Editor’s note: The International Emmys 2020 has announced its list of nominees, and Netflix’s show Delhi Crime, Prime’s Four More Shots Please, and actor Arjun Mathur (of Made in Heaven fame) are a part of the list.
Not very long ago, Kirti Kulhari – last seen on Mission Mangal alongside Bollywood biggies like Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, and Taapsee Pannu – was a popular face on the small screen, rather than on silver screen. A successful TV model, the actor was the face of a slew of television commercials. However, Bollywood films Shaitaan and Khichdi: The Movie cemented her place in the show business.
Reminiscing about her career, Kirti says, “I am quite popular in the theatre circuit as well. I did that as well because I wanted to learn acting.”
She has also garnered immense popularity ever since her career skyrocketed after the critically acclaimed Shaitan (2011), Pink (2016), and Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019). “While I made the choices I did, I think Shaitan put me in a big position,” she chips in, acknowledging – perhaps for the first time during our conversation – that she has a flair for choosing the right roles.
According to Kirti, “Even if I am not the namesake of a film, I just know that what I'm touching, is going to work and I am going to make it work even more. I think confidence is something that I have developed in myself.”
Weaving magic, from small screen to web
It is perhaps this unabashed confidence, complemented with unmistakable thespian skills, that have brought Kirti to the spotlight. Among today’s digital viewers – mostly millennials and Gen Zs – the actor is famous as fearless flight lieutenant Seerat Kaur, indomitable scientist Neha Siddiqui, and most recently, as the successful and fierce Anjana Menon in Amazon Prime Video series, Four More Shots Please!
The answer to Bollywood’s tales of bromance and brotherhood, Four More Shots Please! celebrates female friendship. The show follows the life of four unapologetically flawed women, who navigate through a mishmash of drama and disappointment in millennial Mumbai, armed with their friendship and generous shots of liquid courage. In this mix, Kirti is Anjana, a lawyer by day and a single parent by day and night. Fortunately, FMSP doesn’t reduce Anjana to a stereotype, prompted only by her maternal instincts. If anything, Kirti’s character goes through a wide gamut of transformations through the season.
Enunciating the intent behind her character, Kirti asks, “Isn't it unfair to see a woman for just being a housewife, or just being a professional, or just being one thing? How can you ever take away from them everything else that they are?”
“I think that's why most women feel very suffocated. They are not being seen for everything that they are. And they are just put in boxes in terms of the role they're playing in their life,” she adds.
There’s so much more needed to accurately portray women on screen – away from one-dimensional backup characters meant to fulfil one goal and of course, look pretty. This is where new age web series like FMSP come in. Says Kirti, “I feel, characters like (Anjana Menon) and shows like these tell you to widen your horizon and look at the whole picture, and not just one aspect of it which suits you.”
OTT platforms are changing the narrative
In fact, Anjana Menon is just one example out of the vast archive of well-wrought, meaningful roles that OTT platforms have brought to their audience in recent times.
Evidently, with a surge in the popularity of streaming services like Hotstar, Amazon Prime and Netflix, and the subsequent spurt of home-grown OTT platforms, “content” is suddenly the new buzzword. Filmmakers and their financers are suddenly more concerned with the storyline than just the juxtaposition of a tacky song and dance number in the name of masala entertainment.
“Thanks to the emergence of OTT platforms and also in the way Bollywood has been shifting in terms of how it operates, the mandates are changing,” says Kirti, who also has to her credit Bard of Blood, a Netflix original where she plays Jannat Marri, a Balochi woman with a political stronghold.
If Kirti is to be believed, the Indian entertainment industry is undergoing a shift. “It's really happening,” she says, “and that's a very good sign for people like me who want to do good work and where age is no more a thing that will come in the way.”
Entertainment with responsibility
Fleshed out roles over flimsy additions, women with agency over pretty showpieces – these are, as it seems, the rough rules guiding Kirti’s choice in characters. “I don’t think I am okay being a showpiece; I don’t think I was ever okay being a showpiece” the actress reiterates before letting us in on her approach to any and every role.
“Is there a possibility for me to create something extraordinary from whatever I have – that is the potential I look for in every character,” she says. And of course, these are characters with a certain gravitas, even if they have only a few minutes of screen time. Perhaps, this is the kind of attitude Bollywood at large was missing, one that combines entertainment with responsibility.
Kirti, not one to shy away from putting in the extra effort, seems to be in sync with these transformations. Her brand of responsibility also alludes to strong work ethics. As she says, “It’s not like I get a script and I land up on set. I am very scared to do that.”
All the glamour on screen is powered by a great amount of homework.
“People think [cinema] is magic – and it is in some sense – but I also have to put in the work,” she says adding, “I hope I am never overconfident enough to be like, ‘mai to aise hi set pe pahuchungi aur far dalungi’ (I will just land up on the set and blow everyone’s mind).”
(Text Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta, Video Edited by Urmi Chatterjee)