some fear and anxiety in me… I held on to that. Wherever I could find fear, I’d channel it into the film. 
Before we started shooting, Navdeep and I did extensive workshops. You don’t see it in the film, but I mapped out Meera’s whole life before this incident. It was important for me to understand how and where she had grown up, what her thought process was… I wanted to be able to play Meera without bringing in any traces of Anushka. Meera had to be every woman… she could be someone who works with you in office. She had to be real and effortless. I created Meera’s thoughts and for that I need a backstory for her. So, there was a lot of work that went into creating the character.

What kind of physical training did you go through to prepare for this role?
I did a lot of training so I’d have the stamina to do all the action sequences. But no amount of training was enough because eventually you are running in a jungle… it’s not the same as running on a treadmill. I did interval training where you run at a high speed and then stop... so you basically keep switching your heart rate. I did this for about three months. I hate running because I tend to lose a lot of weight, but I had no choice. I was also eating carbs like a mad person because I needed the energy reserve. 

Wherever I could find fear, I’d channel it into the film

This was clearly a physically taxing film. Did you get hurt a lot?
Oh yes! What you see for five minutes in the film, I would spend hours shooting. So, if it was running, I would have been running for 13 hours. I was always panting, so my heart rate was constantly high. That takes a toll on your body. I developed a back problem. My neck had issues. I kept falling sick. Even now my neck and back give me problems. They go into spasms. We had a physiotherapist on the set who’d come from Jodhpur to fix my neck.
I would get hurt a lot but in that moment, thanks to all the adrenaline, I wouldn’t realise. I would come back to the hotel after the shoot and find bruises all over my body. I’d have no idea where the bruises were coming from. I had bruises, cuts and scratches. That jungle I was running through had really thorny trees. We’d have thorns in our feet and hands. 

You’ve been saying that you are glad that people have ‘got’ the film. What do you mean by that?
You know, the film is very layered and very subtle. There are things that you and I could face at a regular day at work. Like the comment Meera’s colleague makes about bosses being easy on female employees. Even in school, you have boys saying, ‘Arre you are a girl, so the sports teacher is easier on you’. Meera and Arjun (Neil) aren’t trying to be heroes. They are scared and meek and want to run away from the problems. 

Or, that there is clearly some issue… some tension in the couple’s marriage… so, I am just glad that people understood these subtleties. Some of the reviews have been so spot-on that even the film’s writer (Sudip Sharma) said that they have understood the film. 

Has there been a compliment or a reaction that’s meant a lot to you?
Yes. A film’s editor is the one who takes an actor’s work to another level. So, when our film’s editor (Jabeen Merchant) told me that I made her work really easy, I thought it was a huge compliment. 

NH10 had its share of run-ins with the censor board. How do you look at censorship and its place in today’s Bollywood?
The whole industry stands together when we say that you can’t give a film an A-certificate and then ask for scenes to be cut and words changed! The kind of things we were asked to change and cut out were unheard of. We are socially responsible people. NH10 is not a gimmicky film…we weren’t making this film to titillate. Also, far worse happens in real life for you to turn around and say, ‘No no, people will get offended to see it on screen!’

Now that you’ve taken the big step to produce, would you also want to try your hand at direction?
I don’t think so… (pauses) No. I wouldn’t. I might write… that’s something I think I can try my hand at. I just know that I can’t direct. (Pauses) But then again, five years ago, I didn’t think I could produce. Knowing me, I shouldn’t ever say ‘I’d never…’ (laughs). But writing, I can totally see myself doing. I’d like to write stories about women... there aren’t enough! About women like you and me…we have so many more layers. 

You’ve been very vocal about disparity of pay for women in the industry and classification of films as ‘women-oriented’…
Ya man! The perfect world that all of us hope to live in will be when we stop seeing things in duality… as man and woman. By calling a film ‘female-centric’, we are putting it at a disadvantage. Films with male protagonists are just ‘films’, but if you are telling a woman’s story, it becomes ‘female-centric’. I have an aversion to such classifications. What happens to these people in NH10 could happen to anyone. 

You’ve had two back-to-back successes in PK and NH10. Does that put any pressure on you for your other two big releases this year, Bombay Velvet and Dil Dhadakne Do?
Not really. I don’t look at things that way. I am a really chilled-out person and there is no need to start stressing about what will happen in the future. All that matters to me is that the film is good. I am not going to start worrying about how the films will do. 

Yuvraj Singh @YUVSTRONG12
Want to know why @AnushkaSharma is a brilliant actor ? Go watch NH 10.
Rajkumar Hirani @RajkumarHirani
Saw NH10. Absolutely engaging cinema. Edge of the seat till the end. Anushka is a delight to watch.
Karan Johar @karanjohar
From edge of the seat to exceptionally compelling...this ride makes you invest in every moment! @AnushkaSharma is beyond brilliant! #NH10
Ranveer Singh @RanveerOfficial
Saw #NH10! Gripping, nail-biting, edge-of-ur-seat thrill ride from hell! @AnushkaSharma kicks some serious ass! Beyond brilliant! #girlpower
Huma Qureshi @humasqureshi
So @AnushkaSharma erupts .. She screams out loud and clear against everything wrong with patriarchy .. More power to u girl #NH10
Arjun Kapoor @arjunk26
A film every MAN needs to watch...real raw relentless...@AnushkaSharma NH10 is outstanding

Karishma Upadhyay
Will 2015 be Anushka Sharma’s year? 
Tell t2@abp.in