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Exclusive! Deepika Amin: On OTT, mothers are strong women, not dukhiyari bechari

Buoyed by her characters in Jaanbaaz Hindustan Ke and Tara Vs Bilal, Deepika Amin says that we are finally getting to see some strong and spunky mothers on screen

Exclusive! Deepika Amin: On OTT, mothers are strong women, not dukhiyari bechari
Deepika Amin was last seen in the Srijit Mukherji-directed series 'Jaanbaaz Hindustan Ke'
  • Reema Gowalla

Last Updated: 11.47 AM, Feb 10, 2023

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The golden era of Doordarshan, although not so technologically advanced, gave us some of the most memorable gems, be it in terms of stories and characters or powerhouse performances. While we loved seeing some of our favourite television artistes in films and music videos later, some of the leading ladies of the 1990s are now winning hearts of OTT platforms. Deepika ​​Deshpande Amin is one among them. From Farmaan (1994) and Safar (1996) to Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi (2019) and Tara Vs Bilal (2022), the actress has not only carved a niche for herself but has also made a mark with her nuanced performances.

Last seen in the recently released Srijit Mukherji-directed series Jaanbaaz Hindustan Ke, Deepika engages in a candid conversation with OTTplay, speaking about how the digital space is breaking gender stereotypes, why she loves playing a badass mother on screen, her upcoming projects and more. Excerpts.    

1. You have worked in Doordarshan during the ‘golden era of Indian television’, and now you are in the OTT space. Tell us about your experience…

As an actor, I don’t think it is really that different, because you have to give your best wherever you go. Whether it’s TV, film or OTT, you have to be true to the character you play. The main difference I find is when you are on stage, doing theatre. Acting for theatre and acting for the camera are two very different things. Of course, while doing a play, you have to project yourself, so that the person sitting in the last row can hear your voice. But it’s a simple thing - like if somebody’s sitting in front of you, you can talk to them in a very normal voice, but if somebody’s far away, the way you reach out to them is different. But frankly, in terms of acting, I don’t see how OTT is different from television. 

That said, there are certain exclusive requirements for each medium. There’s this perception that TV requires very loud acting. But everything depends on the genres. So, say if you are doing a film in the comedy genre, you might do a little over-the-top acting. Again, if you’re in a realistic movie, it would be very understated and natural.

Deepika in a still from 'Safar', which also featured Irrfan Khan, Anup Soni and Kitu Gidwani, among others
Deepika in a still from 'Safar', which also featured Irrfan Khan, Anup Soni and Kitu Gidwani, among others

So, that depends on the genre of the movie or the serial that is being made. It isn’t so much about the platform as such. Okay, nowadays, TV serials tend to be a little loud, but when I started out, it was still in a very realistic zone. Something like Farmaan [a Lekh Tandon-directed series that aired on Doordarshan in 1994-1995] was very quiet and understated. Even in OTT now, you find that naturalism is coming back. There are no heightened emotions on OTT. I think that’s a very good thing. It has opened up a whole new world of new scripts, because you have a niche audience. You have people who will enjoy something like, say Jaanbaaz Hindustan Ke [a 2023 action thriller directed by, streaming on ZEE5]. Then, there are people who will enjoy the kind of quiet cinema that is Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi [a 2019 family drama film directed by Seema Pahwa, now streaming on Netflix]. Again, some would prefer something more in the tongue-in-cheek comedy zone, like Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety [a 2018 romantic comedy film, written and directed by Luv Ranjan, streaming on Amazon Prime Video now]. So, it just depends. In 2014, I did a historical series, called Siyaasat, which is also now available on OTT (Amazon Prime Video). It was based on the Mughal era, so you had to speak in that royal khandani style. Every story demands its own performance, so that is what it is.

2. So, is it safe to say that OTT, like the DD National shows, relies more on the script and actors’ performances than tech gimmicks?

On the contrary, OTT is very tech savvy. For instance, if you look at Jaanbaaz… and the technicalities behind it - all those sweeping drone shots and the kind of action that goes into it - you’ll realise its scale and the effort put into it. When compared to something like Farmaan, which was a very simple love story, today’s shows and films seem way more advanced. But again, it is the story that leads to the technical requirements. I mean, back in the day, Mahabharat [that aired from 1988 to 1990 on Doordarshan] could have been counted as an action series, sort of. Of course, the technology has improved by leaps and bounds, so the story moves along with that. 

Another thing that I found was happening in the Doordarshan era was when the story ended, the serial ended. Farmaan is still fresh in many people’s memories even though it was only a 13-episode series. A few years later, there were serials made that ran up to 200 episodes or more. So, later when we spoke about Farmaan, some people would be surprised to know that the serial wrapped up in just those many episodes. People still fondly remembered it. Why? Because, when the story ended, the serial ended. Azar Nawab (played by Kanwaljit Singh) and Aiman Shahab (essayed by Deepika) got married and they lived happily ever after. The end. The serial was not unnecessarily extended, just because it was popular. 

That’s one thing that I’ve started noticing about OTT too - the desire to have another season; to leave the possibility open for another season. So, after Season 1, there’s no real resolution in the story. Nowadays, it also takes a lot of time for season two to come, which is usually like a year or so later. And by the time Season 2 comes, you would have forgotten what’s happened in the first season, because in between so much stuff has already come along. 

That way, Jaanbaaz… was different, because there was a resolution at the end. If there is a second season, which we don’t know yet, there will be maybe new stories and new cases around the same characters. But that particular arc came to a resolution. 

