She has had a busy day, filled with meetings and work commitments. After a quiet dinner, Anushka Sharma sits down to chat with DARPAN. She might be exhausted and craving a good night’s sleep but that doesn’t stop her from sharing her thoughts on her work as an actor, her passion towards the profession, and the challenges of her newly-acquired role as a producer. As we chat, I find her like any other woman – tactfully dealing with the day-to-day situations and calmly finding a balance between work and pleasure. Yet there is something different about her – the confidence and power she exuberates as we talk makes her one of a kind. She strikes me as a woman who knows what she wants; one who is determined to fulfill her dreams; and someone who will not back down for anything or anyone. While positively climbing the ladder of success, first as an established actor and now as a young producer, Anushka has rightfully taken on the tag of a woman of substance.
Anushka’s journey is one that can inspire many. Starting off as a model, she made her debut in 2008 in Rab Ne Bana De Jodi, with none other than Bollywood heartthrob’s Shah Rukh Khan. Ever since, she has worked with some of the biggest stars and filmmakers of the industry, taking up different roles and giving powerful performances one film after another. It doesn’t end here. Her love for cinema and the desire to showcase unique films encouraged her to start her own production company in 2014.
Clean Slate Films, co-owned by Anushka and her brother Karnesh Sharma, is an Indian film production company that is focused on creating relevant, entertaining and clutter-breaking cinema. “The basic idea is to tell stories and bring [in] the right people,” says Anushka briefly, further sharing the vision of her production house. “It is to tell different stories, different ideas and to be able to back new talent and influx new talent in the industry.”
Lack of good role or interesting films got the actress thinking of producing her own films. “A lot of times you feel there aren’t right kinds of roles or films coming your way – films that can work well in the country but probably are not making revenue. You feel one should come up with such films and that has been playing on my mind for sometime,” she shares.
Clean Slate Films made its debut in 2015 with NH10, a thriller directed by Navdeep Singh starring Anushka and Neil Bhoopalam in lead roles. The gripping story of NH10 received a lot of critical acclaim and Anushka’s performance was revered by both viewers and members of the Bollywood industry. This response was a clear confirmation that Anushka was on the right track. “With NH10 being a success, it was an instinct that I felt it was the right time for me to start producing films.”
So what attracts producer Anushka to a story? “Instinct,” she answers straight away. “When you are reading something or being narrated a film, either you like it or don’t like it. There will be reviews on why you like it, and that has to do something with [a story] you have not heard about or there’s a new take onto something. So it’s always based on instincts and a newness that attracts you to a script,” elaborates the 28-year-old producer who is all set to showcase her second film Phillauri releasing on March 24.
Directed by Anshai Lal, Phillauri has Anushka and famous Punjabi actor Diljit Dosanjh playing lead roles. It is an interesting tale where Anushka plays a friendly ghost from the past whose love story with Diljit unfolds in the backdrop of a present day Punjabi wedding. The film’s intriguing trailer, released a few weeks back, has already caught the audience’s attention, making Phillauri one of the most awaited films to watch this year.
It was the freshness of the idea that attracted Anushka and Karnesh to Phillauri. “I think we both were very excited by the idea behind the film, we found the light take on a superstition quite interesting – about this manglik boy who has to marry a tree and in the midst he inherits a ghost. The element of a ghost, discovering the love story of a ghost, telling her past – there are a lot of interesting things. All of that put together was making a really good film,” expresses Anushka.
The film also stands by Clean Slate Films’ promise of promoting new stories and talent – something that Anushka is very proud of as a producer. “We have managed to work with new talent and that is something we are really proud and happy about,” says the actor-producer, talking about her second project. “It is different from NH10 – that kind of speaks for what we are trying to do as a company. We are trying to share different themes and not jus fall into a kind of imagery of a production company.”
Besides working on a different concept as compared to their first production NH10, the siblings also got the chance to experiment with other aspects of filmmaking, like creating a different look of the ghost in Phillauri. Anushka explains, “The character of this ghost is one of a kind and has not been done before [in Bollywood]. We wanted to make her fairytalish and look surreal where she is transparent and floats.”
