Amruta Subhash is very particular in choosing her roles. She was mentored by Naseeruddin Shah at the National School of Drama (NSD) and follows his advice. “Naseer sir used to tell me, ‘don’t go for characters whose conflict is not seen on screen,’” she reminisces.
Over the course of her career, she has successfully avoided being slotted in repetitive parts. She plays a serial killer’s tormented sister in Raman Raghav 2.0, the chatty neighbour in Choked and then goes on to step into the shoes of a RAW agent in Sacred Games Season 2. Amruta is a seductress in the drama series Bombay Begums and a sensation-seeking news producer in the thriller Dhamaka.
There is, however, one common thread in some of her roles: stories of middle-class women. So when Amruta, who has mostly played supporting roles, decides to play the lead in The Viral Fever’s (TVF) Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt. Ltd where she essays the role of Suman, a homemaker separated from her husband and struggling to become an entrepreneur, it springs up a question. Does she feel lured to roles of middle-class women?
“My nanihal (grandmother’s house) was in a village so I always felt close to such women and their stories,” says Amruta. “Even when these characters are all middle-class women, they vary in their personality. Suman is different from Lily in Bombay Begums or from my character in Choked. Suman’s journey has been from her father’s kitchen to her husband’s kitchen. She still needs to explore the world. Lily, on the other hand, is a street-smart sex worker. When I picked up Saas Bahu Achaar, it ticked all the boxes. The character had a conflict, the writing was good and it was backed by a production house like TVF.”
It’s exciting to see Amruta finally play the lead. The typecast bug, however, has still hovered around her. “Especially after Gully Boy, I was being approached for ‘mother roles’. But that’s how this industry works. You do something good and they want to see more of that. Even the audience wants to see you in similar roles. But I told myself to say no. You have to make your space. It’s better to sit at home without work rather than play similar roles.”
A maker who has ensured diversity and depth in her roles is Anurag Kashyap. Amruta’s most impactful performances came during her multiple collaborations with the director in Raman Raghav 2.0, Choked and Sacred Games. “Anurag has been my godfather but even when we got acquainted well, he still auditioned me for every role,” she stresses. Talking about her process, Amruta says that she prefers to have the complete script with her character outline.
“It’s only with Anurag I know I can let go in a performance and he will take care of me. When I did Raman Raghav, I didn’t know him well and we had extensive rehearsals and workshops. With Sacred Games he just prepped me on how a RAW agent works but didn’t give me a script. When Choked came and I asked him what the role was, he refused to reveal and asked me to meet him directly on set,” Amruta laughs. “He takes me out of my comfort zone but doesn’t leave my side.”
The characters she plays sprout after extensive research. Amrutha prefers to meet real people and emulate their life in her performances rather than relying upon her own experiences. “As Amruta, I know I have limited experiences and if I start thrusting them on every character it won’t be different,” she explains. “I met a bar dancer in Mumbai’s red-light district Kamathipura while researching for Lily for Bombay Begums. I found my Razia (the role of Ranveer Singh’s mother in Gully Boy) when I visited the house of a young Muslim woman. Everytime I take up a role, I pray to the universe to show me the character.”
But it’s not just people that give her the characters; sometimes it’s an animal, a painting, a tune or just divine intervention. She once saw a chameleon in Sri Lanka, where she was with Marathi actor/ director Sandesh Kulkarni (her husband) to shoot for an English-language series. She went closer to the creature but it didn’t even flinch. The reptile’s composure became the basis of Kusum Devi Yadav, the RAW agent she plays in Sacred Games. “I call these moments Brahmakshan,” she says. “It feels like an out-of-body experience. It can be triggered by anything, observing an animal, listening to a song or appreciating a painting. Sometimes it happens during a performance. It feels like I am out of my being and fusing with the character.”
We ask her when was the last time she felt it. “It was during shooting a scene in Nandita Das’ Firaaq,” she says. “It was a confrontational sequence with Shahana Goswami. I was playing a Hindu woman, she a Muslim. During the scene, I had to slap her. When I did, somewhere the azaan started playing and my eyes welled-up, I got goosebumps. I had found my brahmakshan.”
In the end, it all comes down to content, she feels. OTT has opened the avenues for varied material and women-centric stories. “My makers have always given me characters, even if supporting ones, who have their own arc. OTT is giving space to stories of women. Content was king but now it has become queen also.”