The lead actress of the recently released web show Rangbaaz, Aahana Kumra, talks to Bhakti Mehta about her nostalgic character, what she did to go back to the ’90s and much more
How did you become a part of Rangbaaz?
I was approached by a casting director, Parag Mehta, who is a very dear friend. He along with Shruti Mahajan had cast me in Lipstick Under My Burkha too. He called me one day and told me that there is this web show being made, it is by Zee5, the story is very good and Saqib (Saleem) is the lead. I was very impressed with the rest of the cast too. Then he told me it was a Lucknow-based story and since I am from Lucknow, I was already tempted because I thought I could go home and eat good food (Laughs).
He then asked me to meet the director. I found out that the show was being directed by Bhav Dhulia, nephew of director Tigmanshu Dhulia. I met Bhav and he told me that the role was of a Lucknow girl and it was being shot in Clarks Avadh, which holds a lot of good memories for me. Plus, it was a ‘90s show and all the nostalgic things just got to me.
Bhav told me it was based on the character of Shiv Prasad Shukla, who was very well-known in Lucknow and all of Uttar Pradesh. I did not know that he, in his real life, had a love interest too. And it was because of his love interest that Shukla was nabbed. This was the main link in that process. I thought it was a very interesting story and told him I would love to be a part of it.
The last thing Bhav said was that the relationship between these two characters was going to be entirely over the phone. I thought that in the era of WhatsApp and Instagram, it would be interesting to go back to that. So I was on board and, after some back and forth, it was finalized.
This ‘90s character that you play… how did you get into the zone of that period?
There was this thing we used to do during the shoot, in my vanity van. I used to be with my make-up artiste and my spotboy, and we would just keep playing all these ‘90s songs. We had become a barber’s shop (Laughs). From Kavita Krishnamurthy to Alka Yagnikji to Kumar Sanu to Udit Narayan, sirf ‘90s ke gaane bajte the.
I think music is such an integral part of our lives, especially in that decade. I made sure I kept that element in mind. It helped me get into the zone of that era because it immediately transported me back to my school days. Also, my director and my chief AD, Himanshu, helped me. Himanshu used to give me the cues because Saqib was not present. Both, Saqib and I shot our scenes like that. I think it was very challenging to imagine what that person’s response would be. The show has been written very well by Siddharth Mishra. The way he has written the dialogue was very normal. There is no dialoguebaazi. I have just finished watching the entire show and I loved it even as a regular viewer would.
From what we can tell in the trailer, your character lightens the mood of the show.
I think it came naturally but a one-sided conversation was very challenging and I am sure it was the same for Saqib. The thing is that my entire role revolved around that. Saqib at least had interactive scenes with others but for me, the most crucial part was the phone conversations. So I did not read the script. I wanted my performance to be a surprise, even for myself. If I read everything about him and I read the script of the show, I would know exactly what was happening. The premise is that my character, Babita, is oblivious to his world. She knows who he is but is not informed about the details of his work. And when they would speak over the phone, they would never discuss his work. It would be a very normal conversation. So, I wanted it to be organic. It was also supposed to be like that because they wanted to show his human side. I became very attached to his character and was very heartbroken for him and for Babita when he died on the show. I was like, ek aur baar mil lete.
You are a part of many platforms, the web being one of them. What attracts you to the digital world?
I think it is a very collaborative space. If you offer a suggestion, it is not shunned. It is also the same in theatre. People will listen to you and consider your opinion. Whether it will work or not, that’s different, but at least they are listening. There is no senior-junior dynamic either. I think in the web space, everyone is on the same level. It’s a space where you can experiment, where you are free. It is not bombarded by censorship. So, you are not worried about that.
When I started working on the web two years ago, it was very liberating. I felt like I could do and say anything without it being cut or beeped (Laughs). I hope this continues. We have also been able to discover so many actors and writers through this medium. All of us today have jobs because of the digital space. I am not dependent on a film. I don’t feel like I will get work because of a film but I know that I will get work in a good film because of what I have done on digital platforms. Directors and actors in the film industry are also transitioning to the web. They are beginning to experience the power of web. The time when heroes were ‘heroes’ has gone; they know they have to play characters.
Our writers are stars now. There is no plagiarism, they are not feeling left out. They are writing such amazing stuff and getting paid for it, which is great.
And, finally, what does 2019 look like for you?
2019 looks very promising for me. The Accidental Prime Minister is releasing in the first quarter of the year, which is great. I have a couple of other shows and a film lined up. I have learnt to say ‘yes’ to more things now. I want to be a part of films that matter to me because I have realized that I have a voice and people like to watch me attached to a show or a film where you don’t merely dance around trees. I think most actresses, and actors too, are realizing that now.