Covid-19: An Indian actor's state of mind
'Kai Po Che' actress Amrita Puri talks about frustration over cancelled shoots but why she's grateful for all her privileges.
We’re almost halfway through 2021 and the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging. One of the many devastating economic impacts the virus has had is on the entertainment industry in India. There was a period last year when cases dropped and a ray of hope shone through bleak times for those engaged in film and television productions. Some shoots were restarted. Theatres opened, albeit briefly, and a few films were released as well.
Unfortunately a spike in cases over the country saw even this sliver of hope fade away. Even as we called up perky Bollywood and OTT actress Amrita Puri on Zoom to enquire about how her newly started shoot for Season 3 of popular series Four More Shots Please was going, she informed us that it had shut down, with no update as to when things would get going again.
The frustration in her voice was evident and reminiscent of so many situations one has encountered in the past year which has been unlike any mankind has witnessed for a long time.
In a chat that touched on her OTT and Bollywood career and what lessons she’s taken away from the pandemic, Amrita struck a chord when she admitted perspective is what helped her get through tough times. The comfort and stability of being able to sit at home for months even without work, the reassurance of knowing loved ones are safe and well are just some of the blessings she is thankful for.
Excerpts from our conversation.
You’ve just found out that your shoot for Season 3 of Four More Shots Please has been called off. What’s going through your mind right now?
I just got to shoot for about 2-3 days. I did shoot a web series called Jeet Ki Zid last year in September/October and it was the first time I was getting back on set during pandemic, so that was an adjustment for me. With Four More Shots Please I was pretty comfortable with getting back on set.
It was great to just see everyone again and meet the team again. We were supposed to start shooting last year and then Covid happened in March and that threw all our plans for a toss and the same thing has happened again this year unfortunately.
It’s a very uncertain time for actors…
These are really uncertain times and after getting through a whole year, I was beginning to feel happy and positive about shoots starting again and a sense of normalcy. But we’re back to where we started from so it’s extremely frustrating. It’s also really sad to see so many people suffering, and reading the news constantly… it leaves you feeling extremely helpless.
Coming to Four More Shots Please, it is one of those rare shows which is run by women, whether it’s the producers, the director, the writers or even the main characters who are the focus of the stories. How was being on this show different from anything you had done before?
It’s really great to be doing a show that’s helmed by women. I find that there’s not enough of that happening. There are very few women in producers’ or directors’ shoes. You always have men calling the shots and I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing but we need a lot more of women-run shows, or women in decision making or roles of power.
Four More Shots was great because there’s a bond between the producers and myself that I would say I have not had with other producers, and I don’t know if it’s because this is a long-running show and we’ve been working on it since 2018.
I also feel it’s just different (having women helm a project). Otherwise you have the director, who is male; the producer is male, the story is all about the hero… so it’s all very male-centric and male-dominated.
Here I find that there’s much more dialogue between the producers and myself. There isn’t an ego issue.
I have a great relationship with Rangita Pritish Nandy, who was on set all the time. Whether you’re a lead or playing a character role, there’s a lot of discussion which I feel is really refreshing and I think to some extent I do find that I’m closer to her because she’s a woman!
Do you hope to see more shows like this in the future?
I hope more OTT shows come up that involve more women. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a show just about women. But it’s important to have women in those decision making roles or running a project, or in this (Four More Shots Please) case, even the writer is female.. so you’re getting the female perspective. The director is female so it’s being told by a female voice.
Otherwise, you are constantly being fed the male perspective.
It’s also important that crew members like technicians etc., get more accustomed to women running the show.
Jeet Ki Zid was based on the life of a retired Indian Army officer who battles tremendous odds and has been appreciated a lot by audiences. Why do you feel the story resonated with the public?
It’s a very inspiring story which especially at a time like this, we need. Where there’s hope, where you see that someone with their will and courage and determination manages to come out of a situation that seems so bleak, and almost hopeless.
So, the fact that it’s a true story made audiences really connect with it. I don’t know whether it’s got to do with the times or if people would have felt as affected if Covid wasn’t around, but a story like this just gives you hope.
You’ve had a good run on OTT platforms so far with Jeet Ki Zidd, POW, Made in Heaven and Four More Shots Please. OTT got a huge boost in the time of the pandemic especially during lockdown as people were stuck at home and cinemas were shut. Do you feel it offers more to the audience than conventional Bollywood films?
Absolutely. Because with conventional Bollywood movies the problem is that they have to look at marketability; there is a lot of money at stake, and you have to look at - will this sell? Will the masses like this? Can we experiment with the actor, or does it have to be someone who is a star and is bankable?
I think all those things make a huge difference when it comes to the kind of stories that can be told on OTT - which are far more experimental, they don’t have to cater to masses, they can be for niche audiences. That’s where you can take risks. And that’s where creativity is being given more of an open hand.
Apart from OTT you’ve been in couple of impactful roles in films like Kai Po Che and Aisha. What would you like to do next in Bollywood?
I really would like to do comedy because that’s one genre that I haven’t done. There’s a little bit that happens with Four More Shots Please and I enjoyed that. The last time I did a proper comedy was Aisha. I feel like most of the roles I get are very heavy, very intense on OTT, except for Four More Shots Please. I would love to explore my comic timing.
I want to do work that I would also enjoy watching, work that’s also showing women in a progressive light! Not just so-and-so’s wife.. or so-and-so’s girlfriend.
The world is going through a tough time with the pandemic. What lessons have you taken away from this experience? How do you deal with days when you feel low?
I put a post on Instagram recently which was an inspirational quote about how there will be days where you feel like everything is lost and you feel frustrated and really sad. But then there will also be good days.
So that’s what I keep reminding myself, that this too shall pass. The other thing that really helps is perspective, you know? So yes, I am sitting at home, there’s no work and we don’t have the freedom to move around and get out of our house and go places; that’s the only thing that I have that’s bothering me. But there are people who have it much worse.
I remind myself to be grateful, that my family is well and I am well.