From Notebook (2006) to Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017) you have portrayed girls who deal with difficult situations.
In Notebook, I played one of the three girls and she had to make a tough choice. The filmmakers chose me for the role. I got really lucky in being given a character which is not exactly a good girl or a bad girl. She is what I call, real. We are all good people in our hearts. But when life throws certain choices at us, we end up doing things that might hurt our loved ones because we want to protect ourselves. We have all done that. I remember telling the scenarist that I would not have behaved like that character. And, he asked me, “Are you sure?” That was an eyeopener for me.... When I get a character, I look forward to discovering an area which I have not experienced. The more unrelatable the character, the better it is for me. The moment I know how to play a character, I would rather say no to doing it because there is nothing to learn.
I don’t like being typecast. I look for something different. I wait. I have been here for almost 11 years and I have done only about 20 films. I can go back to studies any time while I wait for a director who might want me.
You are still pursuing academics?
I have always wanted to go back to academics. I have done my master’s in English literature. I really wanted to take up law. But with education, you need to put in certain hours of study. That’s something I always do partly. Whenever I know that my kind of film is not coming my way, I sign up for an online course and keep myself busy.
As a person and as an actor, your mind and body are your tools, which should be kept fresh. When you are not working, it is the time to replenish it. Your mind needs to be constantly reminded of how to stay alert and focused. That can happen only through studies. These days, I do courses on civil and human rights because it is important for me to know what our basic rights are in this country.
You have also been noticed for your aggressive participation in Women in Cinema Collective?
If I feel something is wrong then I want to do something about it. I don’t wait for another person to come and do something. When a situation came for the 20 of us to start doing something, we decided to educate ourselves. All of us—actors, directors, camerawomen, editors—were teaching each other how to make our work-space a dignified place for everybody—for men, women and transgenders. I wouldn’t feel valued if I see injustice happening in front of me and don’t do anything about it. We have been lacking in aggressiveness for so many years that we feel numb about it. It is time to wake up.
While speaking to your co-star Irrfan from Qarib Qarib..., I learned that talking about yourselves was really difficult for you both during promotions?
Oh my God! It was. I mean we did a lot of it but we were in solidarity with each other. In Malayalam, the maximum promotion is for three days, the date close to the release of the film, the release day and a day after the release. I understand the audience space in Hindi cinema is huge and actors have to cater to all the markets. But it became very awkward for me because I have always felt that my job is only to act or to speak about issues in public. I can talk about my character and craft for hours. I would prefer to be asked questions like which storyteller would I like to work with.
Who is it that you want to work with?
I would love to work with Konkona [Sen Sharma]. I love her work. I love the way she has directed her actors. In theatre, I would love to collaborate with Kalki [Koechlin]. She is a brilliant storyteller. I love her plays and poems.