on the actor's trail

‘Veere Di Wedding’ actress Shikha Talsania is ‘not a plus-sized actor, but just an actor’

Shikha Talsania stars alongside Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Swara Bhaskar in the June 1 release.

Shikha Talsania plays a young mother who marries without her parents’ consent in Shashanka Ghosh’s new film Veere Di Wedding. Along with her best friends (played by Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Swara Bhaskar), Talsania’s expletive-spewing Meera is comfortable in her own skin, and is there for her friends during thick and thin.

“The story as a whole is very interesting,” Talsania said ahead of the movie’s audio launch in Mumbai on Tuesday. “I don’t think we have seen something where there are four real women talking about the reality of today.”

Produced by Balaji Telefilms, Anil Kapoor Films & Communication Network, and Saffron Broadcast & Media Ltd, the romcom will be released on June 1.

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Veere Di Wedding (2018).

Talsania remembered being called for a screen test by casting director Mukesh Chhabra for the role of Meera. She would have agreed to play any character in the film: male or female, she declared.

“When you watch the film you will understand that each character is very well etched out,” Talsania said. “That is not just for the four of us, but every character in the film. The Dilli-ness of it was just very beautiful. I would have actually wanted to play all the characters in the film: men, women everyone.”

Shikha Talsania made her big-screen debut in 2009 as Laxmi, the overachieving and body-conscious best friend of Ranbir Kapoor’s slacker in Ayan Mukerji’s Wake Up Sid. She has since in starred in short films, mini-series and My Friend Pinto (2011) and Midnight’s Children (2012).

Wake Up Sid was such a lovely experience because I was like an Energizer bunny on that set,” Talsania recalled. “I was just so happy to be there with a lovely cast and crew. The experience as an actor to do a period film based on Salman Rushdie’s work in Midnight’s Children was amazing too. Everybody I met on these set have enriched my life.”

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Shikha Talsania in Wake Up Sid (2009).

While she attributed her entry into the acting scene to growing up under her father, the seasoned actor Tiku Talsania, the actress says that she found her feet in the industry through her own efforts. “When you are a kid, you always want to have the profession your parents have,” Talsania said. “It took a lot of existential angst to figure out that acting was what I was passionate about and really enjoyed. I did had the question in my mind about whether I was doing this just because that’s the environment I had grown up in.”

In an interview with Times of India shortly before the release of Midnight’s Children, Talsania called herself a plus-sized actor. Does she still stand by her statement? Not anymore.

“My awareness has broadened a little bit, and I would like to say that I am not a plus-sized actor, I am just an actor,” she explained. “I think that was a faux pas of my youth back when I said it. I think that we are all just actors. We can be of any shape, size and for the lack of a better word, colour. Your skill set should matter more than your physicality, which should just be a layer. That should not define you.”

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Khaney Mein Kya Hai?

Talsania has been offered her share of cookie-cutter roles owing to her girth. “There is a typical type of role where the character is either hungry or horny,” she said. “I used to get a lot of calls earlier, where people said that despite being fat, she is pretty and despite being fat, she is funny. That used to really bother me. There are other things to human beings than that.”

The situation has changed since her debut, she asserted. “Having spent a few years in this industry, what is really heartening is to see that there are more scripts and films being made that are more well-rounded,” she said. “I am not just talking about women, but all characters. I am not saying that it is all rosy and fantastic. It does exist, but the awareness has become broader. It also depends on what you pick as an actor and what you write as an actor and what you write as a writer. We need to move away from the fact that one or two characteristics define a person.”

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Veere from Veere Di Wedding (2018).
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.