‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ actor Aahana Kumra speaks about dabbling in OTT, movies and theatre

Aahana Kumra has had a good 2020. The Lipstick Under My Burkha actor was seen in Khuda Haafiz, Betaal, Marzi, and she also dabbled in comedy with Sandwiched Forever. She is now on the verge of wrapping up the shoot of her next, a remake of the popular French series, Call My Agent. Set in a top Paris talent management firm, the show is about the mad scramble that goes on behind keeping the star clients happy. The original show is currently in its fourth and last season. The Indian adaptation is directed by Shaad Ali and is already in the news for its star-spangled cameos. Apart from this, the trailer of her next film, Bawri Chhori, a coming-of-age story of a woman just dropped yesterday. The movie revolves around Radhika who is searching for her husband in London, and is set to premiere on January 11 on Eros Now. We caught up with the actor to talk about her journey from theatre to OTT via movies and how she keeps up with all three. Excerpts:

Was Lipstick Under My Burkha a turning point in your career?

It definitely changed me, my career. It has been a major catalyst in the way I think, as an actor. It has given me success and translated into different roles. The onset of OTT was at the right time with Inside Edge and then the part for Priyanka Gandhi in The Accidental Prime Minister. But having said that, it hasn’t changed action per se; I still audition/test for all the roles that I am being offered. But the kind of roles that I am getting has definitely changed. Moreover, working on the film has impacted me as a person. I am more mindful of being a woman now.

You have had a very long association with the stage, having collaborated with stalwarts of Mumbai theatre like Naseeruddin Shah and Makarand Deshpande. How did you land up in the world?

Well, I was introduced to Prithvi Theatre by chance in school and started attending the summertime acting and theatre workshop at Prithvi. And I absolutely loved it because we were doing Shakespeare, Japanese theatre, working with puppets and I found it quite fascinating. Being on the stage at Prithvi, doing all of it was lovely and I was enjoying it. When the workshop was over, I started working at Prithvi. My friends left, but I stayed on. The aura of Prithvi was so mesmerising that I started hanging out at the theatre the whole day, helping people with backstage or with workshops. Prithvi introduced me to a different world altogether and I just did not want to leave it. That’s when I realised that this is what I want to do; I absolutely love being on stage!


Do you remember your first day on stage?

Yes of course! At the end of the theatre workshop we performed in front of Shashi ji. I was only 14 and had done a piece from Japanese theatre, post which Shashi ji handed us the certificates and it was quite a surreal moment.

How do you think theatre prepares an actor?

It’s a great amount of training that the theatre actors go through and I am doing theatre for 10 years. We as performers need to rehearse a lot before we put up a show. You do one show but you rehearse like three months for it. And remember with Naseer sir, he made sure we were sticking with the script, while with Mac sir, he made sure we improvise and used to get us on the floor. It prepares you a lot because everyone has a different method. You experiment a lot as things keep changing during a show. It’s the best training anyone could get. And if my formative years wouldn’t have been in theatre, I don’t think I would have been so prepared. The amount of characters I have jumped and played it’s only because of my training in theatre. I am not saying actors who haven’t done theatre aren’t good or anything, but it surely shows in your performance. 

Theatre gives actors the opportunity to experiment, something that the movies don’t. But with OTT platforms offering such variety of exciting roles, do you think theatre will lose its actors to OTT?

Not at all. Prithvi Theatre has just opened but everyone is very excited to be back. Nothing can take away the charm of a stage. With OTT, yes you live with the character but you shoot for a certain time period. But with a play the time period is longer. I have been doing a play for 10 years now, Sir Sir Sarla with Makarand Deshpande. Every show is different, the rehearsals are different. It’s such a lovely experience performing for different kinds of audiences because you get instant reactions on your performance. The stage is an actor’s medium. The OTT is not a medium for actors, they are director’s medium. We are following the vision of the director, but on stage you can experiment as an actor. And that’s the beauty of theatre. 

But with live performances taking a serious hit due to the pandemic-induced social distancing norms, don't you think the days of theatre might now be numbered?

No, not at all! I have done a play even during the lockdown. We did the rehearsals on Zoom, we shot it on camera and put it on Insider.com. It was everyone’s lockdown stories and just watching everyone perform was a great feeling. There were a lot of plays happening online during lockdown. Theatre is not going anywhere. And as I mentioned that Prithvi has opened and it has been running houseful with 50 per cent capacity. Movie theatres are not being able to still lure the audience but people are turning up to watch plays. Theatre is definitely here to stay. 

Based on the offers you get, do you think the OTT platforms are also somewhere started to churn out more of the same? 

Yes at times the genre does get repeated because one show does well, but we do have plethora of new content coming up on OTT. There are shows which are different and have stood out, like Paatal Lok, or Panchayat, Scam 1992. But it is a fact that there are very limited roles for women on OTT as well. The ground reality of OTT is that they don’t write enough roles for women. So, writers and makers need to think hard on it because only then female actors will get chance to experiment on OTT as well. 

Tell us about your last outing, Sandwiched Forever. How serious a job is to do comedy?

I have done a lot of comical roles on stage, but actors do get stereotyped due to the roles they have played on-screen. I am glad that Sony Liv, and Studio Next offered me this role because it just gave me a chance to venture into comedy on-screen, and helped me to break the stereotype of my serious roles. Comedy is not easy, it’s a serious business. The show is a sitcom, so everyone had to rehearse and they shoot in-front of the camera.

Although it was a challenge to perform because you need to make sure you catch the comical timing and your punches land on time, it was an exhilarating experience.

Aahan's 2021 wish list:

I want to work a lot, take up action, work-out, start dancing again. I want to create a show, I am writing a children’s book. I want to travel definitely, a family vacation maybe. But my life is better without resolutions. Let’s see how the year goes!

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