‘I believed people when they said I was not good enough'

In a candid chat, actress Chitrangada Singh tells Yasser Usman why gaslighting is (almost) the norm in the show business and how she overcame it eventually

By Yasser Usman

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Published: Thu 30 Mar 2023, 8:32 PM

Talking about her new film Gaslight, the ravishing Chitrangada Singh opens up about the real gaslighting she faced and her regret of losing on big films when she had taken a break of six years. A loss that finally felt like blessing for her mature outlook and the work:life balance she finally achieved. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Your last film Bob Biswas was also about murders? Now your new film Gaslight is also a murder mystery. What’s happening?

I don’t know! I somehow keep getting these mysterious roles. Actually, this is the first film I’ve done which is a murder mystery where I am part of the mystery. Bob Biswas was mostly about Abhishek’s (Bachchan) character. There I wasn’t really playing the bad, or part of the mystery. In Gaslight, I am right in the middle of the whole murder mystery.

What’s the significance of this title (Gaslight)?

There are three main characters — Vikrant Massey, Sara Ali Khan and I — who gaslight each other, knowingly or unknowingly. Psychologically forcing a person to believe that he or she is mad or their thinking is flawed, or they are doing something wrong. That’s what gaslighting is! And there is also a real gaslight that you must have seen in the teaser (laughs).

You said, “Gaslight reminds me of my childhood days when I was subjected to peer pressure”...

The question was: have you ever been gaslit? And I said, “Bachpan se (since childhood). Now when you look back, you realise you were not aware of this term. But you get gaslit all the time. I am a reserved person. So a lot of time as a kid, out of jealousy, I got gaslit a lot. I would believe people when they said I was not good enough. And I think a lot of time women have ended up gaslighting me than men.

You’ve also been a proverbial outsider in the film industry. Did anyone ever gaslight you?

So many times! And it doesn’t only happen because you are an outsider. It happens with everybody. If your performance is not up to the mark or you’re not looking good, you spoke to somebody, or you became close to someone… what must that person be thinking? Constant gaslighting! This place is the breeding ground for the word ‘gaslighting’. Somebody was asking me, “What do you think? Is it good or bad?” I said it’s growing up. You know it’s adult life. It happens to everybody. This is how you learn who you are. And later, you realise you can’t be gaslit. I know who I am. I know what I have done.

All of us remember your memorable debut in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003) . You looked ravishing, you acted brilliantly, and for the longest time, you were being referred to as the next Smita Patil. How do you look back at those initial years?

Very fond memories. For me, everything was happening for the first time. You know there’s a certain innocence of an actor. An awe about the film set, shooting, camera, scene, character. The whole world is so new. I had nothing to do with the film world since my childhood. I was really naive and silly. But I am so glad that I was naive and silly. Because if you’re oversmart, over-schooled, over-prepared in your first film, it is difficult to undo that. The spontaneity, that innocence of the first film, is such a beautiful thing that you shouldn’t touch it. Because later when you understand the craft and learn how to be smarter, it shows. Now when I look at that woman 20 years back, playing Geeta Rao (her character in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi), I feel she was so innocent. It was lovely.

Post that, was there a confusion in your mind on whether you want to continue doing artsy films like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi or you want to capture mainstream space with films like Desi Boyz?

I don’t know if you know that I left work after Hazaaron... around 2003 and I came back in around 2009. Hazaaron... had also happened to me as a coincidence. There was no plan that I’ll do content-driven films first and then commercial films. I did my second film in 2009 when I came back after six years. That was the first call I got after the break. And I was dying to come back to work in films. So much time had already passed. There were lot of reasons for the break. My personal life took priority, so I stepped back. Then there was some ad film I did, which was seen by Rohit Dhawan (director) and actor Akshay Kumar, so Desi Boyz happened and then Inkaar (2013) and other films happened.

Have you ever regretted the six-year-long break?

Obviously, I do. Like I did an ad film with Shah Rukh Khan when he told me, “We were looking for you to cast in Chalte Chalte (2003)”, and I was like… I don’t even want to know. And then were some more people who told me we were looking for you to play certain roles. Certainly, there is regret. But I don’t think I would be able to do it any other way. I have a beautiful son and it’s all good. Today, I feel blessed that I have managed to balance my personal life. I feel fulfilled emotionally and personally. And for the same reason, I enjoy working more.

You’re known for your grace and style. But I remember one of your social media posts where you said that you are ‘brown n happy’. I can’t imagine someone as gorgeous as you facing any stigma over the colour of your skin.

When I started modelling, I didn’t get a lot of work because of my skin colour. There was a talcum powder ad I auditioned for. I was among the top two shortlisted models and I didn’t get it because of my skin colour. But luckily, that is the audition that for some reason Gulzar saab saw and he said, “I really like this girl, there is something about her and he liked my skin colour” (laughs). So I got a music video because of that audition and because of that music video, I got Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi because the line producer of the music video was helping Swanand Kirkire for the auditions of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi in Delhi. He said, “Try this girl, Gulzar saab liked her. She has done well in the video.”

Yasser is an author and film commentator based in London


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