Neha Dhupia, who plays Catherine Alvarez in A Thursday, talks about the film, shooting while eight months pregnant and more.
Neha Dhupia in A Thursday | Image via Twitter
Neha Dhupia and I quickly settle into interview mode to discuss her new project A Thursday that’s out, well, this Thursday (February 17). The thriller, directed by Behzad Khambatta, doesn’t seem like a spiritual successor to A Wednesday but the nomenclature was producer Ronnie Screwvala’s idea who owns the rights to both films. However, there does seem some similarity — here Yami Gautam, a kindergarten teacher, holds 16 children, hostage, while the 2008 thriller saw Naseeruddin Shah’s character threaten to blow up parts of Mumbai if his demands weren’t fulfilled. It’s a provocative premise but whether or not it entices the audience the way the makers have intended, is something we’ll soon see.
Dhupia plays ACP Catherine Alvarez, a heavily pregnant cop who, in the trailer, is seen negotiating with Gautam’s character and at one point decides to let an OP team into the kindergarten building, in spite of her colleague’s (Atul Kulkarni) protests. It seems like a demanding enough role to play and adding pregnancy to the mix just amps up the challenge. But Dhupia made it through.
The actor has worked in feature-length films since 2003, has her own podcast No Filter Neha, and is also a part of the reality show Roadies. “It’s just been me inventing, reinventing and trying to get work,” she tells OTTPlay in an exclusive interview (on a Saturday). Dhupia also talks about how the streaming revolution has opened up better windows of opportunities, and how her children are the reason why she’s so particular about the roles she takes up.
Excerpts from the conversation below:
Could you tell me about A Thursday and why it appealed to you?
As an actor, I was looking to do some thrilling content. I was also coming from a place where I had just given birth to my daughter. Then there was the entire first wave [of the pandemic] and everybody coming back to work. So this script was offered to me. Secondly and most importantly, there’s a thrill [to the story] but there’s also a strong message that this film stands for. I’m hoping that eventually after seeing this film, it's the strong message and a strong word of mouth that makes people come around to understand why this drastic step of taking children hostage is being taken in the film.
In totality, the read was fantastic. The part that was offered to me was ACP Catherine Alvarez was super nice, super wonderful and very strong. Of course, when I was hired for the film I wasn’t pregnant. Then there was the second wave and I went back and I was pregnant. It was not coincidental but a conscious choice to continue me as far as the part is concerned. I play an eight-month pregnant cop when I was actually eight months pregnant. There’s a lot that went down in the film and I’m always going to be extremely attached to it.
The trailer doesn’t give away much about ACP Catherine Alvarez. But the role does seem like an emotionally draining one. Without giving any spoilers, could you tell me more about the role? Did you channel some of your energy as a leader on Roadies here?
I think there’s a kind of stamp put on my head that ‘she’s strong’, ‘a boss lady’. What I do on roadies is me being myself. The only message I want to put out here is that don’t be like me. You don’t have to shoot your mouth off or immediately stand for things you feel very strongly about. You have to be yourself, that’s all you need to do. Whether that person is you who wants to be in a room full of people and still not talk to anyone or when there’s no one around you want to stand up on the stage and raise your voice and spark a revolution. Whoever you are, be yourself. That’s what I stand for when it comes to me in life, in reality shows or anywhere else.
But when it comes to a piece of fiction, then I’m going to be cast as someone who can play this part. Playing a cop who kind of knows her mind or knows what she’s doing was something that was offered to me. But I think what I did bring in from my life was the fact that I was so pregnant when I was doing the part. My director when he cast me, spoke about which way this can go, and he was like ‘Whichever way you want it to go.” He said, ‘We won’t let you go just because you’re pregnant, it’s not like cops don’t get pregnant. We’ll reshoot a few bits but we still want you.’ And that was exciting. That bit of strength and courage when you leave home when you’re so pregnant and with a toddler at home, shooting on very rained down sets was exhausting and took the life out of me. We did it and here I am. The film’s coming out, the baby’s out.
How did you prepare to play Catherine? Did you take inspiration from somewhere?
I feel like the strength comes in; temper is not a difficult emotion to bring out because you’re on a film set. Something is always pissing you off, so it’s not hard.
I was a bit ‘will I be able to or won’t I be able to’ [headspace before filming]. I still remember before going to work, Angad told me, ‘This is it. This is you. If anyone can, you can.’ I went through extreme bouts of morning sickness before going to set. If I had to be there at 7, I was throwing up from 5.30 in the morning and still going to work. So the prep was about keeping myself together.
