She’s raring to go and surprise everyone with her on-screen adventures. She’s set to mark her big OTT debut with Amazon Prime Video’s Fallen, a series by Excel Entertainment headlined by her where she plays a cop. We can’t wait for her to fight the goons and solve the cases. She’s also entering the horror-comedy genre with her upcoming film Kakuda and then of course there are strong rumours of her being signed for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s web series about Lahore courtesans called Heera Mandi. That aside, she’s also taken control of her passion for art by launching House of Creativity, said no to toxicity by quitting Twitter, and has plans of turning producer one day. Excerpts from a free-flowing interview with the fiery actress, who doesn’t flinch from calling a spade a spade…
You’ve always been a supremely confident person. Of late, By venturing into newer horizons, or exiting social media platforms, you’ve further highlighted that aspect of your personality…
I’ve never really been the kind of person who plays to the gallery. I’ve always preferred to do things on my own terms. So, if you think that I come across as a more confident person now, it’s because I’ve done things that I’ve wanted to do. And I love my privacy, I love my work as much, and the only clash over here is with the kind of thing I do – there is no privacy. So, there is very little of yourself that you can hold back for yourself, which is just for you. So, I try to preserve that as much as I can, which is why, over the years I’ve cut back from social media.
What made you quit Twitter?
When I started the experience of social media, it was nice. It was new to everyone and everyone was getting a hang of it. You were interacting more with people who liked your work, who appreciated you for the stuff that you did. Then suddenly along the way it lost its charm, lost its path. People just have no online etiquette. You make yourself accessible to random people and they really have no filter. So, until something is done about it, the best you can do is pull yourself out of the equation. Which is what I did. Honestly, it doesn’t make any difference to me because it’s not affecting my work in any way. If anything, quitting it is doing me good. Like I’m more at peace mentally without all that negativity. For me, it was a decision I made at the right time. I didn’t really think twice about it.
You recently started an art venture called House of Creativity. How did that come about?
Art is something I turn to for my peace of mind. It’s my solace away from the hectic lives that we lead. Whenever I want to switch off from the world, I just go and paint. I’ve started doing it a whole lot more nowadays. I’m possessive about my art. I hate parting with my paintings. I’ll show you my art room, there are canvases just lying there. My brothers and I came up with this House of Creativity. The thought was that it’s so difficult to break out into a particular scene where you’re new. I’m a known actor but to break out as an artist, I was like a headless chicken. I didn’t know where to go, whom to turn to, whom to ask, what to do. We came up with this idea, to give a platform to artists who are looking to break out in the art scene. You can be from any walk of life, you can be new, you can be established, just your work needs to be good. We’ll give you that platform to showcase your work. I found that so relatable. I can be on this platform even though I am not an established artist. I paint because I love to paint and I’m sure there is a market out there even for my kind of work. You make things happen for yourself, you make these opportunities for yourself and in the bargain if you’re helping out other people, that’s just the icing on the cake.
It must be gratifying to see the response it has got…
Yeah, it is gratifying. Like I said, it’s such an unknown territory that you don’t know what to expect, where it’ll go, how it’ll do. But the kind of response we’ve gotten is really, really good. I sold my first painting too. I’ve been auctioning my work for charity here and there. And during the lockdown, I did my sketches and sold a few of my paintings for charity. That itself was gratifying but when you sell your painting commercially, that also feels really good you know? Because it’s like a stamp that you’re an artist now. I’m happy that I was able to do that for myself.
Can you compare it in any way to the money which you made with your first film?
Absolutely, it’s even more special because this is something I’ve been doing since I was a child. It just felt really different, you know.
What made you say yes to your first web series, Fallen?
It was offered to me way before the pandemic and it resonated with me immediately. I was blown away by the subject, I was blown away by my character and I just went for it.
Did you have any doubts at all about doing an OTT show?
Not really. Honestly, the package was amazing. I was getting to work with Reema Kagti for the first time and Excel too. I’ve never worked with them, I love the kind of cinema they do. So, it was like really a no-brainer for me. I wanted to work with this team and the script was amazing. My character was great, I went for it. I had literally no reason to say no. Why would I say no, just because it was a series and not a movie?
How was your experience of doing a series?
