Although Amruta Subhash has long been an admirer of Konkona Sensharma and Tillotama Shome’s work, it’s the first time they worked together in a project
Amruta Subhash, along with Tillotama Shome and Konkona Sensharma; (images credit: Instagram/@amrutasubhash and @konkona)
National Award-winning actress Amruta Subhash, who has had an illustrious career in Marathi and Hindi films as well as theatre, is currently one of the most talked about names in news cycles. Why? Because of her bold and brilliant performance in Netflix’s sizzling anthology film Lust Stories 2. Amruta is winning hearts as Seema (a house help) in the Konkona Sensharma-directed segment, The Mirror, where she is featured alongside Tillotama Shome and Shrikant Yadav.
In Konkona’s layered and nuanced style of storytelling, the narrative explores the politics of intimacy, desire and the pleasures of peeping, while also touching upon class divide, the impact of financial constraints and the curious case of urban loneliness.
A National School of Drama graduate, Amruta is known for her work in films and series like Shwaas, Astu, Gully Boy, Bombay Begums, Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt. Ltd., Wonder Women and Sacred Games Season 2. In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the actress shares her experience of doing the intimate scenes in Lust Stories 2, why she admires Konkona and Tillotama as human beings more than as contemporaries, her take on the female gaze and why she thinks the OTT revolution has been a blessing for artistes like her. Excerpts:
Q. Tell us about your experience of playing Seema in Lust Stories 2. Were there any inhibitions?
A. With Seema, the most challenging part for me was to do the intimate scenes, and Konkana helped me immensely in that. For the sake of those intimate scenes, the casting, as to who will play my husband, was very important for me. I am grateful to my husband [actor Sandesh Kulkarni], who suggested the name of Shrikant Yadav [who played Kamal, Seema’s husband in the film]. Shrikant is our old friend and a fantastic actor. Sandesh and Konkana are also friends. They have worked together in the [Amazon Prime Video series] Mumbai Diaries 26/11, directed by Nikkhil Advani. So these two factors were very important.
Before the shooting started, I had asked Konkona for a day. I wanted her, me, Shrikant and our cinematographer Anand Bansal to spend that day and improvise all those scenes, because though that it will be very difficult to directly meet on set and do such things. Actually, I remember that day Konkona had a fever and she was not feeling well. But she still turned up for that meeting, because she understood spending that day together was important for my comfort. On that day, we decided how we would work out the entire thing in front of the camera.
Q. Still preparing to do those intimate scenes must have required some amount of internalising…
A. Although Shrikant was a friend, doing intimate scenes together is a different equation altogether. But he’s also such a fantastic actor. So, I wanted to look for that chemistry between Shrikant and I, where you portray the ease and comfort of having been married for years. After that, there were no inhibitions, as far as the bodies were concerned. You’re used to each other’s bodies. It becomes like second nature. After so many years of marriage, you are not like, ‘Oh my god, what are you wearing?’ No, it doesn’t happen like that. That pre-filming discussion really helped us. We discussed the positions and also how we will do it when the camera is rolling.
I must mention Anand and his team here, because while we were shooting those scenes, his team would be the only people around. And they had this capacity of just dissolving and disappearing inside the room.
We had to think that there’s no one around us. It’s just both of us. And we are doing that in Isheeta’s house, because we can’t do it at our home; there is no space for us. There were many people who helped create that comfort.
I must also mention Disha here - Konkona’s first assistant who’s the other person inside the room. While the scenes are shot, Konkona will be there at the monitor. She’ll make it a point after every shot to come to me and whisper in my ears, ‘Everything’s fine. I’m watching everything’. Those words were important because both Shrikanth and I were vulnerable while shooting those scenes. But all these people made us comfortable by continuously trying their best to put us at ease. I’m really grateful to my entire team for the comfort I got on the set.
Q. In your illustrious film career, you have worked with several powerful female directors - from Sumitra Bhave and Alankrita Shrivastava to Zoya Akhtar and Konkona. What’s your take on the female gaze in a narrative?
A. The first intimate scene I did was in Anurag Kashyap’s Sacred Games 2. And he was so sensitive when we shot the intimate scenes in the series. Of course, when the director is a woman, it is more comfortable. But Anurag made me forget the gender of the director. He was so considerate. He understood my vulnerability just like how a woman director would do. I never made that bifurcation between a female and male director. There’s a good director and there’s a bad director; there is a vulnerable sensitive director and then there is an insensitive director. And I’ve been really fortunate to have sensitive directors while doing intimate scenes.
There was also director Alankrita Shrivastava. She also did some improvisations before the actual intimate scenes, because I was playing a bar dancer and a prostitute in Netflix’s Bombay Begums. So there as well, I couldn't be inhibited because a prostitute is the last person to have inhibitions about sex.
