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“I have a good idea of what girls from small towns and smaller cities go through” – Aahana Kumra

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After years of training in theatre, she landed her first television show ‘Yudh’, in which she got to share screenspace with Amitabh Bachchan. Since then, Aahana Kumra has left a mark with her strong performances and varied characters in almost all the mediums an actor can think of exploring. Apart from being a part of mainstream television shows, new age web-shows, plays and now, films, the actress has also anchored a sports based reality show. Amidst all this, her film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, which has won accolades at film festivals all around the world, is finally ready to release in the home turf after a long battle with the Censor Board.

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ made the rounds of several film festivals and went on to win awards in many of them. Then, the censorship issue happened. All this has resulted in the film hitting the theatres almost three years after it was shot. As an actor, does not waiting for your film for so long, make you anxious?
When we were working on the film, our only aim was to make a good film. We did not see the distant future and were not thinking about release date or promotions. We finished the film and started working on different projects. We did not hear from Alankrita (Shrivastava) for a while but realized that there must have been some distribution issues or they must have been working out on a release strategy. She was dealing with a lot of issues pertaining to the film on her own and we were not aware of it. I feel happy to see the film coming out now and that, too, in a big way.

The film was garnering accolades and winning hearts all over the world but was struggling to find a release in the country it was made in. That must have disappointed you.
Of course, it did. The CBFC consists of five or six people who are sitting there and making decisions for the entire country. I do not think it is fair. The film was shown in festivals and there was a lot of positivity around it. There were people in India who were waiting for the film to release here. So, I do not think it is right that certain people decide not to certify the film and deprive so many people from watching it.

People who live in cities or the metros tend to be slightly unaware of the heartland or the smaller towns of the country. Did shooting the film in Bhopal and playing the character of a beautician based in the city make you aware of certain realities which you have no inkling of?
I am from Lucknow and I have a good idea of what girls from small towns and smaller cities go through. That is something I dealt with for a very long and was a very important part of my life. But, I had never shot in a small town. Shooting for the film in Bhopal was a very exciting experience. Konkona (Sensharma) and Ratna (Pathak) Ma’am’s stories hit me the most. There are so many people who go through these things on a daily basis but cannot come out and speak about them.

The way the Censor Board is functioning in our country, the way they denied a certificate to the film by calling it ‘lady oriented’ is worrying but I guess they, in a way, represent the mind-set of the people we have in our society, the kind of people who suppress women and are opposed to expressing their sexuality and desires. Would you agree to that?
Men’s sexuality has been spoken about for so long. Sex has been used to titillate the audience for years. This is the first time a film is talking about women’s sexuality. This is bound to make some people uncomfortable. It was important for a film to portray women’s sexuality and their desires in the right way and I think our film has managed to do that.

You did an acting course in Whistling Woods International before you started working. The industry is a mix of trained and untrained actors. Do you think it is important for an actor to train himself/herself before s/he faces the camera?
I think it is a very personal choice that an individual makes. I thought it was important for me to study acting as my parents have always emphasized the importance of education. They told me that I should be educated about the profession that I want to get into. After finishing the course, I started doing theatre. After doing theatre for almost seven years, I landed my first television show. I decided to learn as much as I can from theatre before somebody could think about casting me in a television show or a film.

As an actor, you are active in films, television, web and theatre – all at the same time. How do you manage to strike a balance between all these mediums?
The work is the same, even though the mediums are different. You have to put in the same kind of effort and rehearsal before the curtains are raised or the camera starts rolling. You get a lot of time to work on the nuance while doing a film but in television, you cannot do a lot of takes because they do not have a much time. You try to get the shot right in the first take itself. As far as web series are concerned, as they are finite in nature, you get a lot of time to rehearse but while shooting, you cannot afford to give too many takes. In theatre, you have to rehearse for several months before putting out a new play. As an actor, you just have to follow the process a particular requires you to.

‘Yudh’ gave you a lot of recognition as an actor. How was the experience of working on the show?
I was very excited at the prospect of working with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan right at the beginning of my career. I got to learn a lot from him. Even though he is a superstar, he still puts in a huge amount of effort and rehearses a scene several times before enacting it. Apart from knowing his own dialogues, he would be aware of the lines his co-actors had to speak. He was well-versed with the script and was fully informed about the graph of the story. It was inspiring to see an actor and a star of his magnitude to work so hard, even when he can choose not to.

What next?
I play a small role in Excel Entertainment’s web –series ‘Inside Edge’ that has just been launched on Amazon Prime Video. Somebody else was supposed to do that part but had to opt out at the last minute. I shot for only eight days for about five scenes but I am happy to see the positive response that has come my way post the launch of the show. I have been getting a lot of calls and messages from people saying that they have loved my performance. I am also preparing for a play with Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) Sir and Ratna (Pathak) Ma’am that is going to open in December.

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