Her performance as Sarita Pillai in director Anurag Kashyap’s film Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai has been hailed by the audience and critics alike. Actor Saiyami Kher is thankful she was signed on for a role where she could showcase her talent and break her glamorous image. In the film which released on Netflix on 5 June, Saiyami plays Sarita, working middle-class mom in Mumbai, married to a Tamil musician who has no job and whiles away his time playing carrom with the neighbours. The film is a departure from Anurag’s previous films and explores a couple’s relationship, demonetisation and the sudden discovery of money. Here are excerpts from Saiyami’s interview:
Q. You were brilliant in the film as Sarita. How do you feel with all the praise pouring in?
A. It’s been overwhelming as I haven’t received it in my career so far! For the first time, people have liked my work. It feels different and very exciting that the work you do has been liked by the people.
Q. You have had a glam image, so how refreshing was this nonglam role for you?
A. The truth is that Anurag met me at MAMI a year after Mirzya released and he said he wanted to offer me a role. When I read the script, I was completely glued and I said I really wanted to do the film. He chatted with me later and said the glamorous image I had because of my first film and my public outings, was not really who I was in life and asked me if I was not from Mumbai. I told him I was from Nasik and that’s where I grew up. He said stay rooted to your hometown because that would help his film. He realised that the person I really am is different from the person seen on Instagram or in public places. The non-glam aspect was not so much of a concern but playing a mother was since I haven’t experienced that in real life and that was borrowing from the world outside. It was extremely liberating as an actor to get to do both.
Q. The movie revolves around you completely; were you nervous when you signed it?
A. I was extremely excited; I didn’t have anything to be nervous about. Very rarely does one so early in his/her career gets a role where the character has so much to do. It was just extreme excitement and I wanted to grab it with both hands because it took quite some time for this opportunity to come along.
Q. How was it working with Anurag?
A. Anurag Kashyap has taught me a lot on screen and off screen. Roshan (Andrews) and I were both very insecure because we were not given a script and not given what we were going to shoot the next day. It’s like being thrown into the deep ocean and expected to swim. The first few days we were a little nervous. The schools that Roshan and I come from, we prepare a lot for our characters; do intensive readings and workshops. We didn’t do any of that for Choked. So we used to secretly go before shoot and do improvisations and whatever we could. If Anurag saw us reading the script, he would shout at us. His ways of working are very different but Roshan and I surrendered completely to him and whatever he has managed to get out of us, the credit goes to him.
Q. You got an opportunity to improvise too in this film. Was it exciting that as an actor you could lend your talent in that space as well?
A. I think that’s how Anurag works. In most of the scenes, he never called cut especially in our fight scenes and a few scenes with Amruta Subhash, we used to just go on, until the assistant director would tell us to stop. He feels he can get a lot of exciting stuff from the actors which is not in the script.
Q. Choked is not a typical Anurag Kashyap film. What did you think about that?
A. We were actually joking about this when we were promoting it as Anurag said Choked was his first film that you could watch with the entire family! He said that he wanted to get out of that Gangs of Wasseypur mould for a long time. I hope he tries to make more films that explore relationships because he is very good at them.
Q. Do you think a film like Choked had come along sooner in your career?
A. I wish I had gotten opportunities after Mirzya where I could have showcased my acting. But that didn’t happen and I feel Choked has come at the right time in my life. Very rarely does an actor get an opportunity like Choked early in her career. I’m seeing Taapsee Pannu and Deepika Padukone, who are so established, get such films now which are completely driven by them. I look at it as a blessing that this film came to me as Anurag could have gotten anyone he wanted for the role.
Q. What are you looking forward to next?
A. I have two projects which are yet to release. One is Breathe 2 on Amazon Prime and I have a film in the south to wrap up. Post Choked, I hope I get opportunities like this and I hope producers back me and take me seriously after this film.