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What Women Want

As Amazon Prime Video’s latest Original, Four More Shots Please, gets set to stream soon, leading ladies of the series – Kirti Kulhari, Bani J, Sayani Gupta and Maanvi Gagroo – talk to Ananya Swaroop on breaking the glass ceiling with this latest offering

What was it like to work with an ensemble cast?

Bani J (BJ): When you work with such a big ensemble, you become very patient. You actually wait for other people who perhaps have an answer, to go first, which I think is a very important lesson we have learnt. Listening is important.

Sayani Gupta (SG): Also respecting each other’s space and dealing with each other without judging each other. It made a difference to creating something together. You can see the energy of something coming together in collaboration when you watch the show.

Maanvi Gagroo (MG): It is always great to meet new people. None of us knew each other before. It is really interesting to get to know people, you learn to adapt to their style of working. By the end of it, we even knew what the other person was thinking! We would laugh together and we knew who would find what funny. We still do it and have in fact been asked to tone it down. We had a great time.

Kirti Kulhari (KK): The best part was that we were a bunch of new-generation actors on the sets. It was very interesting to work with this kind of young energy. It’s just that today’s actors are so much easier to get along with, they are so much easier to work with, communicate with as people. I think half your job is done when the communication is open and the people around you can take things in their stride. It makes your life a lot easier.

Can you all describe your individual characters and why such diverse dynamics? 

KK: I think that’s the point, right? Where’s the fun watching four characters that are all the same? The basic premise is to have characters with different personalities, different qualities, come together. One of our taglines is ‘A perfect friendship of four imperfect women’. That’s the basis of the show and I think that’s what makes it a fun watch.

MG: As Kirti said, we all are flawed characters and we are flawed in different ways. And within that realm of the four girls, we have covered pretty much the majority of traits that people have. Sayani’s character is someone who on the outside looks really tough, fiercely independent. Which is why, when a conflict arises in her life, it disturbs her to know how disturbed she is. 

SG: Siddhi (Maanvi’s character) is not sure of herself. She has a strange relationship with her parents. She is always looking for validation, especially from her mother. And she is a little conflicted in terms of what she should do and what she should stand for. But she also has this enormous support system through her three friends.

Since she is the youngest, she has a lot of concerns that the other characters have already faced and can help her come to terms with these issues without judging her.

BJ: Damini is an extremely complex character and her personal and professional lives fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. In her professional life, she is always chasing the truth, whereas in her personal life she is always running away from the truth. She is in denial about a lot of things. 

KK: Bani‘s character Umang hails from Ludhiana. She is running away from her past because of all the things that she could not handle. Currently, she is a personal trainer; she is bisexual; and she is also a very fun and adventurous person who is emotional and vulnerable. She is struggling with a bunch of things just like all of us are.

SG: Coming back to the question about opposing dynamics… this just shows that four women who come from different backgrounds can share a friendship and have different perspectives about the same issues but also have a very solid friendship. I think that is pretty much the core of the show.

What was it about the show that attracted you to work in it?

SG: It’s not every day that you come across a part written for women, which is as layered and detailed, nuanced and also as true and real as this one, and does not put them into different boxes or stereotypes them. It was the best script I have read in a while.

KK: For me, the show was ahead of its time, rather, it has come at the right time. I thought it was a progressive show in terms of subject, how they are dealing with the subject, how they are showcasing everything.

MG: When you take up a role, there are many factors you need to consider. You either do it because the character excites you or the team, the people involved, are people you really want to work with. The third reason could be the platform that will get you the audience it deserves. It will get the scale it deserves. Fourth, it could even be money. Not often do you get all four together. For me, that worked.

BJ: I absolutely loved Umang’s character, the camaraderie the four characters share with each other is amazing. I loved every single character’s story and their tracks. The script is well written and I couldn’t put it down till I was done with it. I felt for every single character.

