Tell us about the evolution of your character, Bholi Punjaban, from Fukrey to Fukrey 3. Do you find comedy as a genre challenging?
I think comedies are wonderful, simply because they make people happy. I love them. At times I wonder why people keep casting me in serious roles. The audience’s reception of Bholi Punjaban gave me the confidence to tackle the genre easily. It wasn’t easy to get back into the groove though, after such a long gap—Fukrey 2 was released in 2017. I started feeling like her only after I exchanged dialogues with (co-actors) Varun Sharma and Pulkit Samrat.
You debuted in 2008 with Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! But your breakthrough role was in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). Has your approach towards choosing scripts changed since then?
No. I have always picked a script only if my role takes the story forward, irrespective of how big the director may be. I also don’t do repetitive roles; I look for those I have never attempted. Lastly, I should be able to make enough money. I am an outsider and have to survive. In the beginning, it didn’t seem important, but it is a factor I must keep in mind.
Do you still feel like an outsider?
I will always be one. But, I do not resent those from within the industry. All of us have different pressures to deal with. Tomorrow, if my children want to become actors, will they be called outsiders or insiders?
You started a production company, Pushing Buttons Studios, with (husband) Ali Fazal in 2021. What is happening on that front?
I realised during the pandemic that I wanted to start my own production house. I had been closely observing the journey of Excel Entertainment (Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani) and how they respected artists, technicians, writers and directors equally.
I wanted to do something similar. So, Ali and I got together to launch Pushing Buttons Studios to tell our kind of stories. We are working on a few projects and listening to scripts. As of now, I have shot
a documentary, and also made a film, which has been selected for a film festival.
You directed a short film, Rooted in Hope, in 2018. Do you plan to get behind the camera again
No. That was a disaster. Direction is not for me. I get too picky about details, but I will continue to write and produce.
Ali has created a unique identity for himself, not only in Hindi cinema but also in Hollywood. How do you look at his achievements?
I am proud of him, but I feel hurt that he does not get the appreciation he deserves. Look at the wide range of characters he has delivered, right from Guddu Pandit in Mirzapur to Abdul in Victoria & Abdul. He even picked up the Armenian accent for Death on the Nile (2022). It’s a lot of hard work.
You have signed a Hollywood film as well. Tell us more.
Yes, but not at the same level as Ali does. It’s a film titled Aina. It’s the story of a refugee girl. There will be a big Hollywood actor in it, whose name I cannot reveal yet.
How was it working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali in the OTT series, Heera Mandi?
Sanjay sir has managed to get the best out of me. He destroyed my ego and recreated me. He didn’t ask me to do the role in my own style. Instead, he told me to be true to the character. His sets and lights are magnanimous yet authentic, and our job was to just act. So, that is what I focused on.