It’s said all life sprang from the sea. And you can never escape the waters.
You either learn to swim or you drown. And if you want to know who you really are, you have to hold your breath and plunge in the depths and seek out the truth before your lungs run out of air.
Then you do it again and again and again… Plunge in the depths of love, sorrow, joy, happiness, heartbreaks, pain. Go seek the bottom with your eyes open until the ocean reveals its secrets. The more you dive, the more you learn, the more you live…
Talking to four actors at one go isn’t easy. And especially when they’re on the cusp of a big release. They’d all be craving for attention, all be wanting to say the right things, all be buzzing with the same nervous energy and would be extra nice to one another. So it was a surprise of sorts for me to find the stars of Gehraiyaan – Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday and Dhairya Karwa being so candid in their answers and so chilled towards one another. It’s like the film has thrown them in the wide, open sea and they have to learn to trust one another in order to survive. They’ve not only learnt how to float, but they’ve also helped one another dive deep beneath the waves and enjoy the serenity which exists beneath the choppy surface. They have grown with the film. It was held up because of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown.
So being in close proximity with one another in a bio bubble, they got acquainted with one another’s best and worst traits. They became a dysfunctional family on a forced vacation who nevertheless started to enjoy themselves and then never wanted to go back to their respective lives. While Deepika is the veteran here, and Siddhant, Ananya and Dhairya relatively new, she never took on the mantle of the den mother. Theirs was a tribe of equals. From being actors belonging to different backgrounds, they segued into being their characters and just let things fall freely. It’s high praise indeed for director Shakun Batra that he was able to make four strangers achieve such a high level of compatibility. Presenting excerpts from an interview where I felt less like an interviewer and more like a bug on the wall, eavesdropping on a conversation between friends…
Dhairya, you are the youngest member of the team in terms of seniority. What was your first reaction when Shakun Batra asked you to join the august cast of Gehraiyaan?
DHAIRYA: Understandably, I was over the moon. Especially because it was such a different character from what I’d played till now, that of a chilled out fun guy. Shakun’s brief was to go easy on the weights and not to go to the gym. This was a pleasant change for me because before that I was almost always in the gym. I was just looking forward to shooting with the fabulous faces you see here. And working with Shakun is a dream for any actor.
Ananya, were you at any point anxious about Deepika Padukone being your co-actor?
ANANYA: It was like a cherry on the cake that Deepika was part of it. I wanted to work with Deepika and was dying to work with Shakun. I am a big fan of his Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and Kapoor & Sons. Even before they’d narrated the film to me, I’d said yes. It didn’t matter to me if I was there for just one or two scenes or how many dialogues I had. I knew it would help my performance if I was opposite someone like Deepika because I had to just react to what she was doing. It’s a film about four characters and their different relationships and dynamics.
What about you Siddhant? You are coming in the wake of Gully Boy and this is not a regular Hindi film role. What was going through your mind when Shakun narrated the film to you?
SIDDHANT: I always wanted to do a rom-com. I have grown up on those films and am conditioned to saying those lines in that manner. And this was Shakun. I just said yes because I wanted to work with him and then there was Deepika. But Zain, my character, his ideas, his world, and his take on love was very different from what I have seen in cinema or experienced in life. So it was a bit difficult for me to get under the skin of the character and his world. It took me some time to unlearn everything, to start from scratch and to look at the film from Shakun’s perspective. I was very nervous. I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off.
Deepika, what was that one thing about Gehraiyaan which made you decide you want to do this film?
DEEPIKA: I always wanted to work with Shakun. Even as an audience I am drawn to films that are true to life; where the characters are raw, real, relatable. I also had the opportunity to get to know Shakun at a personal level before he offered me the film and have always been fascinated by his mind. Then, about two years ago, I was filming for 83 in London. I received a call from Karan Johar saying he’s producing a film that Shakun is set to direct. Shakun then flew down to London and gave me a narration. I took about two days to decide if I was ready for what I knew was going to be a huge emotional commitment, before finally saying yes.
What was that one thing about your character which made you think I must do this film?
DEEPIKA: That it was a character I had never played before. One we’ve never seen in Indian cinema before; flawed, human and relatable. The majority of the characters we’ve been exposed to through our movies are either black or white and are most often portrayed as doing what is conventionally right or wrong. Humanising Alisha Khanna, infusing empathy and to portray her sans the lens of judgement, was the most challenging and exciting part for me as an artiste.
