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Medha Shankar: I could instantly connect to Arshi’s pain

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the actress, who was seen in Netflix’s Beecham House and TVF’s Baap Baap Hota Hai, talks about her experience working in Shaadisthan and the immense possibilities on OTT platforms 

Anukriti Chaturvedi
Jul 01, 2021
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Actress Medha Shankar played the role of Arshi in Shaadisthan, a girl who is forced by her parents to get married at the tender age of 17. The Disney+ Hotstar release tries to shed light at the deep-rooted patriarchy still prevalent in India, including in the urban and educated strata of the society.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Medha talks about her experience working in Shaadisthan and Beecham House, her wish to collaborate with Imtiaz Ali and the immense possibilities on OTT platforms.

Excerpts from the interview:

What attracted you to the part of Arshi in Shaadisthan?

There are two reasons I signed this film - one because I instantly connected to this whole journey. She’s just a regular 17-year-old girl from Bombay. And she’s being forced to get married at such a tender age against her wishes. So it was very easy for me to instantly connect to her pain, angst and despair. I felt that this is a relevant subject. In our privileged bubble in urban cities, we feel that it doesn’t exist anymore, things have changed and India is not like that anymore. It’s a big misconception. It still is prevalent in our country. It's a social cause that needs attention. Secondly, my director showed so much confidence in me, the kind of faith he had in me just elevated the whole thing for me. 

Watch the interview here:

How do you get into the headspace of a character?

I created a personal story for Arshi, which was not on script, in an attempt to understand her better. So, I created a personal space, social space and other things like what dreams and aspirations she must have as a young girl. She's just a normal girl with a normal dream. So that sort of helped me understand her deeply and better. The way her pain in the story is written, is very apparent. Like, you can just read it, and you can see that what's happening to her is really wrong. So, I could instantly connect to the whole emotional journey, through this really brutal predicament. I could truly feel her pain and slide into her emotional headspace. Yes, it was challenging because such intense teen mental breakdowns are of course tough. But that's the beauty of it.

In Shaadisthan, you have parents with such an orthodox mindset. How are your parents in real life?

My parents are super chill. I personally believe your parents also grow with you. Your parents see you grow up into a certain kind of individual. Just like how we are constantly learning new things, our parents also grow up with us. So, what beliefs my father must have had 10 years ago, he probably doesn't have that anymore. He's evolved. My father was actually protective but not really controlling in a way. I've never experienced that sort of thing.

You have mentioned fangirling over Kay Kay Menon on the sets. Which actor/s have been your childhood/teenage crushes?

Honestly, it might sound weird, but I've never really had crushes on actors. I think I remember watching Dhoom 2 and thinking, how is it possible for Hrithik Rishan and Aishwarya Rai to look so good? I’m not really a crush sort of a person, maybe tomorrow, I might have a crush on some actor. I fangirl based on their work. Like, for example, Kay Kay sir for me as an actor, he's a legend. I was really shy when he came on set and I was like, how do I talk to him? It was one of those things and then gingerly, I asked him, ‘How are you? I'm a big fan, all of that.’

Is there an actor or director that you would like to work with in the future?

I'm a big fan of Imtiaz (Ali) sir’s work. It’s my dream to work in one of his films like Tamasha or Rockstar. I am also a huge fan of Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap. I really hope that I get to work with these three people in the future. As for actors, I would love to work with Ranveer Singh, Rajkumar Rao, Alia Bhatt and Deepika Padukone.

How different has your experience been working in Beecham House, TVF’s Baap Baap Hota Hai and Shaadisthan?

All three projects are distinctly different from each other. Beecham House was an international project. It had a huge production house, big director; so, everything on that set was quite big. It was extremely organised and professional. So it was a very different experience working on that set. It would probably spoil you as an actor because you expect that level of professionalism and punctuality.

But then it is too much fun working with TVF in Baap Baap Hota Hai with these actors, who also write and direct themselves. It is a completely different ballgame. Everyone on the sets are chilled out. Shaadisthan was a proper feature film with such big actors involved like Kirti, Nivedita and Kay Kay sir, actors I look up to. It was a beautiful experience working under Raj sir’s guidance as a director. He gives you the kind of creative freedom you don't expect as a new actor. So yeah, it's been completely different and I equally love all three experiences. 

You have mostly worked on OTT-based projects. Would you like to see yourself in a theatrical release? Or do you think OTT has a better advantage to reach the masses?

I'm always open to films. That's what you aim at. Shaadisthan was initially supposed to be a theatrical release. But we really lucked out with Disney+ Hotstar. I'm really grateful the film released on a platform like this. I think it couldn't have been better for us. The kind of response we got on the platform has been amazing and I personally feel the lines between these different media have blurred.

These days, an OTT project can sometimes be more popular and successful compared to a big commercial film. And these OTT artistes are big stars. So many big actors from the film industry are making their OTT debuts now. When I look at a project, it's about the script and the character that I'm asked to play and how much interest I have in that. It doesn't matter to me whether it's OTT or a theatrical film, I'm open to everything.

Which Bollywood actor do you look upto?

I'm a big fan of Alia Bhatt. I think she is one of the strongest actors we have in the industry right now. I think she just brings something very magical on the screen. That's a rarity. Also, Deepika Padukone for multiple reasons - not just acting but also the way she conducts herself and how strong she is. 

You will be seen in the upcoming series based on the book Those Pricey Thakur Girls. Can you tell us how you got the part and what do you think about this cult classic book by Anuja Chauhan?

I am not allowed to talk about the project. But I really loved the book when I read it two years ago. I was always a fan of Anuja Chauhan’s writing. There are a couple of other projects in the pipeline too. 

What projects would you recommend on OTT platforms?

Fleabag and Pataal Lok. Everyone should watch these two shows. 

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