Earlier this year, she made an impression, starring alongside Kangana Ranaut, in Panga. Calcutta girl Megha Burman chatted with The Telegraph about life in lockdown, becoming self-reliant and what this time has taught her.
How’s life been like in the last few months when things have changed so much for all of us?
Life in lockdown is teaching me many lessons. Some days I am at peace and utilise my time well, and some mornings I wake up feeling despair about the future. I am in no position to complain about my existential woes as it’s all trivial in comparison to what others are going through. I feel anxious when I read about our front-line warriors. They are true heroes and deserve more respect.
Initially, I had a ‘quarantine to-do list’, which included a lot of reading, writing and studying for my third-year Urdu exams at Mumbai University. I started learning Urdu for a film with Irrfan Khan, which finally didn’t happen but I pursued the course. It’s such a privilege to understand the language and to be able to read and write it.
But these are unprecedented times and it can be a mixed bag of emotions. So the focus shifted a bit to things that comfort me. I am trying to keep the entertainment light and avoid dystopian content. Also, managing a house is no joke.
Is there anything that you have been doing during this period that you otherwise didn’t have time for?
Cooking has been a big one for me, but I would not call it a skill, yet. Initially, it seemed like a chore and I was spending hours in the kitchen. Early on, I had a mini meltdown making rotis! Now, I plan my meals a day in advance so I don’t waste time. It has become a meditative activity for me, I listen to podcasts or music and have surprisingly become decent and quick.
I turned vegan a few years ago and in this lockdown, I tried my hand at a few vegan recipes which I used to order out. I make my own nut milk ... almond, walnut, cashew and coconut... from scratch, as well as my own nut butters. I also made coconut yoghurt, vegan chocolate, vegan ice cream, brownies and cookies. I cooked this amazing turmeric tofu and coconut curry with chickpeas. Basically, I pretend I’m a scientist and the kitchen is my lab... I experiment and get creative to keep food interesting. I am speaking from a place of privilege, though.
Painting is a new interest. When I heard about Irrfan Sir’s passing, I felt so overwhelmed with grief and didn’t know what to do with those intense emotions trapped within my house, I released it all in a watercolour painting. I felt light after. Since then I sketch and paint regularly by my window, watching the sun set.
I am enjoying reading with no distractions. I read How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, On Writing by Stephen King, the biography of (Robert) DeNiro by John Parker and reread Men Without Women by (Haruki) Murakami. I am revisiting the plays I read while in drama school in New York.
What are your top tips for keeping it sane during this period?
Pranayama for 10 to 15 minutes daily, yoga asana practice and meditation are what keep me sane in life in general. I am a certified Hatha Yoga teacher and cannot go a day without my practice. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps combat stress and anxiety. I have been doing Ashtanga. Since the lockdown, I started meditating more often. I recommend apps like Calm and Headspace which have guided meditations and are easy to follow. Set aside 10-20 minutes a day to meditate.
On most evenings, I do a 30-minute HIIT session, so I can eat my vegan desserts guilt free. But seriously, breaking a sweat, getting my heart rate up to get a free rush of endorphins has been another important aspect of keeping sane. When I was prepping for Panga, I was sometimes training upto three times a day. I was an equestrian horse rider as a teenager and trained at Fort William Riding School for years and played squash regularly at The Saturday Club. My body loves and craves movement. Plus, it also helps me sleep better at night.
Last but never the least, talking to family every day. My sister who is in Sydney, my father who is in Calcutta and I video-chat every day.
Has this time also made you re-evaluate life?
Absolutely. If this shared global experience doesn’t make us introspect, then what will? Even though I am socially distancing, never have I felt more connected to others across the globe. I am extremely passionate about the environment and sustainability. That’s why I mostly eat a plant-based diet. I used to go for beach clean ups and was shocked to see the amount of single-use plastic embedded in the sand that’s choking marine life. Pre-corona, I was already conscious of reducing my plastic footprint, but this lockdown has taught me that I need to be mindful of food wastage as well. Another very crucial thing this lockdown has taught me is the importance of composting at home. If every household had a compost bin, all the dry peels could turn into compost and feed our little home gardens.
I also realised that I need just the basics to survive. If anything this experience is teaching me is to shop less and buy only what is absolutely necessary. I will henceforth buy sustainable and environmental-friendly goods from our local communities so that the grassroots can benefit too.
The world is on a pause at the moment, but what can we expect from you once you start working actively again?
Work is still on in a different way, but it’s slow. I have been self-taping auditions at home. I was meant to work on a web series and begin shooting in April-end. I am using this time to polish my craft. I’ve been reading books on acting and I am attending online masterclasses on writing, acting and sketching.
Panga has been streaming on the web. What has the feedback been like from people who didn’t catch it in theatres and are streaming it now?
Response and feedback has been pouring in since Panga released, but I get more messages now on my social media accounts. Panga recently aired on STAR Gold and STAR Plus, so it’s been nice to know that more people are getting to watch the film. I get a lot of direct messages mentioning my raid during the Asia Cup and get asked if it really was me who does the cartwheel! When they write in telling me that they watched Panga with their mother and their family enjoyed the film, I feel so proud that I got to be a part of that. Panga is streaming on Hotstar for those who missed it.