It was so awesome to work on something like this every day because there was something new happening all the time. Also, to be able to create a character like Umang and being a huge part of opening up this digital portal to a character like Umang, who is bisexual, meant a lot to me.

You have all worked in films. How would you weigh it as against a digital platform?

KK: There is too much censorship in films, to begin with. Also, the amount of time you have matters. A movie gives you just two hours to really explore and understand the characters and the storyline. Obviously, if you want to really connect with the character, the more time you have, the better it is. That’s what this platform gives you. These two things are the main reasons it wouldn’t have been good to release it in a feature film format.

The kind of reach it is going to have is massive. Our show is going to release in over 200 countries. You cannot expect that with a film. Also, in the digital space, you are working with people who are not the biggest of stars but great actors.

MG: Having said that, I feel there is no compromise in terms of scale. And this is especially true for our show and for a lot of other web content as well. The production quality is at par with a lot of shows in the West.

SG: There is a perception of India that people in other parts of the world have, right? And I think this show dispels those notions in a major way. Since this is India, women in India need to be represented in the right way to the world audience.  I think our show has busted these myths. 

How do you look at self-censorship by OTT platforms?

KK: I think the most basic point is to stay true to what you are trying to make and not do it for the sake of it or to grab attention. You are doing what needs to be done for the benefit of the show, to take the story forward, for the characters, to show their wholesome journey and not for any other reason.

SG: Since this is the digital medium, where you can show a lot of things that you can’t in films, the makers have a responsibility. The need to stay true to the narrative and what is required to tell their story truthfully as opposed to sensationalising things to grab eyeballs.

MG: I think as makers, as creators and as members of the audience, we need to start taking responsibility. As makers, the most we can do is to be true to the story but to also certify whether it PG rated or 18+ rated, etc. Then as a member of the audience, I think parents need to take care of what their kids are watching. I don’t know if it’s a country-specific thing but we need to start questioning ourselves, our choices, even our role models.

What was the vibe like on the sets?

KK: It’s very simple. When you are with a bunch of women, you don’t really care how you are sitting or, say, whether your cleavage is showing. The moment a man comes into the picture, you become self-conscious about these things. It’s as basic as that. You are never as comfortable as you are in a group of women.

Having an all-female crew made that process a lot easier for us. With so many women work on the set, you realise what you have been missing while working with men! I wish this energy flows into our real lives on a day-to-day level so that we can do so much more. We can just do what we are supposed to do. 

MG: I think the process becomes easier and quicker. I think we got into a comfort zone in just a day or two at the beginning of the shooting. And that helped us a lot. There was a lot of clarity in terms of what they wanted. Also, Rangita (Pritish Nandy), who was the showrunner, knew exactly what she wanted for each character. Of course, it was not like they were inflexible. There was a lot of space for us to play around with, whether it was the look, the language or the tonality of those characters.

SG: They are really good filmmakers and every department was excellent. It was a set of brilliant people who were good at what they were doing, to get the job done.

BJ: When you think of a woman, she can be anything. Every single person that I worked with on this show was nurturing, giving, kind, thinking of the person who was in front of them and listening, and we were all able to enjoy it.

SG: It is true that a woman has an eye for detail. I think I’ve never looked this good on screen. 

What do you want the audience to take away from the show?

MG: I think there is enough for everybody. We talk about everything. We talk about friendships, relationships, relationship with parents, parenting, bisexuality, work ethics, love, body shaming and so many things.

Lastly, what’s next for you all? 

BJ: Another interview, followed by another one (Laughs).

SG: I have a lot of stuff coming out this year. I have two films releasing that I cannot talk about. 

MG: There is this show, then there is another show called Made In Heaven, which is also an Amazon original. Then there is a Trippling season 2, which is TVF’s show. 

KK: I have another film on August 15 titled Mission Mangal with Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha, Sharman Joshi and Nithya Menen. And then I have another web show with Netflix called Bard Of Blood.  

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