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This profession could turn you into a monster or it could turn you into a saint: Anushka Sharma

Anushka Sharma on her soon-to-be released film, Zero, her destination wedding last year, and what different characters have taught her

By Karishma Upadhyay

  • Published 30.11.18, 7:41 PM
  • Updated 4.12.18, 12:29 AM
Anushka Sharma
Anushka Sharma Telegraph picture

Bucking (Bollywood) tradition has been the hallmark of Anushka Sharma’s decade-long acting career. Conventionally, actresses look at production and marriage only when acting offers begin dwindling. But Anushka became a producer at 25 and got married at 29. The safety net of convention is not one that the actress is even remotely interested in. “My life has always been like that and I’ve done things unconventionally. I’ve done these things because they seemed right to me, not because someone else is doing it,” she said when t2 met her for a chat at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studio recently.

Anushka is gearing up for her last release of 2018 — Aanand L. Rai’s ambitious fillm Zero — that also stars Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif and she chatted about being confined to a wheelchair to play Aafia, the monologue in her head when she first met Shah Rukh Khan and her secret destination wedding last year. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

You’ve had another exceptional year at the movies.

Anushka Sharma:

 2018 has really been incredible, performance-wise and for the diversity I’ve managed to have with my roles. The kind of roles I did this year were very hectic to play, with the amount of work and prep that went in. And one doesn’t realise this till you’re done with it. When you’re in motion, you don’t feel it. Looking back now, I was working like a maniac and somewhere I do feel that quality of life is also important. It’s important to not keep yourself so tied up and have no breaks in between because you end up losing those breaks to prep for the next film. I would want to spend more time between films.

Karishma Upadhyay:

Aafia in Zero is differently abled. What kind of research and prep did you have to do to understand the role?

Anushka Sharma:

Aanand Sir and Himanshu (Sharma, the film’s writer) had already done their work on this. Himanshu explained to me what her condition was, and what her journey is. What’s amazing about Aafia is while she’s differently abled, she’s highly intellectual. Her brilliance is what creates the spirit that she has in the film, and that had to be beautifully portrayed on screen.

I worked with an audiologist and an occupational therapist for three months, who helped me understand what the condition was, and the physical limitations that were there. Those three months were also very fruitful for me, because I’ve understood so much more about Athetoid Cerebral Palsy, which is when your body has involuntary movements. It’s difficult to do because your body and muscles go into spasms and suddenly release, and it has to be done while remembering your dialogues and the emotions of the scene. I understood how challenging it’s going to be only when I started work on it.

Karishma Upadhyay:

For an actor, movement is a large part of the process. What was it like to be confined to a wheelchair through the film and yet deliver a performance?

Anushka Sharma:

For an actor, physicality is important but it’s only as important as the role that you play. For example, Mamta (her character in Sui Dhaaga) wasn’t a very physical character. It wasn’t a physical constraint but her personality was very contained. Here, there is that aspect that comes into play, and I had to also portray her brilliance, maturity and zest for life.

In the beginning, it was tough and I would ask for a lot more takes because her physicality wasn’t looking correct to me. I would also ask Shah Rukh to be patient with me during the first schedule, and he was more than happy to. Especially because it’s an involuntary movement, it’s very hard to do. It requires heavy breathing, which would get me very tired and my body would go into spasms because I had tightened it so much. I finally got comfortable doing it later on, but it took a while to get used to.

An actor usually finishes a shot and gets up and goes, but I would not. I would stay in the wheelchair, go to another mark on my wheelchair and sit there alone. I would rarely leave the wheelchair on set, and ended up staying away from everybody as well. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

It’s been 10 years for you in the business. What’s the one thing that’s come with being a famous face that you like and one thing that you hate?

Anushka Sharma:

There are lots of things to like. The good thing about being a celebrity is being in a position where I can influence someone’s mind in the right way; that’s a beautiful position to be in. The other thing I love is the independence of being an actor, and I like being self-employed and having the choice of doing what I want. I also like that my work isn’t monotonous, and with every film that I do, I’m working with a different set of people, and on a different role.

You get to understand so much about life when you play different characters, like in this film I’ve understood so much about someone who’s differently abled. With Mamta, I understood so much about someone from a different strata of society and her struggles. With Pari, I understood what it was like to be half-demon, half-human! (Laughs) You won’t find that in any other profession. You learn to have a lot more empathy, you become a more chilled human being because you understand that everybody has a different life and you become less judgemental as a person.

