One year of Aarya: Sushmita Sen looks back at her web debut

Kickass, badass, terrific... that’s how Sushmita Sen made her comeback to movies after a five-year hiatus with her OTT debut — the critically-acclaimed web series, Aarya — last year around this time. On June 19, the actor took to Instagram to celebrate the first anniversary of this milestone. “Aarya has been a terrific journey for me. It has come at a time when the world tells you it’s done! That you are done. And then life surprises you; people give you an opportunity to look forward to a whole new chapter,” the actor, who plays the titular role of a mother of two and a wife, who joins the mafia, in the Ram Madhvani directorial, tells Cinema Journal while reminiscing the journey.

When asked what made her say yes to the series, the actor, who has already started shooting for the second season of the crime drama, elaborates, “At my age, one generally gets cast in supportive roles or in blink-and-miss appearances. I was clear that if I make a comeback, I would have to love the role. I wanted something where the character had an arc. No matter how great the performance is, you need screen time to get into the audience’s subconscious. Aarya gave me that and the feeling has been one of being vindicated in my beliefs.”

Ever since her debut with Dastak in 1996, the Miss Universe 1994, has had a checkered career in Bollywood. She has played characters of varying intensities — ranging from a Rupali Walia in the rambunctious comedy Biwi No1 (for which she scooped up the Best Supporting Actress Filmfare) to Sia Sheth in one of the most beautiful and subtle movies on surrogacy in Hindi cinema, Filhaal. But the actor disappeared from the silver screen post 2015 Bengali movie Nirbaak. So, what made her take a sabbatical and, now, face the cameras again? “At that point I was fighting a very different battle with my health. And prior to that, I was enjoying motherhood. And by God’s grace I could afford to do that. But then one day, surprised at people clicking my pictures, Alisah [younger daughter] asked, ‘Why are they clicking your pictures?’ And when I told her that I am an actor, she turned around and said, ‘But I have never seen you act’. That hit me. You think you are doing a wonderful job of being a mother and then your child grows up and says show me an example. And I was like ‘I’m going back on the set, and you are going to miss me.’ And the best feeling was when she saw Aarya and said ‘you are a good actor’,” she smiles.

But despite being away from mainstream cinema, the actor says she never missed being in the limelight. “I never wanted to be famous to be a star. Being famous for me was people looking at a TV screen and feeling the emotions that you are displaying in a particular scene. That’s power to me, that’s the power of human connection.”

With Aarya creating enough buzz to ensure a second season and that the actor doesn’t get to pull a vanishing act again anytime soon, we ask if she is viewing the changes in the industry, especially in the OTT space. To which she says, “The industry can only evolve when the audiences evolve. It’s a catch-22. Because, ultimately it is a business. Films need to make money. The content, creativity and new way of thinking come to the fore based on what the audiences are watching. The new generation of content creators are kick-ass! They are open to international cinema. And they like good content, so they are content-driven as opposed to actor-driven or star-driven.”

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