With her striking features and performances that get better with each film, Soha Ali Khan has managed to carve a niche for herself in the fickle film industry.
With meaty roles in films like Antar Mahal, Rang De Basanti, Ahista Ahista, Iti Srikanta and the soon to be released Chaurahen, she has excelled at delivering good performances.
The petite actor talks to our correspondent about the way her career has shaped up, her experiences and her aspirations for the future.
Tell us about Chaurahen..
This film weaves three different stories together. My story is set in Mumbai and I am paired with Ankur Khanna.
The story is an intimate one, between these two young people and analyses their relationship till the point they find themselves at the crossroads of life. I play Era, who is progressive, while Farooq played by Ankur, is slightly melancholic. It is a real film, without all the song and dance.
What drew you to the film?
Essentially, the script appealed to me, and the fact that it was a real character to which I could relate.
The challenge is when you strip a film of all the glamour, song and dance, accessories, big personalities and the exotic locations. It then essentially is all about playing the role and your ability to perform. I wanted to do a role that was just about performance.
How was it working with director Rajshree Ojha?
It was lovely; she is an extremely talented director and has a lot of experience as well as sensitivity. I had seen her short film, and wanted to work with her.
Did you contribute in any other way to the film?
Yes, in terms of improvisation and adding a dialogue here and there, I did. In terms of gestures and expressions, there was a lot of improvisation that I made as an actor.
What was the best thing about working in Chaurahen?
The most exciting thing was that you couldn’t hide behind lots of make up or glamorous clothes. It was just about delivering dialogues in a real way, and portraying very real emotions. I think that’s where performance became the key, so I learned to be genuine and sincere in front of the camera, to be able to feel.
What is a person like you, who has learnt History at Balliol, Oxford and International Relations from the London School of Economics doing in the Hindi film industry?
I had always wanted to do films and felt that you have just one life. Education was important to me, so I wanted to get my masters degree. It gave me the security and confidence that I have today to be able to do whatever I want to do.
I worked in a bank because my father wanted me to, and then did films because that’s where my heart is. I want to be able to do it as long as I can; the minute I stop enjoying myself, I will do something else.
What is it that you seek as an actor?
I want the opportunity to perform a variety of roles. If I did a Chaurahen and Rang De Basanti, then I also would like to do a glamourous role, like that in Sudhir Mishra’s Khoya Khoya Chand, where I play the role of a heroine. The idea is to constantly challenge yourself as an actor, so that at the end of the day, you get to know yourself and your work better. I have lots left to accomplish, I am still very small in terms of what I want to be as an actor.
How is it that Paheli did not work out?
Initially, there were a few discussions with Amolji (director Amol Palekar) for Paheli, but nothing was signed. That would have been my first film, but I had gone on and signed Iti Srikanta and a few other Hindi films. He went ahead and made the film much later though.
Which other films are you working on?
I am not doing Dus Kahaniyaan; as I am too busy with other films. I was doing Khoya Khoya Chand at that time and there were date problems. Besides Khoya Khoya Chand, there is Meredian, and another film which I haven’t signed as yet.
How have you prepared for Khoya Khoya Chand, considering that it is set in the 1950s?
The film is completely different from my life as it was set in the 1950s. I spent time listening to 1950s music, watched films from the 50s, and for six months, I sported curly hair. I guess I really looked like something from the 50s (laughs). I think it is really important to be immersed in the character to be able to play it.
Does the box office success of your films make a difference to you?
Yes and no. That’s why I think it is important to do all kinds of films. You do some films for the box office and some for your own satisfaction. Ideally, you should be able to do both – films that are commercially successful and some that are creatively fulfilling.
Are you making a conscious effort to do different roles?
I really don’t think about anyone else, I am not in any kind of race; and I don’t know if that is right or wrong. I am ambitious, I do want to get somewhere; but I want to be a better actor according to my standards.
I am certainly influenced by other people, but I do different roles so that I am not repeating myself. I think a good actor is not someone who plays the same kind of roles but someone who has a good range and is able to do different kinds of roles well.
Do you believe we have grown as a film industry?
I think writing in India still suffers; we have the technical abilities, great directors, superb talent in the form of great performers. I think scriptwriting is still severely skewed, specially against female actors.
You certainly don’t see many female directors or cinematographers; you see a lot of female editors. I don’t understand why women are not seen at the helm of affairs.
Even the roles we get as women are either traditional or demure. In certain ways, she can’t be a career oriented woman, she has to put everyone else’s happiness before hers. Or else, you get the stereotypical bra burning kind of feminist character, all of which is boring.
There is a lot of repetition but I think it a formula that works and is commercially successful. People want to watch Dhoom and those are the films that do well, so those are the film that will be made. I do think there is some hope for audiences though, because there are films like Black Friday that are successful, so there is hope. (Smiles)
As a film buff, what kind of films do you watch?
I watch different films, including a lot of Chinese and European cinema. Wong Kar Wai’s In the mood for Love is one of my favorite films ever. I like lots of Indian films as well. I am hoping to see some good films at the MAMI film festival this time.