"Lipstick Under My Burkha made me realise my true potential as a woman in this country and in the world " Aahana Kumra. The star from Lipstick Under My Burkha shared her experiences on Gender equality, Films and Padmawati in a candid chat over cup of chai, in a winter evening at the City Of Joy , Kolkata.
Paul: Did you realise while shooting for the film Lipstick Under My burkha, that it will touch millions of hearts across the globe?
Aahana: No, when we were shooting for the film, we made sure we accomplish the shoot with all the time constraints we had. It was all real locations, and at no point in time are they easy to shoot. Obviously, we managed to do it, but surely the film was a revolution for Indie films and cinema in general.
Paul: The film advocated for gender equality, as an actor do you feel the film industry has opened up to the idea of equality and what are the challenges ahead?
Aahana: Challenges exists in every industry... if you are a woman there will always be people judging how you did it when you make it to the top. It is not just an industry-specific, women are judged in every profession. We are not taken seriously and for a long time women are being objectified in the industry but now the norms are breaking and women are looked on more seriously ...and today there is a gradual increase in the number of both female directors and technicians.
I had meetings with a lot of big directors, and they hinted me that I should insist on keeping my opinions and intelligence to myself, but I have grown up with strong opinions and why shouldn't I opinionate on issues that I strongly feel for.
Paul: The character Leela from Lipstick Under My Burkha was very independent and she supported her mother and made her independent choices ...how do you relate yourself to the role that you played in the film?
Aahana: I think I have been lucky enough with the kind of work that I received, I have never gone to a director, and asked for a role. Whatever work has come to me is only because somebody saw me on stage and recommended. And also I have never really looked around for scripts advocating feminism, but the truth is Lipstick Under My Burkha has only made me realize my true potential as a woman in this country and in the world.
Certainly there was a relatability factor between me and the character that I played of Leela, I had an idea that it was a great script, one that I couldn't let go off, with a great part for me, somewhere I felt that Leela was very close to what I do, the kind of choices I make, and living life on my own terms. Over the years I have met many inspirational women and maybe Leela was one of those. Thankfully after watching the film a lot of women could identify themselves with the characters in the film and that was absolutely fulfilling as an actor and for them, it was a life-changing experience.
Paul: A key moment from the movie that influenced you or helped you to know yourself better?
Aahana: I think the film has broken down a lot of things for me, the kind of myths I had about sex and men. My scenes were physically the most tormenting ones and I was seen with both the male protagonist and the experiences exposed me to particular moments which were very crucial for discovering myself, today I am not someone who gets inhibited by people or by any situation and the trick that I learnt throughout that journey was simply to stay calm , and adapt to a situation .
Paul: As a theatre actor do you feel somewhere the digital world is influencing the world of theatre and stage acting can find its place in apps?
Aahana: Yes, (chuckles) aren't we all bored of seeing the same film stars on screen, well there is a lot of money riding on them and they have to follow the business model, but there is no money riding on theatre actors like us, so we are free individuals coming from the theatre space, we never experienced limits and boundaries in the theatre.
As an actor it is my job to observe human beings of all sorts, the point of being an actor will only stand valid when I can get inspiration from an everyday person. With the invent/ advent of digital media there is no limit for us. The kind of content we are presenting to our audience is getting better and it is working. In most of the web series you can spot an everyday character and sometimes you relate them to yourself, but in films, it is not the same case.
Paul: A massive debate escalated with the film Padmavati, isn't it high time for political parties and religious groups to stop escorting to directors and actors and dogging away from the real mandate for the elections?
Aahana: Firstly we are Actors, we are given a script, and we have to act a particular scene in a manner that the director wants, we also do our research to know our characters closely. Now I don't debate with my director about the validity of the character that I am playing.
What matters to me as an actor is that I have got a great role to play, an excellent director, a great script, and a big budget film which is going to get me my next job. As an actor, this is how I earn my living. Likewise, the government is doing its job and in most of the times it is simply making " noise" meanwhile what is amazing is that Padmavati has received a great publicity.
The thing about art is that it makes you think, sometimes it makes you uncomfortable, and also makes you realize. A lot of individuals express their opinion about the society through art, popularly and films too influence most of us. The political forces can try to suppress but there will always be directors like Kashyap, Dibakar, and Zoya who will do their job brilliantly.
Paul: So what brings you back to Kolkata and especially at this time of the year?
Aahana: It's December and we are in the Park Street (chuckles), surely the food in Kolkata intrigues me, this city has something charismatic about it, the kind of singers and bands that come out of Kolkata is incredible, something that fascinates me about Kolkata, the city is still stuck in time , the people are so warm and surely one of the safest city in our country.