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Bhnarer cha, posto and her role: What Yami Gautam loved in Kolkata

After spending a month in the city shooting for ‘Lost’, the actress speaks exclusively to The Telegraph

Priyanka Roy  | Published 08.09.21, 06:20 AM
Yami Gautam

Yami Gautam

Sourced by the correspondent

Yami Gautam Dhar has always been someone who radiates simplicity, honesty and humility. Shortly after she surprised the world by tying the knot with film-maker Aditya Dhar in June, Yami was in Kolkata for a month between July and August to shoot for Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s emotional thriller Lost, which she frontlines.

During her time in the city, the radiant actor — who has left a mark right from her first film Vicky Donor, and recently made everyone sit up with her act in Bala — not only shot for the film, co-starring Rahul Khanna and Pankaj Kapur, but also spent time getting a feel of Kolkata.

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After wrapping up the last day of shoot, Yami made time for an exclusive, freewheeling chat with The Telegraph on the experience of shooting Lost, what her career looks like now and why she opted for a simple but beautiful wedding.

I know it’s been a hectic couple of weeks for you shooting for Lost in Kolkata. What’s it been like? I just saw that heartwarming Instagram post that you put up saying that this has been one of your best shooting experiences...

This is the first time that I have spent so much time in Kolkata. It’s always been some promotion or an event that has brought me to the city, but this is the first time that I have actually shot here, and for such a long schedule. There were a lot of emotions, there were a lot of feelings going on because I have just got married, I finished one film (A Thursday) right after getting married and then I dived into Lost. I was excited to start another film and dive into a whole new world. I was definitely craving to spend a little more time with Aditya and with my family, and one month is quite a long time to be away.

But the way we plunged into shooting Lost and the way the days just passed by... it just started feeling shorter and shorter. You know, when one is bored and really wants to get out of a place, then every second seems longer than what it actually is. But with Lost, it was such a smooth and enjoyable process... we just got done so fast. Pata hi nahin chala ki kab picture khatam ho gayi... bahut mazaa aaya. I enjoyed every minute of it.

There is so much that I am taking away from the city and the people here.... Tonyda (director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury) and Indrani ma’am (Mukherjee), his lovely wife, were so good to me. I put up that Instagram post not just for the sake of putting up one. I don’t do things if I don’t feel strongly about them. Every word I wrote I really meant it, and there is so much more about this experience that I can’t put into words.

Are you going back a few kgs heavier just on the basis of the food that Tonyda lays out each day on set?

I am a few kgs heavier for sure, and so is my luggage! (Laughs) I was just telling Indrani ma’am that she’s packed so much stuff for me that I don’t know how to manage! I was like, ‘What is all this?!’ But that’s just how Tonyda and Indrani ma’am, as you well know, are. There are not many people like that. They are really special and very warm.

In the middle of such a hectic shoot, have you been able to do any quintessentially Kolkata things? I know how much of a tea lover you are — we have always spoken about it — and I did see that picture of you having bhnarer cha here...

Oh yes! (Laughs) Luckily, a lot of the locations were real locations, but then shooting in them is not easy. It’s very challenging. I got two-three days to myself sporadically between shoot days. There was one day when I wrapped up an hour prior to the scheduled time and I was close to Park Street, so I walked around there, or rather sneaked about! (Laughs) I ate and I ate! What have I left out? Nothing! (Laughs) From phuchka to machher jhol to mishti doi and rosogolla, of course... I had a lot of posto. I love street food. And that chai... oh my god! I can come back to Kolkata just for that chai! (Laughs) Do you know I actually called up my family just to tell them I had the most amazing chai here?! (Laughs) I was that happy! I had to share it with them. I told them that I cannot describe in words how amazing that chai is.

Tonyda, I don’t know how, easily figured what kind of chai I would like. I had it and I was like, ‘What!’ In fact I treasured it... I sipped on it very dheere dheere... I took 15 minutes to finish that chai (laughs). And the people in the unit were like, ‘You know we can get you more, na?!’ (Laughs) My soul was happy!

What made you want to do Lost?