In the trailer, your character used the word ‘messed up’. Shakun shows us films about normal families which are so dysfunctional. If I ask you all about your most ‘messed-up’ moment, what would it be?
ANANYA: Like my character Tia, I want to see the best in people, am very trusting and have this tendency of being too insecure. And sometimes I let my insecurities get the better of me and I think too much. I don’t know if you count that as ‘messed up’ but I start judging myself, when
Do you think overthinking messes things up?
ANANYA: It does. And whatever I think shows on my face. I’m very transparent and I overthink to a point where I start figuring things that don’t exist.
Are you close to the character you play?
ANANYA: Pretty close. I didn’t feel that way during the course of the narration. I thought it would be interesting to play that character. But the more we got into it and the more conversations I had with Shakun, it really felt cathartic in that sense…‘Oh yeh toh main hoon.’ I realised it when going into the scenes and that’s why I had to go more inward when it came to this character. I had to draw more from myself. Maybe I haven’t gone through heartbreak and cheating to the extent that Tia might be experiencing, but to some extent, I’ve felt those feelings.
What about you Dhairya? How messed up are you?
DHAIRYA: First of all, I think the cheating and heartbreak has been hyped way too much because Gehraiyaan has a lot more to offer. In real life, we are all messed up and trying to filter how much we can reveal.
So is there an incident that changed you?
DHAIRYA: Generally every day your subconscious mind sees something and then your conscious mind kicks in and you think and you think, ‘No no I shouldn’t be doing that.’ We do that all the time. The moment you lay eyes on something you have an opinion, and then you have that conversation with yourself, ‘I’m a good guy, this just came to my mind’. It’s a constant battle we have every day.
SIDDHANT: I had clarity when I was 20 and had a major heartbreak. I was with this girl for four years and wanted to settle down with her. I was quite sorted.
ANANYA: You are still sorted.
SIDDHANT: Yes. I wanted to settle down with her and she wanted a simple life. I was doing my CA at that time but then I chose to switch my career. That didn’t go down well with her. We wanted two different things in life and that was really heartbreaking because I had to choose between love and ambition. And I chose ambition. I remember telling her that I wanted to perform on stage and will make sure I reach there. And here I am.
DHAIRYA: Everyone has dodged you, Jitesh. Nobody has told you about the ‘messed
All this can mess you up yaar. And Deepika?
DEEPIKA: Quite a few. Some public, some not so public. But in hindsight, I am grateful for those experiences. You don’t always walk into them knowingly. But eventually, you realise that all of life’s experiences teach you something. They give you clarity. They tell you a lot about who you are and give you perspective about the people around you.
Basing my question on Gehraiyaan, have any of you cheated and have you been cheated upon?
ANANYA: I have not cheated for sure. (Laughs) Maybe I have been cheated upon but am not sure.
DEEPIKA: While I may not personally endorse certain choices, one of my many learnings through this film’s experience has been to try and not ‘judge’ people for their choices and/or actions. To be empathetic and understand why people do what they do. And that isn’t restricted to infidelity alone.
SIDDHANT: Definitely not cheated upon, at least that’s what I like to believe. It has to be very black or white for me. I cannot live in the grey area. It messes things up. I need to see things clearly. Ya and not cheated either.
An interesting part of this film is empathy. How does one develop empathy in a relationship with one’s co-star? Are there other instances where the word empathy comes to the fore, as it does in the film?
DEEPIKA: I believe it comes with personal growth and evolution. It comes when you have been in difficult, different or challenging situations. It teaches you empathy.
ANANYA: Empathy as co-stars? I think a lot of conversations, not just about the film or our characters but learning a lot about one another’s lives can evoke empathy. We used to have a lot of these conversations in the acting workshops. When we entered the acting workshop we thought it was going to be all about the scene but Atul Mongia sir, who was our acting teacher, made us just talk about life and ourselves. That actually made me understand the three of them and myself so much better. For me, empathy means listening and communication.
DHAIRYA: For me, it is just conversations and spending time together. You get more comfortable and then you reveal yourself. Because initially, you put up that goody goody act.
