Nobody needs to help me financially: Anushka Sharma on doing things the right way – Anushka on Phillauri, production ventures – the perks of it and being an independent woman
I walk into Anushka Sharma’s office and she Snapchats the moment and captions it: “He’s promised to finish the interview in three minutes.” She laughs at my shocked reaction. But then, we end up chatting for close to an hour. Eventually, her pet cats come knocking on the glass door to remind us that the clock is ticking. During that time, the actress talks about her upcoming film, her ideas behind production, her strategies as an actor and producer, and more. Read on…
Most ghost stories are scary. Phillauri isn’t.
We don’t know how ghosts behave, so we can take the leap of faith and decide that this one is a friendly ghost. Phillauri is definitely an interesting take on ghosts. It’s in a fun space. I did find that different and exciting.
Did you deliberately make a fun film because your first production (NH10) was hard-hitting and intense?
As producers, we just want to tell stories. Sometimes, it might be a thriller, or a film like Phillauri, which is a complete family entertainer and sometimes, it might just be a scary horror film. There are no pre-conceived ideas about what we want to do next. We just react to stories. That’s about it.
Do you like watching ghost films?
I do like watching them but I like thrillers more than ghost films. I don’t remember too many. The Conjuring was scary. The Exorcist was amazingly scary, too.
Do you get scared while watching a film?
Who doesn’t? If someone says they aren’t, they are lying. When you watch these films, you get scared, you close your eyes, watch it through the gaps of your fingers. And my brother Karnesh and I always used to watch the show called Woh like that. Do you remember? It was so good.
Reports suggest Phillauri is similar to The Corpse Bride…
Absolutely not! The only similarity is that there is a ghost and there’s a man and the marriage that happens between them. Our concept is about a man who gets married to a tree, which is an entirely Indian concept. Then, there is a love story of the ghost. In The Corpse Bride, the ghost forces the guy to get married to him because she wants marriage. This is completely the opposite. Here, the ghost is as scared as the guy.
The films you are producing might not be women-centric but they’re always from a female protagonist’s perspective. Does that play in your mind when you select scripts?
How you are as a person, what your sensibilities are — these things are parameters on the basis of which you will decide things in life. You will always get attracted to things that match your desires and sensibilities. So who I am as a person matters a lot when I say yes to a film. When I am narrated a story, I won’t relate to something which is regressive or isn’t the right portrayal of a character or a girl. That’s how I deal with my choices as an actor and a producer. In fact, even more so because my brother and I both strongly feel about this. It’s about our upbringing and the way we see the world that plays an integral role in the scripts we pick. And for me, I want my characters to have a voice. If I’m playing a character where I don’t have a perspective, a point of view or have anything to say, then I don’t understand what I’m doing in the film.
There’s a huge disparity in the wages of men and women in the industry. As a female producer, does the same disparity happen with investors and budgets?
I think you are addressing what Sonam said on the same issue. Honestly, I don’t know what the budget of her film is. So I won’t comment on it. But yes, I just know that with the success of NH10, it was a lot easier to get Phillauri greenlit. Also, I am in a different and I would say, in a better position in my career than what I was when I did NH10. So it depends from film to film. I don’t know what a male actors’ contract is with the studio when they make a film. But if there’s disparity in general, I’m sure it will be there in this equation. Exactly what it is, I don’t want to be careless and make a comment. But just knowing the way things are, it is possible. I also think that while we speak about all of this, which is correct and everyone should speak about, we should choose and do things that help change the system. And helps in making the stand of female actors stronger. Our choices should lend its way to doing all that and that will be the way forward. That is why I feel very empowered as an actress when I’m producing a film. It’s a bigger sense of responsilibility and ownership. The possibilities are so much more of what things can be and where you can take it to.
But had NH10 not worked, do you think situations would have been different now?
It’s a hypothetical question and I really don’t know. I am a very instinctive person and I react to everything. So I don’t know how I would have reacted had it not worked. I was quite confident of the film honestly and how the film would go on to do. I knew we had a great film in hand which will be respected. The fact that it made money as well is a big thing. So I didn’t think about the flip side of it. There’s no point also. I mean why? How would it help? I don’t think about a film’s failure that I have signed up for. It’s stupid. The time that you took to make a decision of whether to do it or not — that’s the time when all these questions should be answered within you. That itself is going to be the deciding factor. If you have chosen the film for wrong reasons, without enough understanding the potential of the film, then you can be worried about it. But when you choose a film with conviction, you go on the sets, do your best and then uske baad worry karna is mindless. As a producer, I am doubly sure before I do a film. With Phillauri, we have been involved with it since the inception, we know what we have in hand. But then again, it might not work because nobody really knows the hit formula for any film. But content driven films with unique subjects always do well and we have seen that in the past as well.
