Actress Aaditi Pohankar was plucked from relative obscurity when she was chosen to headline the hit Netflix series ‘She’.
In the gritty thriller, written by Imtiaz Ali, the raw talent plays a painfully ordinary low-rung constable Bhumi who gets cherry-picked by her patronising male bosses to turn into a honey trap for a sinister gang lord Sasya (an on-point Vijay Varma).
Under pretence, she enters the inner circle of Sasya and sparks fly between them. The protagonist isn’t particularly likeable or coy, but Pohankar plays the role with a brassy confidence. She is a welcome antidote to your conventional heroine tropes.
“There’s always this expectation that if a heroine is introduced in a film or a series, her hair is perfectly blow-dried and blowing in the right direction. Her entry is designed to be dramatic. But I had to let go of that thought. All I knew is that the script of ‘She’ was pure gold. And I kept telling myself that people will remember Bhumi even after two years, but they are not going to remember whether my hair was blowing amazingly well or not,” said Pohankar in an interview with Gulf News.
The second season, which premiered on Netflix last week and is currently streaming, takes off on a cliffhanger note where Pohankar’s character enters murkier waters.
Excerpts from our interview with Pohankar ...
In this series, you play a character who is almost diffident and staid and then learns to be empowered towards the end. Is it Bhumi’s character graph that attracted you to the series?
The honesty in Bhumi — where she isn’t trying to impress anybody — was appealing. Even though the world perceived her as being ‘thandi’ [frigid], she was fine with it. She was never trying to fight it and that’s what I loved about her. I liked the calmness in her even if there was destruction going on within her.
Her journey is incredible. When I read the script, I knew instantly that it was an actor’s treat. Bhumi doesn’t talk a lot, but suddenly she is thrust into being this juggernaut of a woman. The moment I read the script I knew that this series would push me to explore myself as an actor.
I had no fear at that time because I was absolutely new. I am still new in acting, but I was desperate to experiment and explore back then … I thought Bhumi was vulnerable and her emotions had such depth, but I had to hold her hand tenderly. So, I just held my character’s hand and took her around with love. People use the word ‘roller-coaster’ casually, but this is one character that’s just that.
In 2020, ‘She’ was a breakout series for you and actors such as Vijay Varma who played Sasya with the seductively sinister appeal. But there’s no denying that the series had a clutch of mostly unknown actors; did that worry you?
Many people asked me back then why I was only doing OTT [Over-The-Top or streaming] shows. But as an actor, does it make a difference? I see two things when a project comes my way: its script and its director. The script is the true star because an actor who knows his craft will rarely go wrong with a solid script. And, our audiences are perceptive and will automatically enjoy the show.
There’s a lot of work that goes into an OTT space. We have to dedicate more days than to a film and people have a tendency to move on if they aren’t impressed with a show. But I keep all of those thoughts on the back burner. I just wanted to do my job and working with someone like Imtiaz Ali and his script was a dream come true.
It’s interesting to see how Bhumi takes her power back … I have a problem with the wedding night tropes shown in Hindi films. You always see a man stumbling in with milk in his hand, while the bride is shyly sitting with her head covered. I always wondered whether there would come a time in pop culture where women are also shown wearing the proverbial pants during that encounter. Why should a woman always be shown as the shy and quiet one?
And, Bhumi overturned every trope attached to the heroine prototype …?
Right from the word go, we had to establish that Bhumi is someone who’s looked down at work. She is looked down on by her husband, her sister, her mother, her peers, and the society at large. She’s a nobody and doesn’t even exist to many. She’s so obscure that nobody felt she was truly alive. She was content just doing her job and staying within the lines. She was symbolic of all those women who are submissive and accept things without rebelling against them. Their mentality is never to stand their ground, operate from truth, love, kindness, or compassion.
Did you audition for this role?
When I met Imtiaz Ali, I went all dolled up and expressed my interest to work with him. I had that girl-next-door appeal, but then he spoke about this project that he was working on. At first, he thought I was too young to play Bhumi, but I wanted to work with sir ... I even wondered if I had lost out on that opportunity because I said I was keen to do a romantic film. Did I put a foot in my mouth? But then, he asked me to read the script aloud. And, that was my test.
There were no lines per se, but he asked me to emote those situations in front of him. There was no camera, but I knew the drill because I had done a bit of work with director Satyadev Dubey before he passed away. I got a month or two with him, so I knew what Imtiaz Ali wanted.
It went well and he asked me to come in my normal get-up for our next meeting. I didn’t know the whole part, but I behaved in a way that Bhumi would behave. Then I had a look test with casting director Mukesh Chhabra and the rest is history. When an audition works out, it’s the best day in an actor’s life. And, I have given many, many auditions in my life.
“If you have the passion and the desire, the universe really helps you. Like just put out the desire don’t doubt it. I would say this to every single person because when times are tough, you just need to keep walking,” said Pohankar on making it big without industry connections.
Don’t Miss It!
‘She’ season 2 is streaming on Netflix now