‘I stepped away and unlearned, learned, and came back with Aarya’: Sushmita Sen
Crime thriller Aarya marked a comeback for actor Sushmita Sen after an eight-year hiatus. She had stepped away from films because she didn’t feel like she was challenging herself
NEW DELHI: How does an actor prepare for a role, season after season, in ways that exceed the expectations set and keep the show fresh and appealing?
It takes a whole lot of conviction, Sushmita Sen said, speaking at a virtual session of the ongoing 21st Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. Referring to her lead role in the International Emmy-nominated show Aarya (2020), she added: “It is one thing to have a cliffhanger at the end of an episode, and quite another to have your audiences feel the desire to watch a second or third season. It hasn’t been easy.”
The crime thriller, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, released the trailer for its third season last month. It’s a season in which Aarya Sareen, played by Sen, suffers a gunshot wound, in a scene that was shot just a month after the actor suffered a massive heart attack in February.
“When Aarya gets shot and falls to the ground gasping, in a crazy way it was reel and real life coming to a beautiful cathartic unison,” Sen told Sonal Kalra, HT’s chief managing editor, entertainment and lifestyle. “I think it was a whole new beginning for me… personally and for Aarya on screen.”
When it premiered to critical and popular acclaim in 2020, Aarya marked a comeback for the actor, after an eight-year hiatus. She had stepped away from films because she was unhappy doing the same stereotypical roles and didn’t feel like she was challenging herself. With this series, she said, she was introduced to the 360-degree style of filmmaking: more realistic, with long takes and far fewer cuts.
In this system, one must practise a lot, know what milestones to hit and have immense stamina, because a take can be 35 minutes long, Sen added. “I felt like a newcomer, attending 14-hour workshops and coming home late and loving every bit of it… I am glad I listened to my heart, even if it meant walking away from films. I stepped away and unlearned, learned, and came back with Aarya.”
The heart attack was also a learning curve, Sen said; one that reminded her that she had a lot to do. “We all have a deadline but the fact that February 24 wasn’t my deadline means there is a lot to be done still, and what a driving force that is to know.”
It gave her a new energy and a fresh force, she added, and she used those to explore and evolve. Then she was offered the role of activist Shreegauri Sawant in Taali, which was released on JioCinema in August. This show follows the true story of Sawant’s struggle for equal rights for the transgender community.
“The minute I said yes to it, I knew I would also be the voice of a community,” Sen said. She recalled sitting for the first-look test, where the make-up artists added longer sideburns and a slight stubble. “As an actor that was the first time I looked at myself and said, ‘Wow, I have come of age’.”
Her favourite moment from the shoot? She had just delivered a monologue that starts as a casual conversation and ends with her breaking down and being enraged, all in one shot. “The rest of the team that belonged to Shreegauri Sawant’s family of friends came up to me and said, ‘you’ve become Amma. She’s as ferocious and feels this so deeply that you have now become her’. That’s when I knew I had made it personal.”
Sen is currently working on three projects: a theatrical release and two OTT releases. “As an actor who loves cinema, I believe that both (formats) are here to stay,” she said. While she hopes to stay platform agnostic, she added, she is also looking forward to working on commercial projects, especially comedies that appeal to a wider audience.
She hopes to share more of herself with the world. “I tell everyone that… accepting change is important. The only thing against you in the whole world is your stubbornness to not change. No matter what, it is a privilege to be alive… so live every moment. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”