The negative side is that a lot of assumptions get made about you and you have to be okay with it. Trying to clarify all those assumptions is a very long, tedious and unnecessary process, and you learn to be very resilient and to take on a lot on your chin. You become less of a people pleaser, so all in all this is a great school and I treat everyone I meet here as a guru, because they all teach you something and go away. It’s a great leveller and either it could turn you into a monster or it could turn you into a saint; it’s a choice you make. 

Anushka Sharma with Shah Rukh Khan in her debut film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
Anushka Sharma with Shah Rukh Khan in her debut film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. A still from the film
Karishma Upadhyay:

You clearly love your job enough to see the negative as a positive!

Anushka Sharma:

 (Laughs) Yeah.

Karishma Upadhyay:

What’s your one abiding memory of making Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi?

Anushka Sharma:

There are two moments. One was a one-take scene from start to finish, where the kind of applause I got on set was bizarre. It’s one thing for the crew to do it for a star, but these people didn’t know who I am or what my future is, and that made to feel like I could do this. The other time was when I did the first talkie scene with Shah Rukh. After the scene, he just laughed and told Adi (Aditya Chopra, director) to give him 10 minutes because I was prepared and he needed to do some preparation. Of course, he was also doing that to encourage me. But those are the two moments that I really remember and cherish.

Karishma Upadhyay:

How do you remember your first meeting with Shah Rukh?

Anushka Sharma:

I was just sitting when he first came on set and that memory is so clear and vivid, I remember everything. He came up to me and congratulated me and wished me luck. I thanked him but was lost for words and didn’t say anything much then. I would keep looking at him from the corner of my eye because I would feel very awkward talking to him. Why would he want to talk to me? I was 19, and I thought anything I said to him would sound stupid. So, I kept having a monologue in my head instead of talking to him. It was a big deal, because I’d grown up seeing all his films and to be on set doing a film with him. I kept asking myself what was happening with me. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

You are coming up to your first wedding anniversary. Like you, others have also taken the plunge this year. This is the first time when a majority of our leading actresses are married… 

Anushka Sharma:

I was told that actresses don’t marry this early in their careers. I was 29, and usually one marries a lot later. For me, it wasn’t anything I was going to pay any attention to because I believe myself to be an accomplished woman and I think I have a standing in this society that’s as important as anyone else. Following these patriarchal rules set by the industry, and getting fearful for that reason would mean I’m pretending I’m somebody I’m not.

I love the man (Virat Kohli), and in our heads we were already married. This was just something we did as a natural progression; it’s incidental. I’ve had a highly successful year post that, and I’ve been working round the clock. I believe a lot in the sanctity of an institution like marriage, and spending and sharing my life with somebody who I deeply love and respect is very important to me.

I’m good at compartmentalising, and have created very strong boundaries between my personal and work lives, which is why I’ve managed to be sane, peaceful and happy in both aspects. I’m happy to see everyone else who’s getting married and finding joy; it’s nice to see people who are in love and deciding to spend their lives together. We’re living in an age when women have kids, and still take trains and go to work. So, for people like us in influential positions, you should set the right tone. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

And you had the wedding you always wanted!

Anushka Sharma:

We wanted our wedding to be extremely contained and to forget that we’re two celebrities. There’s a way we see each other and we wanted just those two people to be there for those three days, and not our professional lives. It was with that purity and sanctity that we did it, and were very happy about it. I feel that when you do things for the right reasons, you ultimately feel happy and blessed; that’s just how it is.

Karishma Upadhyay:

You’ve been working round the clock for some years now, but I hear you currently don’t have a film in hand!

Anushka Sharma:

(Laughs) I’ve been working on back-to-back films. I feel like I want to take the time to pick my next project. I’ve always been very choosy and sometimes when you’re making those choices, they end up happening back-to-back and sometimes it takes time to pick something. I’ve been reading some scripts, and there are a couple of films I’m excited to do. I’ll make the announcements very soon. I’ve managed to earn that position and the security as an actor, to not sign films just for the heck of it; they need to add value to my career and to me as an actor.

I have my hands full as a producer, though. We’re doing a film with Netflix which goes on the floors in February. We’re also doing a show with Amazon Prime. This is the first time I’m not acting in these projects and yet they’re being seen as viable. I’m very happy because we’re being seen as an able production house that can generate interesting, new talent. 

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