Your films PK and Sultan both did 300 crore business. Does it put more pressure on you to deliver with your other films?
I won’t say there’s pressure but obviously, you want to deliver at the box office with all your films. It is not a burden. I don’t take it as one because as a person, I don’t take myself too seriously. I am very practical about things. If I have taken a decision to produce, I have to be very confident about the content I have. Uske baad, how much the film does, no one can profess. But me being a bankable actress today or with the success of the films that you’ve mentioned, helps and allows me to get film greenlit if I’m in it. So it’s easy for me to make those films. The responsibility then is to make profits from it because there’s a studio involved in it. It is a business at the end of the day which you are working towards. But I don’t take baggage of some other film for this film. That’s why we call it Clean Slate Films. There’s no prejudice or baggage. We treat each film differently. This film has its own journey, life and its own audience. It’s a different space altogether. You don’t know what will happen because such a film has not been attempted before. Even I’m excited to find that out. The idea is to make your films financially viable and according to me, you do that by offering strong content, something new and extraordinary to people. See, Khan films are huge films because they are huge stars and they have been that over generations. That guarantees them a certain audience. Today, when you have access to so much with Netflix and all on your laptop, if you ask audiences to come and watch a film, you really have to offer them something very extraordinary or unique for them to increase footfalls at the theatre. We are creating that to intrigue people. That’s what I am doing. I won’t compare the success of some other film which is in a completely different space with this one.
When you are producing a film on a limited budget and getting big returns, is it more satisfying then doing a big with big budget and big numbers?
People don’t really understand the term ‘return on investment’ well. People only relate to a film doing so much money whether it’s 100 crore or whatever. Of course, Sultan and PK made a lot of money for the producers too. But I’m just talking in general. When people talk about films ki yeh film ne 100 crore kama liya, nobody is actually talking about how much the film is made for. It’s very fashionable to say it’s 100 crore film but what’s more important is the return on investment. That’s what we are interested in. NH10 returned on investment. How much it was made for and how much it made — that’s what is important and that’s our way of working. Sultan, PK, Dangal they obviously had made that much money and also in terms of ratios, they had higher returns. But then, there are also films where that is not the case. Only perception is created that these films are actually huge. I guess, with medium budget films, if they are made right, as we have seen in the past, the ratio of return on investment is much more.
In an interview, Kangana Ranaut said actresses who work with Khans don’t have longevity. You have worked with all of them. Your comment?
I cannot comment on what Kangana said because I don’t know what the context was and what she actually said. But I also have the same belief that I won’t just be a showpiece in a film. Just like Kangana thinks, rightfully so. I wouldn’t have done the film if I was just another showpiece. The fact that I’ve done the film is because I had a role to play and a contribution to make to the film which was recognised and stood out. So I won’t completely agree with that.
You have decided not to talk about your personal life…
I am not comfortable talking about my personal life and that’s completely my decision. It is not about actor or actresses. I might be an actor, but I am also a person with life principles and according to me, being open about my relationship is not something I feel I need to do. I’m guarded as a person and I have always been like this.
There was a time when people wrote about Virat backing your banner financially. Do you think people today don’t like watching a strong independent woman?
I think it comes from there — a very, very deep rooted misogyny. Where people feel that if a girl is doing something great on her own, obviously she has got some help. People who speak this way have no spine. All working women know this by now that we will experience such things because whenever there’s a change or you do something different from what people are used to, they will react this way. They are not used to a girl doing something on her own because they might not have ever done something like that. And then, suddenly they see a girl who is independently getting into something, obviously it is going to disturb them. When people are used to something and that is challenged or changed, it disturbs them. I think all of us should accept that this will happen. I felt sad, angry but I’m not going to let them get in the way. I believe that whenever you will do something good, there will always be someone to pull you down or make you feel like s**t. You just have to ignore it. Don’t give a damn and keep walking. And as you go further and further on the road, the noises become quieter and quieter.
Because of these rumours, would you never ask Virat for help, even if it’s not financial? Maybe just to avoid such stories?
Nobody needs to help me financially. I am very, very independent financially and I’ll be that for the rest of my life. I will never change the way I am because of what people expect or think of me because if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have come so far in my life. I don’t need any financial help from anybody and I don’t say that with arrogance, I say that with pride. It’s just that I have reached so far, on my own accord and nobody can take away my credit away from me.