Riding high on accolades she’s earned for her performance in the short film Kajal, and also nominations at various festivals, Salony Luthra is smiling from ear to ear. Here’s the lady of the moment in conversation with Team Box Office India
You don’t have any lines in the film. How difficult was it to emote without any dialogue at all?
Honestly, I was shooting for a film in Singapore when Paakhi sent me the script. I read the script and thought it was very nice. I called up Paakhi and told her what I thought of the script but, I asked her, where is my dialogue (Laughs)? She was, like, let’s meet and talk about it.
Basically, the vision of the film was that, the women in our country sometimes don’t have a voice in certain sections of society, and that’s why I said yes to doing the film. I was also blessed to have a very sensitive director like Paakhi, who is a good director as well as an actor. She can draw the best performance out of any actor, which is not something every director can do. I think that helped me a lot. The kind of space I was in at that point… I used that energy to feel differently.
The character goes through a journey, where from being oppressed by people around her, she finally finds her voice through a chance encounter. How was the brief presented to you?
When you watch the film, ek saadhaaran mahila ki kahaani hai. It is the working class woman who we see at the bus stop or a colleague at work. When I act, I just let myself be. When you speak to my directors, they will say that I disconnect from everything around me and my character becomes my world. That was especially important for this film. While doing the film – and I am not saying this because it’s my film – I was at a point in my life when this film was shot, and it helped me see things from a different perspective.
The title Kajal is fascinating. What is the significance of this word or the title?
This film is about this husband who is so overpowering that he doesn’t let his wife get any attention. Generally, we see men wanting their wives to look nice. Kajal is therefore the embodiment of ‘the woman’. When you feel like wearing kajal, then it’s what you should do and it should be a woman’s right to just be what she wants to view.
Even for the tiniest of things, he says, “Tune kajal kyun lagaya?” All she does is go to work and comes back. Kajal is a metaphor for finding your inner strength and you can clearly see that in the last scene where she takes out her kajal and wears it. We, as women, tend to give up and then a moment comes when you realise that life has gone by, you realize you haven’t done anything in life and you go through this internal turmoil, your internal battle.
How do you see yourself spreading this message about women’s empowerment?
There has been so much spoken about women’s empowerment. I think we have to sensitize society and my journey with this film and what I personally feel is that men need to be more sensitive towards what we feel. For example, they indulge in eve-teasing in a group but if only a couple of them were sensitive towards what a woman might be going through, they could get their friends to stop behaving that way. I believe that society is not sensitized and I would like to make people aware of that.
At film festivals, there is a lot of buzz around short films. Do you think getting a film screened at festivals will get you more attention?
Yes, definitely! When we made Kajal, Paakhi and I were so surprised to see how it reached out to people. It was an all-girls crew and all the technicians on the set were women, except our DoP. Our journey was just to tell our story with love and passion for the craft and we just wanted to give it one hundred per cent.
We were so happy because internationally the film was so well received even though it’s a small film from India. This short film has a lot of relativity, from men to women. The mother of a friend of mine from my hometown, Shimla, called to say that this film helped empower her when she was separating from her husband. I am overwhelmed by the response I have received internationally. It is a very different world for them and they are now getting to watch movies like this and I think that is the beauty of the festival.
You mentioned your association with Paakhi. Can you please elaborate?
Paakhi is an amazing person. She is a beautiful human being and, you know, it really helps when the filmmaker has been an actor. Paakhi is an actor and is very sensitive and knows how to treat other actors. Let me tell you about the time I became a fan of Paakhi. One day, it was taking a long time for the actor who plays the watchman in the film, to complete the take. It took 30 takes and my AD kind of lost it because we were losing a lot of time. Then, Paakhi, who could have replaced him in a heartbeat, chose not to do that because she didn’t want to break his morale. She is very sensitive towards actors and she has a very positive energy.
Was it emotionally draining to play a character like yours in Kajal?
Yes, it was. I chose not to speak for 4-5 days as I wanted to internalise what I was feeling. That helped me while shooting this film. It was a beautiful process and I will never forget it. As an actor, there are only a few films that can really change your life. This film is one of them.
You seem quite different from the character you play…
(Cuts in) Kajal is the story of a woman being oppressed and every woman must have faced this at some point in their lives. Even in the scene where the watchman is eve-teasing the protagonist, she could have slapped him to make him understand but she chooses not to. If you were in a situation like that, what would you do? By nature, I am not confrontational and am always smiling.
Were you apprehensive about playing a de-glam role?
No! The films I do, like Oliyum Oliyum and Kajal, the theater work I have done… they are very simple and I love acting in films like these because I am like that on the inside.
What is the one thing you look for in a film when you say ‘yes’ to a script?
I choose films that are a little challenging because I give my work 200 per cent and my life comes to a standstill when I am working on a film. I am very blessed to have a very nice guru, N K Sharma, under whom I trained in Delhi. He told me just one thing – whatever you do in life, get involved in it wholly and completely. You have to be completely in that moment, in that time, and in that space. So I am performance-driven and I only choose scripts where my character drives the story.
What’s next for you?
I have only just shifted to Bombay. From November 2016 to August this year, I was in New York, where I did two international films. One is called Forbidden, which we will talk about it in the new year. It’s also the journey of a girl of Indian origin but born and raised in the US. It is a true story. In the second film, I don’t really play the character of an Indian girl but one of mixed ethnicity, in New York. I had to undergo accent training. Since I am so desi, I had to be very careful with my diction. I am also doing a content-driven, American show shot in Hyderabad.
I am glad we have something to show where women in India are being shown in a progressive light.Is Bollywood on your list?
To be very honest, I don’t know all that many people here in Mumbai. I have never actively looked for a movie in the Bollywood industry. So I look for something that’s interesting and if I find it, that’s great. I started with Tamil and I am a North Indian girl from Shimla, and for me it’s all about the story. So whether it’s a Bengali film or any other regional movie, I will be more than happy to do it. It just has to be an interesting story. I am craving to talk in Hindi and that’s why to be in Bollywood would be another experience for me.
Lastly, what do you want the audience to take back after watching Kajal?
People are not sensitive towards others and I honestly do not understand the inequality around us. I think we are humans and it’s not about men and women. It’s just two people and I believe we should encourage people around us and be more joyous.