She has acted in films in every major South Indian language, in Punjabi productions, in television soaps and Hindi cinema. Think of Yami Gautam and you will most likely visualise a woman coming to terms with her husband’s past life in Vicky Donor, a murder victim in Badlapur, the visually impaired target of a brutal attack in Kaabil and a frothy Tik-Tok star in Bala.
The Chandigarh native, who had aspirations of joining the Indian Administrative Service, discovered she felt most at ease on a set, inhabiting various characters and bringing them to life. Much to the dismay of the director of Panjab University, the topper bowed out of education, relocated to Mumbai and became an actor.
Television soaps led to a Kannada movie in 2009 and a break in Hindi productions with Vicky Donor in 2012. In 2019, with the hugely successful Uri: The Surgical Strike and Bala, Gautam turned another corner. As she looks forward to her latest release, the romantic comedy Ginny Weds Sunny, Gautam talks about the opportunities that are finally coming her way.
Ginny Weds Sunny, co-starring Vikrant Massey and directed by Puneet Khanna, will be streamed on Netflix on October 9.
How did the switch from the Indian Administrative Service to television soaps happen?
While I was in school in Chandigarh, I had a thing for dramatics but it was always in the closet – I was a closet brat, a closet dancer, a closet performer who would perform for my friends. As I got older, I gave my law entrance exam and was one of the top rankers in Punjab University. I thought about the IAS, and that became my path.
I didn’t think I would leave Chandigarh until one day someone came over and suggested that I audition for a TV show. I felt very good in the audition, at ease and comfortable. I was selected for two shows. One was a daily soap but the other one I picked was an experimental show in which I played a warrior princess. The first one ran for years whereas the show I picked went off air in four months, but it was absolutely worth it. And that’s how it began in 2008.
What attracted you to the part of Ginny?
I signed the film before Bala last year. I saw it as one of those fun films. There aren’t so many romcoms these days and I thought it would be fun to add this to my filmography.
Ginny’s character comes across as a typical Punjabi West Delhi girl, but I wanted to see what I could add to her and how I could play her differently. I didn’t want to get into that specific lingo with the brash tone and cuss words just to sound cooler. As you can see in the trailer, she’s upfront and out there but there’s this other side to her too that is vulnerable.
I also thought it would be fun to dance. I have never got an out-and-out dance number, so I saw this as an opportunity.
It took seven years and more than 10 films before you got the kind of love you did for playing Pari in ‘Bala’. ‘Uri’, in which you play an undercover agent, was also released in the same year. Did the offers coming your way get better?
It had a major impact and was most seminal after Vicky Donor. Kaabil was also special.
But the opportunities and choices to expand the kind of films I want to do, the directors I want to work with, the characters I want to explore, that happened only after Bala. So far two films have been announced [A Thursday and Bhoot Police] and there are a couple more films awaiting announcement. I feel I can finally express the intention I started my career with – to accept challenges and not just go the typical route; to leave a mark, and play characters that are important to the story.
And to play characters who are not bumped off but stay alive?
I don’t know where this joke has come from because technically, I have died in only two films, of which Badlapur was a cameo. I am still there as a soul in the second half of Kaabil.
So many actresses, including some of my contemporaries, have died in so many more films. I don’t know why this has stuck, but let’s just say that even if I die, those films go on to become huge hits, so it doesn’t really matter.