It’s like making three movies at a time, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a different ball game altogether. Like a series is usually directed by more than one director. So, we had two directors Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi, and there were a few days where they used to fight for me like “you’re done with Sonakshi in the morning, now send her back on set”. So I’m like what is going on? But again, it is a new experience, you learn a lot, it’s really fun. It’s so interesting to work with one director who has a completely different style and in the evening you’re working with another director who is drastically opposite from that. And what’s more fun to see is how they marry what they’ve shot separately and make it look like one. So, it was a really fun experience.
Rumours abound that you’ve been cast in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s web series Heera Mandi? Would you like to confirm them?
Right now, let these rumors float around. I’d like Mr. Bhansali and his team to make the official announcement. I’m also waiting for it.
Talking about Bhansali, wouldn’t working with him be a dream come true for you?
Absolutely. Ever since I’ve made my debut, people have been telling me you’re a quintessential Hindi film heroine. And you have a very regal vibe about you, you should do a role in a period film and all that. And it hasn’t happened so far. The only period film I did was Lootera which was set in the 1950s. But working with SLB would be a dream come true for me, because that kind of space, that kind of scale, I would love to imagine myself in. And the way he portrays his heroines is
As an actor, you’ve had an interesting career graph. You started with big masala films, then you surprised everybody with Lootera, and then came films like Akira and Noor, where you were the lead. What’s the next game plan?
Honestly, I’ve done what I had to do to make my presence felt. Now that I’ve tasted blood I want to play stronger characters. I want to do more author-backed roles. I want to do things that challenge me, things I’ve never done before. I don’t want to do things just for the sake of it. Just because it’s a big film or just because it’s opposite a huge star, I don’t want to think in that direction any more. Today, I am way more confident about myself, my skill and my craft than I was eight years back. So I think, whatever my experiences have been, whatever work I’ve done that is what has made me like this and given me the confidence right now to say these words.
Do you also plan to bankroll projects?
Yes, of course, I think that would be the logical next step, like just to ensure longevity in the industry. Whether it is as an actor or producer or somebody who just loves films. I’m sure that’ll happen eventually for me, I just need the right film to do it.
What kind of films would you like to produce?
I think something with a really strong story, something not too mainstream, doesn’t have to have me as the main lead, could be with other actors. I don’t want it to be a typical “Now I’m a producer, I’ll put myself in every film I produce” – I don’t want it to be like that. I want it to be good, interesting projects which I can even make with other actors.
Are you seeing a change in the way women in the industry are working and progressing?
Absolutely, and it has happened rapidly in the last few years. They are commanding the same money, but they are not getting it which is very sad. And everybody goes on and on, including men, about equality and this and that, but nobody actually practices it. So that way I think we have a long way to go but I’m happy that the tide has started turning.
What do you think has led to this change?
I just feel like the kind of women we have, the kind of mindset we have, the kind of world we have been working in, that has really strengthened us to an extent where we are able to speak up for ourselves. The actresses of my generation have gone through a kind of upheaval. We know our worth, we know what we bring to the table, take it or leave it. Which is what has really helped, and I hope it continues to do so.
Who among your peers do you admire a lot?
Alia Bhatt. I think she is the most talented actor we have today, without a doubt. You can literally see her growth from her first film to her second film, to her third film. And to achieve what she has achieved at such a young age is phenomenal. I have immense respect for her.
You admire Taapsee Pannu also a lot…
I think she talks a lot of sense and she doesn’t back down and I really appreciate that. That resonates with me. Sometimes she even surprises me by the things that she says and I’m just reading it or listening to it or seeing it on TV and I just immediately start rooting for her. I appreciate people who speak out and in a way that is so unabashed and forthright.
A lot of Indian actors are also eying the west. Do you have such aspirations?
Not at all, I’m happyover here. I’m getting more than enough work over here. I mean if someone does have the fire within them to go there and start from scratch, good for them, that’s amazing.I don’t see myself doing that. I know there are certain things I won’t be able to do in a Western set up. They almost always kiss in every show, every film. Sometimes there’s nudity. These are things I would not be comfortable with. So why even bother? Here I have reached a place, a point in my life where I’m doing a lot of work without having to let go of my principles. Never has there been a film where I have been dropped because I said “No, I won’t kiss on screen”. They know what I bring to the table. They know what value I add to the film which is why I have been working for so long.