SIDDHANT: Empathy for me is acceptance. Accepting people as they are and seeing them in their worst possible form. Like in this film there were many challenges in the last two years, including the pandemic. I think that’s what made us come closer. And Shakun really pushed us in terms of everything. Whatever he wanted he literally extracted that out of us including intense and heavy scenes. We have seen one another at our lowest and were there for one another. We have shared a lot in the last two years, so I think the friendship that the four of us have now will go beyond the film.
Was there one moment in the film where your screen characters merged with your real selves?
DEEPIKA: Characters don’t exist in isolation. With every character you portray, you take away something from that experience but you also invest a lot of yourself into every character. And therefore, a screen character merging with the real self at some level is inevitable.
Not too many Indian films have explored infidelity or cheating. Did any of you have any apprehension that this film may be slightly tough to digest?
DEEPIKA: You mean the audience might find it tough to digest? I don’t believe so. That in my opinion would be underestimating our audience. Having said that, Gehraiyaan isn’t about infidelity alone. While it’s one of the aspects of the film, it’s not the sole aspect of the film.
It’s the first time you have had an OTT release. Do you miss the buzz of a theatrical release?
DEEPIKA: Had it been any other film, I would have probably had a different response. As for Gehraiyaan, the excitement and anticipation has been beyond overwhelming.
You want to talk a bit more about the OTT space?
ANANYA: This is just my fourth film. And this feels so right on OTT. I can’t think of it happening any other way. As actors and filmmakers, we make films so that it reaches the right audience. I think with Amazon it’s going to reach a wide and correct audience. We have survived on OTT for the last two years. There have been so many amazing films including regional and world cinema. I love watching films in the comfort of my home but then I also love going to the theatre. I don’t think they need to replace each other. They can coexist.
Siddhant, you did Inside Edge on OTT earlier. Do you feel any difference between then and now?
SIDDHANT: That was the biggest web show at that time and that is why I am here. That show got me Gully Boy. I think it also depends on the content and the format. To watch a film like Pushpa, I would love to go to a theatre. Gehraiyaan on the
other hand would do well, both on OTT and in theatres because of the strong content. We are offering something new and we ought to watch the film for that. It will do well across platforms.
What separates Shakun Batra from the other directors?
SIDDHANT: I think what separates him is that every film of his is different. Like if I go and watch Gehraiyaan and then I go and watch Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu it’s a different palate altogether. Kapoor & Sons is a family drama and talks about relationships but it still feels different. I think he rediscovers himself. That is why he takes a lot of time between films.
ANANYA: I think Shakun has an abundance of curiosity, which is his forte. He wants to know new people, he wants to discover things. Another thing is his fearlessness. He is not afraid to show messy and chaotic situations. He is curious about everything in life and that is interesting because that can lead to new and fascinating ideas.
DHAIRYA: The moment you say that this director is separate from the others, you are implying that the others are less. Anyway, Shakun’s strong point is that he is a collaborator, and very flexible. As actors, you learn so much from him just by being around him. Working with him is a learning experience and he also brings out the best in you. If he chooses you that means that he has faith in you. If there are days when you lack confidence he will take you through it.
ANANYA: He nurtures people and likes to see them grow.
DEEPIKA: You know, there’s a difference between inquisitiveness and curiosity. Shakun is curious; about life, about people, about possibilities. There’s a lot more I’d love to say about him, but I’d save that for another time…
Can you all talk about a scene in the film which was difficult to crack?
ANANYA: There is this one scene in the film which showcases a side of Tia, which was not seen before and I kept thinking about that scene over and over again. I even marked that in my script as I was really stressed out about it. Since it was almost at the end
of the schedule I thought it would work out eventually. But something happened and Shakun decided to change the schedule and do the scene on my second day of shooting, when I was still trying to discover how Tia was. But I was happy that it happened in the beginning because it did not let me put too much pressure on myself or overthink. Whatever happened came from inside. That change in schedule really helped.
SIDDHANT: For me, it was the last scene, the climax. I didn’t know how it was going to happen. That was very tricky and we kept going back and forth a lot. There were a lot of things like what should be the motivation, how it should flow etc.
DHAIRYA: The script is such that when you go through it, you look forward to playing certain scenes. I would just let the clutter out and focus on my co-actors. They would make it happen for me.
How similar or dissimilar are you all as people?
DEEPIKA: We are all similar yet we are different.
ANANYA: Our sense of humour is very similar. We always crack up and manage to make one another laugh. We all like to hang out and chill and listen to music.