This filmmaking experience brought along a few difficulties as well, which the talented lady simply rewords as challenges – the challenge to get the film going, to market it well and get the desired response. “When you are writing a film, it’s all within your control. The difficult part is when you are pitching your film to a studio and trying to get the studio on board to make the film with you or finding a way on how best you can market the film and how it can reach your entire target group, they are not problems but challenges,” says Anushka, calling it a necessary component of filmmaking. “Even with NH10, we did not feel it was a difficulty; it was just a challenge that we had to take care of. When we see a problem, we find a solution to it rather than looking at it in a negative way. After all, if the idea is good then I feel you can do a lot with it.”
As we talk about challenges, I ask Anushka the advantages and shortcomings of working with family. And it turns out that for this A-lister working with family has more advantages than downfalls. A common vision for the production house and complete trust in each other are some of the reasons why this brother-sister duo works so smoothly together. “There is a lot of trust because we have been very close growing up; we are very similar with our personalities, the things we like and dislike, and values. Somewhere when the value system is the same, it is easier to work with family,” asserts Anushka.
Also, coming from a non-filmy background, the siblings are open to newer ideas and not bound by any preconceived notions about what kind of films one should make and what kind of films do well. “We just follow our instincts; we take risks because we have nothing to lose,” proclaims Anushka, “We came here with nothing and we just want to follow out hearts and we are very clear about that.”
Yet working with family also means taking each other for granted at times – something that Anushka and her brother are adjusting to. “I get more involved when I am dealing with people I am not related to, and when you are related, you kind of lose that. That’s something which will get better with time. But our similar thought process and ideas about what we want to do with the company makes up for everything else.”
Acting or producing – which one does Anushka prefer more? “Your involvement is a lot less when you are acting; your responsibility is a lot lesser. But as a producer, you are involved in the film from the genesis of it and that is a big responsibility,” she says pointing out the difference. “You feel a lot more responsible towards the project, towards all the people who have worked on the film. The stakes are much higher.” Being the person that she is, she enjoys this kind of leadership and being deeply involved in a project. “I enjoy it a lot more because I like this responsibility and being creatively involved in a project. It gives me a high and I see it in a very positive way, it is very exciting for me. I feel there is a lot more that I can offer which I probably cannot when I am just an actor on a project,” she reveals.
Anushka’s views on being responsible, on overcoming obstacles and staying positive is merely a reflection of the strong woman she is. In fact, she believes that the word women is synonyms with “balance and strength” – characteristics that she herself believes in and follows. “Women usually have to balance a lot more things and they can, especially in the society that we live in. We are growing, reaching out to new heights and the society is still not tuned to that. So there is always a balance we need to maintain in life and I think that is what I have always been able to do and manage very well.”
And rightfully enough, she has maintained that balance and excelled greatly. Despite working in a male-dominated industry, that too without a Bollywood background, Anushka has managed to hold her own and create her identity as a woman of confidence, talent and hard work. I ask her about the struggles of a woman in the entertainment industry, she says, “They aren’t enough good roles representing women correctly. And also in terms of the importance of your place in a male-centric film, these kinds of things affect you as an actor. There aren’t enough films that have an actress lead the film fully,” adding that there is a change.
With films like Heroine, Kahaani, and Queen getting a great response and making huge earnings, the Bollywood industry seems to have changed with its acceptance of actresses and women-centric films. “Today with actresses like me expecting lot more from our careers, from the industry, we are witnessing a change,” agrees Anushka, while picturing the future, “But whenever someone or an establishment has to change their way, there is always going to be that struggle between those who want to change and those who don’t.”
Looking at how female-centric films are doing very well at the box-office, Anushka remarks that more and more producers are coming forward and investing in such projects. “At the end of the day, this is a business and people will put their money when they feel they are going to have returns. And now that female-centric films have shown successes, it enables the producers to invest in such films knowing that there will be returns. These are changes that are definitely happening and these are all positive changes.”
Before concluding the interview, she sends out a message to young girls dreaming of a career in the film industry. “It is a good time to be in the industry as there are good positive changes coming in now and you can be a part of that change. If you feel that you have the potential to make it, then you must try to pursue it,” she encourages, calling Bollywood “an inviting place right now.”
Photos: Prasad Naik, Rohan Shrestha, Clean Slate Films