Like Season 1, the new season of Aarya has Sushmita Sen bringing power, panache and personality, as well as feel and character to her eponymous part and the show as a whole. With this season, streaming on Disney+Hotstar, releasing to unanimously positive reviews, we caught up with the always warm and articulate Sushmita for a chat.
Season 2 of Aarya has met with predominantly positive reactions. That must be such a high...
I have what I call a very happy bunch of cult followers (laughs). I think my life’s greatest earning has been this... an audience that after a 10-year hiatus still says, ‘I want you to come back more... show me more work... why are you not doing this and why are you not doing that?’ I could not have asked for more...
That’s so lovely!
It truly is, it truly is. It is my greatest earning in life, as I said. You come in, you do your work in films, and then you are done... that’s been the natural progression in Hindi cinema. But to then have an audience that says, ‘What is wrong with you?! Come back! We want to see you!’ And I am like, ‘Wow!’ This is what people do marketing and PR for and to get that just out of the goodness of peoples’ hearts is so special. I just love that!
And so their feedback, quite naturally, has been outstanding. Then, I have to balance that by looking at social media timelines other than my own. On my timeline, these followers will never allow anyone to say anything bad! (Laughs) They will start shouting at them on the timeline. So I have to go on YouTube, see other handles, read reviews....
It was very, very difficult to do the second season. That’s always the tough one, traditionally. The expectations after the first (season) were just soaring, and we got delayed in putting out the second season. So the expectations kept rising, and it became very difficult to sustain it.
Like you, most of the viewers have loved the last two episodes of this season. What I have also gathered is that some of them liked the pace better this time because Season 1 had longer episodes, but then there were some who were complaining that it needed to be longer (laughs). So that just shows you can’t please everyone! But unanimously, they have loved every single performance, whether it was a five-minute act or a five-hour one. Which is huge because every actor in this series has made Aarya what it is... the casting has been brilliant in both seasons. In this season, I have missed Chandrachur Singh and Namit Das and so many other actors who weren’t there in this season....
I understand why most people have loved the last two episodes of the second season. Ram Madhvani (the show’s director) tells the story very, very naturally and gradually travels to that aspect of Aarya becoming who she is in the final two episodes. If you have constant action and Aarya whooping everyone’s (pauses)… you know the word (laughs), then it will be boring to watch that and there will be no progression. What excites everyone at the end of Season 2 is the fact that her progression finally hits a high. One needed to give her some breathing space to help her complete that transition. That would make her more human, more real.... Which she is, by the way... the thing that I like about Aarya — and that was there even in Penoza (the Dutch series on which Aarya is based) — that she is not an unnatural she-woman. She is a human being who is constantly evolving in unnatural situations and figuring out the best way to keep her and her family safe, her kids safe.... There has been some feedback that said, ‘We wanted more action in Season 2, we wanted you to start killing people from the first episode’.... That, I know, is not realistic, but I also know where that excitement comes from. The fact that they have overall loved the graph and the thrill of Season 2 and each of them is saying that they want Season 3 shows us that we have definitely done something right.
That moment in the final episode where you have the two kids as hostages and yet you are instinctively maternal to them sums up Aarya for me. Would you agree?
I think you have nailed it, and you have picked a scene which is a very fine, a very difficult walk... not just for Aarya, but also for Sushmita. What we do in Aarya, we bring it as close to the truth as possible. Which means we bring it as close to me as possible, as well. What would I have done in these circumstances? So, in the shot where Aarya is holding the gun and threatening Sampath (played by Vishwajeet Pradhan), with the two kids in her arms, in that scene she would pretty much shoot at anyone who would have pointed a gun at those children. Her body language shows she’s actually protecting those two kids, and you can make out that Sampath is scared of her. That encapsulates Aarya as well.
The general consensus is that no one can play Aarya better than you. Getting into Season 2, was it easier to slip into the skin of the character considering you know her better now?
This is never easy. The reason is that we go back to our lives and then we come back (to shoot Aarya) after six months. So, the first 10-14 days of workshops are very essential. It’s then that I snap out of being Sushmita and get into Aarya again. So by the time I get on to set, I have become Aarya. The way that Aarya is evolving, the panic, her moral compass shifting in different directions... that was not Aarya of Season 1. And so, discovering this side of her is not something that I came prepared with. And then when you come on set and start doing 25-minute takes, you mess up some of those takes because you don’t know how to hit that mark... and then you come into your own and then realise, ‘Okay, this is the sur, this is where she is at’. And once you catch that, then it becomes easy to move forward.
The way we shoot it, we don’t take long breaks in between. The directors are apprehensive that if we do so, we will lose the characters we are playing. So we stay in rhythm, we shoot it in continuity. And then it becomes easier.
Sushmita Sen, of course, empowers Aarya. Has playing Aarya empowered you in any way?
Oh, absolutely! There is a lot of commonality between Aarya and me, but there are many differences too. She has been in situations which I can’t even dream of being in, and thank God for that! But when I watch the show, I watch it like a viewer... like I have nothing to do with it. At that point, I keep thinking that I can only aspire to be this woman who remains so calm under so much stress. She can internalise so much pain without subjecting anyone, let alone her children, to it. As a woman, I aspire to have that kind of stillness. I do believe I have a lot of it, but not that much (smiles). What I love about Aarya is that she gets the job done, and she does it calmly.
You do come across as someone who is always calm and centred. What has contributed to that?
I don’t know if it’s all the time, but at least most of the time, I believe I can be calm and centred. New situations keep cropping up and one needs time to centre oneself around them. But like everything else in life, being centred needs constant practice. There are so many irritants, so many things around us that are going wrong all the time. If you keep your focus constantly on the outside, you will misstep, you will lose your centre. That’s something I have believed in since I was 15 or 16. I have always believed that if you don’t stand for something, then you fall for everything. So I remain centred with practice and with the beliefs that I stand for.
You also come across as someone who doesn’t have a single insecure bone in her body. Has it always been like that?
I do have moments of insecurity, and that you never outgrow. No matter how evolved you are, there is always going to be something new in your life that will throw you off. And the only practice I maintain is that I try and keep the duration of feeling it as short as possible. But feel it, I do... of course, I do.