SIDDHANT: What I resonate with Dhairya is that he’s also starting out. He’s curious about things other than films. He has a set goal for himself and there’s a family waiting thinking he’s going to do something. That’s very homely and something I find very similar.
DHAIRYA: Same roots, same ambition.
SIDDHANT: At the same time without any malice, I have seen so many people telling him to get his PR right and do this branding. But this boy is very innocent and he only thinks about his art and craft. He’s trying to get it right and doesn’t care about the noise.
Can you guys tell us about some auditions you have done and been rejected?
SIDDHANT: I was rejected for all the films I auditioned for before Gully Boy. But interestingly,
I knew some boys who were assisting casting directors, and they told me they were showing my auditions to actors as reference.
DEEPIKA: My journey has been a little different. I auditioned as a model but not when I became an actor. In India, at the time, there was no real culture of auditioning. And after debuting with Farah Khan in Om Shanti Om, even if anyone wanted me to audition, they were probably apprehensive to ask. I have though auditioned in the West several times.
Have you lost out on anything?
DEEPIKA: Of course!
Were you heartbroken?
DEEPIKA: Disappointed Not heartbroken. People who are in positions to truly bring about change, talk about diversity but I personally believe it has not been explored to its fullest potential, yet.
ANANYA: I auditioned for Student Of The Year 2. After that, I was rejected in many films and I was heartbroken for sure, but after watching the films, I realised it happened for a reason. I probably wasn’t fit for the part. Even for Kho Gaye Hum Kahan, my next film, I had to audition. I was pretty nervous about that. Siddhant you got it but Adarsh Gourav and I both auditioned for it. It was more like a reading though. I don’t know if you would call it an audition. But I didn’t mind because it helped me to know whether I would be able to do the part and whether it was exciting enough for me.
DHAIRYA: I agree with Sid that at that moment I was heartbroken that I didn’t get the part but when I saw those films later, I was glad I didn’t get them.
What’s the best and the worst piece of advice that you have got?
SIDDHANT: You are here to perform and the other things are secondary. That’s the best piece of advice given by Aamir Khan. The worst piece of advice was when I was trying to get into films someone said you should keep doing something or the other, only then something will happen. That you can’t just keep waiting for the opportunity or the time to come. I was ready to listen to it and do whatever came my way but my dad said that an actor is like a soda bottle. Once you remove the cap and the fizz goes down it’s over.
DEEPIKA: Shah Rukh gives good advice and I got a lot from him. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I got from him was to always work with people you know you are going to have a good time with, because while you are making a movie you are also living life, making memories and creating experiences. The worst advice I received was to get breast implants. I was all of 18 and I often wonder how I had the wisdom to not take it seriously.
ANANYA: People have an opinion on everything, especially your body. Try this or do this, everyone is doing it. It’s the worst piece of advice. Also, I was told not to do two-heroine films but I started with Student Of The Year 2 and then I did Pati Patni Aur Woh. That’s not even a thought in my head because I was so happy working with those people. I got the opportunity to work with strong talented and beautiful women and I would never give up on that. I am ambitious but would never step on anyone else’s toes.
It’s good you spoke about body shaming because it will make the other girls think.
ANANYA: A lot of young girls look up to Deepika and the best part is she’s been real and honest about everything she has done. So she sets the right expectations. And talking about the best piece of advice, it was to hold on to the people who are important: like your family. Stay grounded and surround yourself with the right people. My parents have raised me with a certain set of values and I should stick to them and go forward.
DHAIRYA: My best piece of advice, in general, has been to take care of myself. If I cannot take care of myself I am no good to myself and to anyone else. My father told me that. The worst is, you have got to be a busy actor and be out there.
Can you all sum up your characters in the film in one word? And why should we see this film?
SIDDHANT: My character – mystery. Watch the film to unravel it.
DEEPIKA: Alisha – Broken but Beautiful.
ANANYA: My character in one word is trust. Trust defines Tia. Watch the film because it’s an honest and a real film and we put in a lot of love and hard work and we’ve attempted to do something different.
DHAIRYA: True friend. Watch this film for many reasons. One is to watch us.
If you had to meet your characters in real life, what would you tell them?
SIDDHANT: Ishq ek dariya hai doob ke jaana hai.
DHAIRYA: Pull your socks up and be appreciative.
DEEPIKA: It will be okay…