First, it was the script, and that’s how it should be for most of us, going forward. We are all realising the strength that most of the scripts have today. I am glad that time has come back in my life, which I had longed for after Vicky Donor. The script of Lost is so relevant, but the idea behind it has never been, ‘Okay, this is a socially relevant film, so let’s just make it.’ It’s not for the heck of it. It’s been written in a very pure and honest manner, and that’s how we shot it.

This is not just about someone being lost or a person going missing. It’s about a lot of things that are lost today... it’s a metaphor. I loved the script, I loved the role....Vidhi (the character Yami plays in Lost) is someone who is very true to her work, very true to who she is.... She’s today’s girl, she relies a lot on her ethics. Her work is everything to her, but at the same time, she’s not someone who is detached. In fact, it’s her emotional side that drives her. For someone else, it could just be a story, but for Vidhi, it’s much more than that. I love the relationship she has with her grandfather. I love the relationship she has with people who she doesn’t even know properly... but that’s how she is.

I really wanted to play her. I am not an actor who judges or sets any moral standard for any character, least of all for Vidhi. And, of course, I wanted to work with Tonyda. I had watched Pink as well as some of his Bengali films. He’s an incredible director, and also someone who really wants to get a good performance out of his actors. There are some films in which nothing really happens on screen, and yet so much happens in terms of subtext. He really believes in that kind of cinema. Cinema where things just happen in the moment, and one doesn’t really need to work hard to orchestrate them. Things really fell into place well for me to come on board and do this film.

Yami with director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury on her last day of shoot for 'Lost'

Yami with director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury on her last day of shoot for 'Lost'

Sourced by the correspondent

Did you pick up any Bangla on set? You did play a Bengali in your debut film Vicky Donor...

Yes, yes I did. On the sets of Lost, whenever the ADs (assistant directors) would come and tell me, ‘Shot is ready’, I would urge them to tell me the same in Bangla (laughs). And I would try and pick up, and everyone told me I didn’t do too badly!

I remember we were shooting on the road. We hadn’t blocked the road, we wanted the traffic to move and it was kind of a guerilla shoot. I just had to get out of my taxi and give my shot. In the middle of the shot, I saw this car stopping and though the windows were up, I could hear them shout in Bengali and they wanted to pick a fight with me. They were like, ‘Aaaaay! Ei shob ki?! (Laughs) It didn’t bother me because it sounded really sweet, and I just went on with my shot (laughs). The man actually got down from his car, but luckily he never came into the frame. So while I was acting and doing the whole scene, out of the corner of my eye, I could see this man shouting.

But for me, Bengali is music to the ears. I have enjoyed listening to it, learning it, I have picked up words and phrases. I hope to learn it better with time. And now I can understand it pretty well. Like today, I went for my (Covid-19) vaccination and the nurse spoke to me in Bangla. And someone asked me if I understood anything. And I was like, ‘Not only did I understand, I can even tell you perfectly what she said’ (laughs). Everyone was like, ‘Yami, not bad!’

These are undoubtedly busy times for you. You have Bhoot Police releasing on September 10. Now that theatres are gradually opening up, does it hurt somewhere that this will be a streaming release?

It’s up to the producer to really take that call, and the economics have to make sense to the producer. Theatres have opened up in some parts of the country, but we are still in that space where people have a lot of apprehensions, and for the right reasons. I don’t know how long it will take before most people feel safe again to be in theatres and in the meantime, if this (a streaming release) is the route to take, then so be it.

Of course, we will want the big screen experience. A lot of times when we shoot a film, we say, ‘Oh, this scene will look great on the big screen.’ Bhoot Police (co-starring Saif Ali Khan, Arjun Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez) has been shot in Himachal (Pradesh), it has some beautiful locales. But one needs to move with the times and adapt. 

You complete a decade in Bollywood next year. How are you picking your parts now?

As I said, the script is paramount. Then is the role, and how different are the parts I am being offered from one another. I can confidently say that all the roles I am playing now are completely different from each other. Right from Bhoot Police to Dasvi to A Thursday to Lost to the next few films I am slated to do.... I always wanted that.... I always wanted to not stick to one genre or bracket. As much as the audience wants to get surprised, I want that for myself as well.