3. Did you binge watch any web series recently? 

No, I don’t binge watch anything, because I can’t stay awake until that late in the night. After one episode, I usually get tired, and so I just put it off for the next day. I just watch one episode at a time. That’s why, in a way, I prefer watching films more.

Having said that, I did enjoy watching Fauda. It’s an incredibly amazing show. I also loved The Office and The White Lotus. Among the Indian shows, I enjoyed watching Mirzapur and Little Things.

Deepika with Naseeruddin Shah in a still from 'Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi'
Deepika with Naseeruddin Shah in a still from 'Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi'

4. Tell us about the work culture for artistes on the set now, especially for female actors. Do you feel things have improved? 

It’s difficult to say that, because in general television is a gruelling industry. You leave early in the morning, shoot all day and then come back home. I wonder if people realise how much hard work the television actors put in. Hats off to them. So, in a way, OTT is a microcosm of that, because we don’t extend for years and years. You shoot the season and then that’s done. It also depends on the length of your role in the show, so that’s your time. In contrast, films are easier, because it takes a longer time to shoot and you have a few days in hand. 

In terms of work culture, I don’t think there’s any problem as such for women. The only issue I see with films or wherever is the stereotyping of women. But that is also changing slowly now. Thanks to OTT, you’re getting a whole variety of roles. Earlier in films, you would find that the moment a woman turned 30 or 40, she would be relegated to doing only certain kinds of roles - especially, that of a stereotypical mother. Thankfully, now more efforts are made to explore the kind of person she is. Okay fine, she will be a mother. But there are all kinds of mothers, like the one played by Sushmita Sen in Aarya [a 2020 crime-thriller drama series, co-created by Ram Madhvani and Sandeep Modi, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar]; in Jaanbaaz…, Regina Cassandra plays a mother, and so do I.

We play very strong mothers - not the usual dukhiyari bechari that you see on screen. And that is a wonderful thing that has changed. The whole 70s image of self-sacrificing, sad mothers is finally changing. Women are being shown having careers, having professions and being independent, standing on their own feet, which is a fantastic thing. In a way, OTT is giving more opportunities to explore each character. For example, in Made in Heaven [a 2019 romantic drama series created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti], each character gets their own space, whereas in a two-hour film, the peripheral characters will not get so much time to explore.

5. Anything aspect of the bygone era of Indian television that you miss?

I think one has to evolve with time. Recently, I heard someone say that the camaraderie between actors that we used to see earlier is missing now. But that also, I think, varies from person to person. In fact, when we were shooting for Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi in Lucknow, we had such an amazing time on the set. With actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Supriya Pathak and Konkona Sen Sharma around, it was like a theatre workshop. All of us are from the stage, and in theatre, you have this culture of everybody sitting together and chatting, and no one has any ego or hassles as such. It was absolutely fantastic. A lot also depends on how the whole set up is, what the director brings to the table. Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi was helmed by Seema Pahwa, who is again a theatre person, so she rallied everybody around, and the kind of companionship and camaraderie on the set was really amazing.

6. What’s your take on gender pay parity? 

The thing is I have never known what my co-actors are earning. The gender pay gap is spoken about a lot, so I’m sure that it is a concern. But it’s the same all over the world. Hollywood probably has it even more, so it’s unlikely that it is not here in this industry. Having said that, I don’t see what the solution is until everything becomes transparent, which I don’t see happening anytime soon.

The thing is, in a film or a series, it’s hard to compare that people are doing equal jobs. Like, you can’t say that in Pathaan, Deepika [Padukone] did an equal job as Shah Rukh [Khan], even though they were both fantastic in the film. The movies that we make are still mostly hero-dominated, so that logic in that sense holds.  

Deepika in 'Siyaasat'
Deepika in 'Siyaasat'

But in television, there are series and shows where women are playing more prominent and meatier roles than men. So, ideally they should get duly paid. Again, pay structures are easier to discuss in an office situation, where both men and women are doing exactly the same job. In a creative field, it’s hard to judge who’s doing more work. Everything depends on the role he/she is doing. But if an actress is being paid less just because she’s a female that’s wrong, of course.

7. Do you think OTT is now driving more compelling female-centred narratives, compared to earlier times? 

Oh, yes. OTT allows the coexistence of different kinds of narratives, and also there are different audiences that you can cater to. Again, you have a niche audience that is willing to look at something different every time. Nowadays, even in regular TV serials, it is the female characters that are more dominant, but the storyline remains typical. It isn’t a very progressive storyline and still mostly relegates women back to kitchen politics, as we say. 

In the OTT space, on the other hand, you get to see interesting plots and women doing different things. There are characters who have a little grey in them, and are not necessarily either Sati Savitris or vamps and villains. There’s always a little grey somewhere, and she has a reason to do something. So, definitely you find lots of interesting roles nowadays.

8. Tell us about your upcoming projects…

I must say that I have really loved my characters in both Jaanbaaz… and Tara Vs Bilal. Working in Tara Vs Bilal was really a great experience. I am grateful to both my director, Samar Shaikh, and my casting director, Mukesh Chhabra, for giving me this interesting role. She’s a mean, sarcastic, cigarette-smoking woman. Even in Jaanbaaz…, my character is fun and spunky, not a boring mother. She walks out on her abusive husband and is supportive toward her daughter, who had a divorce. She takes no nonsense from anybody. I love these characters. 

Among the upcoming projects, there’s a new film that I have signed. It’s called Rumi Ki Sharafat. Shooting is going on for that. Then there’s a film, which I shot a year ago, called Invisible Rain. It’s directed by celebrity chef Vikas Khanna, and it stars Shabana Azmi. It was quite an experience to work with her. So, I’m looking forward to that one coming out. The film is in the post-production stage now.