I have been fortunate to have all the sensitive directors, whether they were men or women, I would say. They all were sensitive, and I’m really lucky to have them all in spite of their genders. Having said that, I find it very important that women directors are coming up and are telling their stories in their own unique ways. And I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many of them. I started my career with Sumitra Bhave. There was this director duo, called Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar. And I owe my first National Award to their film Astu. I used to call her Sumitra mausi, and all the experience and knowledge I got was from her. I have done many Marathi films with her. That said, I also worked with Zoya Akhtar, Alankrita, Bornila Chatterjee, Anjali Menon, and now Konkona. I think I have worked more with women directors than men.
Q. How would you describe Konkana as a director?
A. So about Konkana, we all keep debating over whether she is better as an actor or a director. Of course, she’s both - a fantastic actor and a fantastic director. But I would say she’s an amazing human being. I have been observing Konkana since my early days. I watched Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, and I was like, ‘Oh, my god. Who is this actor?’
In fact, my whole journey is inspired by watching Konkona, making her own space in this industry and with so much strength. She’s always been herself. Konkona showed many actors like me that if you are confident and if you trust who you are, you will get your place. You don’t have to change for the sake of the industry, and that’s been my inspiration for years. It was my dream to work with her, and the universe has been kind to make that happen through Lust Stories 2.
Now, as a director, her lovingness and kindness makes you feel very free. So, I could forget that I was in awe of her because of her kindness. She is very focussed and knows what she wants very well. Her clarity about what she wants is amazing. Somebody asked me the other day in one of the interviews, did you improvise? I said no, because she knew everything so well, and prepared for it so well. We had so many rehearsals before the shooting started. She makes the actor feel completely comfortable and safe, because she’s herself an actor. She understands an actor’s vulnerability very deeply, I would say.
The same can be said about Anurag also. He’s such a good actor, and that’s why he understands the actor’s vulnerability. So, I think in that sense, a director, if he’s a good actor or he knows the actor’s psyche, it’s a dream come true for any actor, because every actor is vulnerable with each new role.
The day when we were shooting the scene where Isheeta comes home and I realised that she watches us while doing that, Konkona said, ‘Amruta, there are many things I want to tell you. But before I tell you, you are already doing them.’ So, we reached that equation in our first film itself, because it’s my first project with her, and I didn’t even know her personally before that. Before working in this film, she was not even my friend. She was just a person whom I looked up to. Her compassion and love have made my performance possible in the film.
Q. How was it working with Tillotama Shome?
A. Working with Tillotama in Lust Stories 2 was a major thing for me. Apart from the intimate scenes, her shots will be taken differently and ours will be taken differently. But in two major scenes - the fight sequence and the last scene with her, which is also the culmination of the film - our chemistry really helped a lot. Off the camera, we respect each other’s work and also love each other a lot. We had not worked together before, but we had immense admiration for each other’s work. That, I think, helped build the chemistry between Isheeta and Seema. And then afterwards, Konkona told me that Tilottama was already cast when the film started happening, and she was the one who mentioned my name to the director. When Konkana and her were discussing who can play Seema, it was Titllotama who suggested my name. And I’m really grateful to her for that, and for having an amazing chemistry between us.
I admire the hard work she puts in toward essaying any character. I have always followed her journey, and I am like what a good actor she is! I had really liked her role in Chintu Ka Birthday, and I had told her that also. Nobody mentions that role much, but I had really liked her in that. She’s such a good actor. Once I had met her for some other project, in which I was not shooting with her, where I got to know that she reads a lot. And then, I got to know her about her lifestyle. I was in awe of how her lifestyle contributes to her career and profession. That was also something I was very impressed with. But to work with her during this film has been really amazing, because I saw her hard work, real sincerity and her love. I think good films are made out of love and compassion. And even Tllotama’s love made it possible for me to portray Seema the way I did. So I’m just grateful to both of them.
Q. Do you think OTT is making space for the kind of stories and characters that we unheard of before?
A. Yes, and I’m very grateful to the OTT movement that started in India. I was once interviewing Deepti Nawal after the launch of one of her books. The publishers wanted an actor to interview her, so I was doing that. And she told me that after a certain point of time, she stopped acting and went into painting, because she was getting slotted in a particular role after a certain age. When I heard that, I thought, that would be a nightmare; what would happen to my career after a certain age? Because, even I wouldn’t like to get stuck in a particular image. I was really concerned about what would happen. But then I keep saying my dreams to the universe and the universe always has been kind. And at that time, OTT happened to India, and suddenly many things opened up for me. I feel fortunate to have done different kinds of roles - from Kusum Devi Yadav [in Sacred Games Season 2], Lily [in Bombay Begums] or Razia Sheikh [in Gully Boy]. I’m now curious what’s next, because most of the recent roles I did on OTT were also male roles, which were later converted into a female character. I’m excited about how OTT gives us more freedom.
Q. Anything you enjoyed watching on OTT recently?
A. I actually watch many things on OTT, and I’m happy that a lot of good work is happening in the digital space. I recently watched The Piano Teacher on MUBI, which is just out of this world. And then, I watched Scoop and Dahaad, which I really loved.