And then, of course, I want to work with directors with whom I feel a connect. I want to go and work on a set which is collaborative and on which I feel happy. There may be hard work to do, there may be challenges, but those I welcome.

I don’t want the pressure where you regret signing a film, and where the process of shooting it becomes tedious and unhappy. That’s the worst feeling. I have been through that and I don’t want that to ever happen again. But that’s fine. I value that side of experience also, it’s important to have it too.

Back in the day, when I started out and a few years after that, I didn’t have these choices. It took time for good opportunities to come in, and I have been told that it does take time. For many good actors, it’s taken a long time to really establish themselves in the space where they are in right now. I have always believed in evolving, even when the opportunities were not so good. The thing about time is that it’s not constant and things do change. One needs to keep that belief in oneself, be patient and believe that things will come your way.

Luckily Uri happened to me. Even Kaabil did a few years before Uri, but then again, not many interesting opportunities came in after that. Uri and Bala happened one after another, and that changed everything for me. I also accept the fact that I am not a very social person, I am not great at reaching out to people. Things take time, but eventually, good things do happen.

How has the last year been for you, both personally and professionally. For many of us, it’s been life-altering and has made us reset our priorities...

This time changed a lot for me. I got married! (Laughs) But before that, I decided it was important not to get riled up, even if none of us could fathom how the pandemic would change our lives. For the first three months, I was alone in Mumbai, with only my house help. I was waiting to get back home. Eventually, the flights opened up and that first moment, after months, with my family was so special. I realised that’s my world. I am someone who is really connected to my family, even though we stay apart.

Also, yoga helped me a lot to cope. I was always doing it, but at that time, I became even more disciplined about it. Even though I wasn’t working, I made it a point to wake up early and have an active routine through the day. Do yoga, read something, watch something, cook something.... I also had a lot of scripts, which I am now shooting for, and I made time to study and scrutinise them and prep in whatever little way I could.

But that came much later. First, I had to absorb what was happening and how life was changing. I don’t know whether I have learnt something about it. The second wave was even more devastating and nothing was bigger than that. And then, I got married, of course.

I know this is not part of your question, but I truly hope that as a country, this period will teach us something about cleanliness and hygiene. Even now, I see tourists littering places, and that gets me upset and angry. It seems like we haven’t learnt from our mistakes.

Yami married film-maker Aditya Dhar in June this year

Yami married film-maker Aditya Dhar in June this year

Sourced by the correspondent

Your marriage to your Uri director Aditya Dhar in early June was very hush-hush and took everyone by surprise. What struck all of us was the simplicity of the rituals in an age of carefully curated celebrity weddings. Did you always want a no-fuss, no-frills wedding?

Absolutely! I didn’t know it would finally end up like this, but this is something that my heart always desired. I wanted to get married where my heart belonged, which is Himachal. It’s where I was born, and I always wanted my wedding to be a very, very personal affair with my family. I missed having my naani at the wedding, but she was so understanding. We had permission for only 20 people at the wedding, and we didn’t even flout a single rule. There was nothing like, ‘Chalo, 25 kar lete hain.

It was just the two families. The simplicity, the beauty, just the emotions.... No formalities of any sort, and more importantly, no wastage of food, which is something both Aditya and I believe in. I admire the fact that he has achieved what he has achieved without compromising on his core ethics and values, and we are both like that. We are both simple people. 

Sourced by the correspondent

I have never been a big fan of having a DJ at a wedding. I love traditional songs, I love it when women gather and sing traditional songs. We had our Pahadi songs, some traditional Punjabi folk songs, some Kashmiri songs.... Both Aditya and I love that old-world charm. Also, I really wanted to wear my mother’s sari. It was not because it was the lockdown and there was no option. I always wanted to wear that nath you saw me wearing, which is part of our heritage. My naani gifted it to me, and also the dupatta I was wearing. I wanted to follow every tradition, which we did.

I am happy a lot of girls, a lot of families related to what we did. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money to make your wedding a happy affair. It’s the union of two people, of two families and it should be about joy and celebration. I don’t believe in showing off and all the other things, which at the end of the day mean nothing.

Last updated on 08.09.21, 03:36 PM
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