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Kubbra Sait opens up about Gully Boy, playing a transgender in Sacred Games and working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Kubbra Sait shares her experience of playing a transgender person in Netflix India’s Sacred Games, with Titas Chowdhury.

In Sacred Games, you play a character called Cuckoo who is a transgender which is unheard of. What prompted you to take this role up?

Honestly, it was a role that found me. I would have never imagined that this is what I am going to play someday or I would have chased and found this one day. Ankur Tiwari recommended my name to Anurag Kashyap. I was never known in this circuit as an actor. I have always been known as an anchor. Anurag went back home and looked up a few of my videos. Then incidentally, I met him two days later at MAMI on the red carpet. He came to me and asked me to go to Mukesh Chhabra’s office for an audition. The turnaround time from the first audition to the final day of the shooting was ten days. 

You have worked with the biggest names in the industry such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan and Radhika Apte in this series. How was it collaborating with them?

I didn’t get a chance to shoot and work with Radhika and Saif. Most of my scenes were with Nawaz. He is so effortless, and is super shy. All our scenes have something to do with sexual orientation. He would sit shyly and I would get all excited about improvising the scenes. It was lovely to work with him. He is fantastic. 

How did you then prepare for the role? 

When you pick up the book and see the initial index, it does not mention Cuckoo. Anurag said that Cuckoo was his character and he wanted her to make an impact. She is a product of his creative liberty, working in tandem with Vikram Chandra. I was given some stubble with a greenish tinge. We had discussed that my lips would have a nice dark outline and pink inside. It used to resonate with the dancers of the 80s and the 90s. Cuckoo was also given short hair and she looked spunky in that haircut. And, yes, I had a penis. 

The character that you play has a few dark edges…

(Cuts in) There is a lot of things that need to be seen when the show comes out. All I can say is that I feel relieved now that I can talk about Cuckoo. She is fantastic. She is a diva. She is lovely. She wears her skin with pride. She does what she wants to. She has got his attitude that nobody else has in her little universe. She is just who she is. In fact, she calls herself Jannat. That is how awesome she is.

Do you think the freedom of this transgender character has been portrayed because now we have the web platform where we can show these things?

I think that is an added advantage. There has been so much done in the show that could not have been done in traditional form of cinema. If it was done in that way and if it had to go through a censor board, then there is so much in the show that we could not have done. Any long format narrative needs that kind of freedom and that kind of air to breathe. With this kind of a platform, we have been able to push the envelope a little more. I remember being told that several actors had tested for the role of Cuckoo – male, female and transgender actors. It was my destiny that it happened to come to me. What I did with it had to be with empathy, responsibility and sensitivity, because it could very easily go on either lines – you could stand out or you could fall into your own pit. That was something I wanted to take help from Anurag and Nawaz. I wanted to make sure that we worked together on this as one team. I was not acting. I was being a transgender for those days. I had taken up a course with Mr Chhabra. Sir had told me to be a boy. I got a wig, I was wearing a sock between my legs and I was being a boy. He said to me to not act like a boy but to be a boy. I tried to focus more on the layered emotional journey of this character.

Your next big project is Gully Boy. How was that experience?

I am playing me in the film. It was a turning point. I literally had three days of work. There is nothing called a big role or a small role. There is a role. My job, as I aspire to do, is to act. I need to stop discriminating between roles from the very beginning. I learnt this a long time ago with Nawazuddin’s passing shot from a film called Bombay Talkies. The only line he was given was ‘aey’. He has this entire conversation about in how many different ways he can say ‘aey’. That is the conviction one needs to have. For me, Gully Boy is exciting. I am super happy to be working with him. I am delighted to have worked with a powerhouse of talent called Zoya (Akhtar). She is phenomenal. She is so sorted. She knows what she exactly wants. She is very collaborative. What touched me about working with her is that at the end of every shoot, she would take the microphone and thank everybody and motivate them for the next day. That automatically makes you believe that you belong. That is really sweet and that, as a director, is so inclusive. You know that she is the captain of the ship and is running the show. That is what happened in Gully Boy. More importantly, I would never say ‘no’ to Zoya even if it is a passing shot where I am required to say ‘aey’

Coming back to Sacred Games, what are your expectations from the audiences?

It is the first from our country. It is very close to our roots. It is very close to the city we live in. It is a very personal journey. If you live in Bombay, you can feel the fabric. You can feel the pulse of the city. When a story is so beautifully woven into the fabric of this city, then everyone can feel it. What most of the time we end up doing it is comparing things. Instead of drawing parallels in our minds before, it is important for us to enjoy creative cinema, the book coming to life, the platform as it is and celebrate the fact that we as Indians have managed to create a product so amazing that it is reaching 190 countries. We have a fantastic star cast on board. Everybody is amazing. Everyone has squeezed their hearts and souls into their characters. I personally love Katekar. I am totally crushing on him. He is so good. There is Bunty who is excellent. They are the underdogs of the show. If you watch Sacred Games with certain preconceived notions about the actors, then you will miss out on the sparks that are there. Everybody together has created a fantastic series.

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