HT Brunch Cover Story: Sibling revelry
Sibling histories make for fascinating stories, flaunting that pleasing mix of magic and mischief. So, how do the Sait siblings, Kubbra and Danish, known for forging their own individual paths in a changing entertainment industry, come together as a unit?
“As kids in Bengaluru, we both tied each other rakhis, but as we’ve grown and travelled we’ve gotten closer to each other without really needing a ritual,” says actor and storyteller Kubbra, 38, on a windy monsoon day in Mumbai.
“We’re both individually responsible for our own actions, but we always have each other’s back,” adds actor, writer and comic Danish, 33, seated beside his sister, emphasising the bandhan aspect of the much-loved festival over the raksha one.
Of choice and voice
The theme of individual choice runs deep with the siblings, as is evident from their career trajectories. Kubbra boarded a plane for the first time in 2005, moving from Bengaluru to Dubai to work in marketing for Microsoft. Five years later, she had set her sights on showbiz.
“When I was finding my feet in Mumbai, it wasn’t about making choices as much as surviving here without a godfather. I played the role of a domestic worker in Salman Khan’s Ready (2011) first and was told that I’d be typecast for the rest of my life. I don’t think I need a medal for being brave, exceptional or an outlier. Some might call it hustling, but it’s what I do best,” she says with her trademark self-belief. “Now I don’t need to go to a party to schmooze – which was the advice I used to get earlier. The casting process is thoroughly professional and good actors shine even in character roles.”
Danish concurs. After a brief and unsatisfying dalliance with client servicing and copywriting, his career took an upward turn when he moved to Bahrain to work as a radio jockey – a job he eventually quit because “it was too hot in the Middle East”. But it’s the digital realm back home that has given him wide recognition.
“The OTT space has changed so many lives. My first film, Humble Politician Nograj (2018), was the first Kannada film to be streamed on Amazon Prime Video. My second film, French Biryani, came out last year during the pandemic as an Amazon exclusive; my third film will also be out on Amazon. And I live in Bengaluru and don’t hobnob in Mumbai. I’ve learnt that if you have an idea and a clear vision, people are willing to take you seriously.”
As the Saits came into their own in the 2010s, marginalised voices were steadily asserting themselves in prestigious productions. For instance, Kubbra’s portrayal of Kukoo – a transgender woman – in Netflix’s Sacred Games (2018), became the catalyst for a conversation around gender identity and sexual orientation.
“A couple of months after the release of Sacred Games, Section 377 was read down and I was automatically made the poster child of the LGBTQIA movement. There was suddenly this pressure to represent the community when all I had wanted to do was to play the character honestly. I’d known that if I could tap into my vulnerability, I would be able to tap into Kukoo’s vulnerability too. Post that experience, I educated and sensitised myself so I could serve as an ally in the movement,” she explains.
“Didi and I often debate this matter,” Danish chimes in. “I admire her for giving back, but when it comes to certain issues, I prefer that opinions be restricted to our circle of family and friends, where you’re not afraid of being judged. But one can find a way to express opinions.”
Danish’s popularity stems from his mastery of parody, on full display in his ‘Conversations’ video series where he portrays quirky Bengaluru characters. “I worked with The Improv team for many years in Bengaluru before taking off for New York to formalise my improv skills. It’s where I learned about the “Yes, and...” rule of improvisational comedy, where you build on a line of thought suggested by a previous speaker, taking the story forward. I feel this rule can be applied to any conversation. We spend too much time discussing problems instead of working through them,” he says.
Having launched a thousand brands between them as event hosts, the Saits have encountered their share of weird requests from corporate clients. “We’ve had people ask us if we would offer them a package deal, saying: ‘Ghar ki baat hai, na?’ We had to remind them that when it comes to paying taxes, we’re not one entity but two,” Kubbra recounts.
The closeness the siblings share is palpable. But how do they navigate the social media space, where close relationships are now increasingly being performed?
“I use social media to express who I am and work comes to me as a by-product of that. So, when I speak about having curly hair, or my eating habits or fitness patterns, people are inclined to associate their brands with me. It’s the exact opposite of what Dan does,” Kubbra offers.
“I use it for content distribution. I don’t feel the need to share things about my personal life online,” Danish says.
Kubbra laughs sheepishly. “I was once so annoyed he didn’t react to a picture I had posted from Ireland that I unfollowed and blocked him on Insta. But I was thrilled when he followed me back later.”
“I told her she’s my sister; I didn’t need to see her pics on Insta. Now my sister, my wife [Anya Rangaswami] and I have a WhatsApp group where all these things are shared,” he replies.
No matter the size of their quarrel, the siblings are proud of the fact that they’ve never needed an external mediator.
“Our journey with mental health has played out beautifully,” Kubbra says with characteristic candour. “I think Danish knew he was depressed before anyone else did, but I always thought he was acting out. And then some switch flipped and I was like oh my god – this is depression.”
“She was the first person, besides myself, to identify it,” Danish recollects.
“Yes, and very recently, when I was spending time with him, he realised that I was completely out of it. He connected me to his therapist and followed up with me in exactly the same way as I had when he was in trouble. This deep connection is the essence of our relationship,” Kubbra says.
From HT Brunch, August 22, 2021
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