There were some points where I had to fire a pistol or use a gun. I remember calling my gynaecologist and asking whether some vibrations from the outside would wake my baby on the inside. She told me, ‘You know what, if work makes you happy the baby’s going to be happy. So just do it.’ She also comes from a place of extreme strength. You know what I mean right? You have to pad yourself up with people who know you can take care of yourself, and who send you off with a whole amount of positivity.
There were also a lot of readings with Atul [Kulkarni] because most of my parts are with him.
How do you switch off from the character so that you don’t take any of the emotional baggage home?
It’s dark seeing people being taken hostage. There were some parts where you would see the nursery and when the kids were not there when they would go back home. I would walk through the set. It was a bit tough and eerie for me. But because I know what the film stands for, though I can’t reveal much, it’s a thriller. I did have the sense to detach. I also feel like when you’re coming home to a toddler and you’re eight months pregnant, you just want to be horizontal and just detach.
What’s it like working with a relatively new director?
You just know. If you come from a place of experience, you just know instantly whether the director knows what he’s doing. If you know you’ve signed a deal with the devil, you’ll probably like ‘It’ll take 25 days or in an OTT show it’s 90 days that you’re stuck with.’ Then you either negotiate a way out or not. Because of OTT, the content that’s being consumed, people are so aware of what they want to watch. There was a time when there was a big-ticket project that didn’t need to be padded up with a great script. Or there were small indie films that would have great content coming out, so you had to wait and search and look. All that has changed. Every piece of content in cinemas or in shows or on television is for a certain audience. And it’s really good content. We as an industry are oscillating between good to very good to excellent to mind-blowing content. Nobody is making bad content anymore.
From the trailer, there seems to be some similarity between A Thursday and Naseeruddin Shah’s A Wednesday. What do you have to say about that?
It’s the same genre. Ronnie owns A Wednesday and the film [A Thursday] was called something else. But because it’s a hostage drama, he started a series and named it A Thursday. I don’t know if we’re going to go the whole loop and stop at A Tuesday.
A lot is being said about the censorship of OTT content. What's your take on that?
I feel like somewhere people started enjoying OTT a lot more because sometimes you have to tell a story like it is. When the maker is restricted to a very great extent, it takes away from the actual story you want to tell. Of course, OTT comes as a breath of fresh air, a lot more is being said and told. I’m hoping it stays where it is right now.
You've spent a long time in the industry and we haven't seen you in a lead role in the recent past. Does the length of the role matter or does the quality of the role take precedence?
The kind of roles offered to me are not the ones I want to do. If the choice is between playing really good supporting characters then I’d rather do that. Plus, I feel like the industry has changed. The only thing I can stand for as far as my career is concerned - and I started in 2003; it’s been a really long time since I’ve been here - I have the ability to reinvent, work with different makers. I got launched in a mainstream commercial film Qayamat but I’ve also worked with makers like Mithya or Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, and Phas Gaye Re Obama. Then I’ve also done films like Tumhari Sulu and comedies like Chup Chup Ke. Now I’m working in cop dramas like Sanak or A Thursday and even doing short films like Baby that I’m very proud of. I’ve done reality shows and hosted podcasts. It’s just been me reinventing and trying to get work.
Now is the right time to play great supporting roles. It doesn't matter whether you’re the lead or in a supporting role. Like I saw a film right now where Naseer sahab was in four scenes but they were magical. My point is that when you look at a Pankaj Tripathi, you remember every film of his but you don’t remember the length [of the role] or whether he was the poster face. This is the time to experiment.
I’m also in a position where I have a daughter and a son, they’re so cute, and I want to be at home all the time rather than go to work. [But it takes] a [brilliant] script for me to take away from the two of them. Not to say that I don’t want to work. I want to get up and work every day. I’m always in the mood to hustle. Before I had children and was married, I would get up and work every day. The day I didn’t have work I used to be like ‘What am I going to do with myself today? What am I going to do with my life now?’ But now my children have given me the ability and strength to make the right choices professionally. The job should be bloody good for me to get out of the house and, A Thursday was definitely one of those.
I am shooting something from March 1. I’m not supposed to say much. We finish promotions for A Thursday around the 18th or the 20th. Then I’m doing some advertising work, a hair commercial and I also have my kids to look after. My son’s really young, there’s a lot that takes a lot of me physically and emotionally. I spend an entire day doing promotions and then I see my children, at night when they are fast asleep, it’s very hard for me to pack my diary till December 2023. Now I have to choose, it’s one step at a time.
A Thursday will premiere on Disney+ Hotstar on February 17. Watch the interview here: