ONE MIC STAND REVIEW: Watch it for Shashi Tharoor who delivers a class act

One Mic Stand lets you know that Comedy is No Laughing Matter. You get to have your laughs, though 😉

5 mentors, 5 students, a class of comedy, and ONE MIC to prove what they’ve got
Image Source: Google

It’s 2019, and digital content has exploded in ways we could not have imagined half a decade ago.

I mean, I was still busy devouring Yeh Hai Mohabbatein on television (for lack of better options, I swear) when half of the Indian population had taken off to greener pastures and was going gaga over real, no-nonsense storytelling on YouTube. You guessed it right, that was TVF’s Permanent Roommates (2014) that went viral and helped divert a large chunk of the TV-watching audience towards digital entertainment.

That was five years ago when I was, admittedly, still living under a rock.

It’s almost 2020 now and I definitely know better than to not make up for lost time.

Binge-watching during my “off hours” is what I do to relieve myself of some of the guilt. It helps that a lot of what I watch these days is comedy.

However, as excited as I am watching free comedy content on YouTube, I found myself bored out of my wits trying to make through some of the comedy challenges recently released on digital mediums. For instance, I found Queens of Comedy (2017), the first Indian all-women stand-up comedy show launched by TLC pretty uninspiring throughout its run-time. So was the case with Comicstaan, backed by Only Much Louder and released on Amazon Prime Video.

Naturally, when news broke out that the first ever crazy ensemble of home-grown celebrities would be called to try their hand at stand-up comedy, I couldn’t help but binge watch all the episodes in one sitting and write a review on it.

Conceptualized and hosted by Sapan Verma, co-founder of East India Comedy, One Mic Stand brings on board five notable stand-up comedians from the comedy circuit, namely, Zakir Khan, Angad Singh Ranyal, Ashish Shakya, Rohan Joshi, and Kunal Kamra. The premise of the show is simple: talented professionals from a variety of fields are mentored by these professional comedians and then thrown into the proverbial ocean to either swim or sink.

Celebrities featured are Bhuvan Bam, Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chadha, Vishal Dadlani, and Shashi Tharoor. Quite an electrifying bunch of speakers, musicians and performers, eh? But was I still as awed by the end of the comedy series?

Read my review of the star cast in action to, rated from the best to the worst to find out whether the show is worth laughing your pants off – or not.

SHASHI THAROOR

Mentored by Kunal Kamra (“the man who eats, breathes and shits politics”, as introduced by Sapan), Shashi Tharoor delivers a witty and sarcastic set, exceeding expectations of his equally savage mentor. With less than a day to prepare for the show, Tharoor is, nevertheless, charm personified on stage.

Tharoor is light, the punches come in soft and silken (just like his voice) and there is an unruffled air about him throughout the act. Since his USP lies in the out-of-the-world vocabulary he often uses in his conversations, there’s a neat little joke about that as well, right at the start of his act.

Given that he is a politician, there are references in plenitude to viral political terms used in recent years, such as ‘Chowkidar’ and demonetization (ahem, ahem). If you care enough to intently listen to his behind-the-scenes conversations with Sapan and Kunal, you’d likely enjoy the snide remarks about the Prime Minister’s teleprompter-driven long and (cough) scripted speeches, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.

Tharoor is cool enough to also share the diplomat’s way of calling someone “a pain in the arse” – a pro tip I think should be included in the Politicians’ Guide to Being Less Vitriolic in Their Public Utterings. I promise this was a part of the ‘role reversal’ section of the show and NO digs were being taken at the ruling party.

But in case you’re beginning to wonder if all politicians must only talk politics, then you’d be thrilled to know that Dr. Tharoor does empathize with the millennial lingo, in that he finishes his rather sleek act with a generous sprinkling of popular phrases such as “lit AF”, “snack”, “YOLO”, and “Apna Time Aayega” – all weaved intelligently into the act.

Did I mention how that harmless hair-flick he did in the middle of the act made my heart flip?

Shashi Tharoor is undeniably an excellent orator and a masterful politician, but the stand-up act proves he has what most of his contemporaries don’t – the ability to take a joke! Oh, and also that of delivering one with panache!

Tip: Be the change you want to see. Don’t let politics forever wear the tag of a humorless art.

Also, want to learn the art of criticizing a public figure without getting jailed for it? Take a leaf from Kunal Kamra’s book and just watch the man deliver poison without batting an eyelid.

RICHA CHADHA

After Shashi Tharoor, it was Richa Chadha’s comedy act that blew my mind away, and not entirely on account of her comic timing.

In fact, I dare say, I enjoyed her behind-the-scenes prep talk with Sapan and her mentor Ashish Shakya more than I did her stand-up act.

Richa, who’s visibly nervous in the beginning, loosens up the moment she gets to know she’s been a fangirl of a blog named ‘Stupidus Maximus’ maintained by none other than Ashish Shakya. She is floored, and cherubically takes his hand and lightly kisses it.

Ashish looks like he’s on cloud nine, and this moment is worth gushing over, primarily because it is such a relief to watch a Bollywood actress not act like one where it’s not called for. During the prep talk, she makes an appeal for all to come and watch her act, cheekily quipping, “Proceeds from all ticket sales are going towards ending nepotism in Bollywood.”

As both Sapan and Shakya dig in for more material that they can include in her act, she is more than happy to share her struggles as a Bollywood aspirant, with the right punches thrown in at the right places. From mimicking the stereotype, rude Casting Director to imitating a sleazy movie producer wanting to catch a glimpse of her navel, to her driver who was enamored with everything UP, she delivered a class act modulating her voice and satirizing a variety of characters.

But drawing laughs in a close circle is wildly different from attempting to make an odd 200 people laugh, and not take you for an idiot to have even thought of such a feat.

Thankfully, Richa does not disappoint.

She begins her act on a sarcastic note, “I started my career with Dibakar Banerjee and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and today I am here with Ashish Shakya and Sapan Verma. Next thing for me would be Bigg Boss.” The audience rings out in laughter, and the tension on her face eases, as she dives in for the next punchlines in her set.

There is an accurate impersonation of her Punjabi aunt who is more worried about her “vyaah” than her filmography and awards, and quite shrewdly placed, a satire of the hypocrisy and inherent Islamophobia existing in the aunt’s mind when she gets to know of Richa dating Ali Fazal, and asks her to focus on her work instead.

Personally, though, my favourite bit about her set was the one where she have us a glimpse of the class divide in Bollywood: for instance, where commercial actors are invited on Koffee with Karan, indie actors like her are invited on the couch of Son of Abish. It took me two minutes to get the sarcasm and I had to replay the joke over and over, but damn, Richa, that was SAVAGE AF!

Effervescent and owning every bit on the stage, she signs off with, “If you didn’t like this set, this is Swara Bhaskar signing off!”

I genuinely loved the set and her comic timing, which, if she chose to work upon, she could really hone and make a career of in future. The fact that she is naturally a spontaneous actor, can mimic characters with exceptional accuracy and is naturally funny and sardonic off-screen only adds to that possibility.

Tip: Don’t shut down that blog yet. Who knows, there might be a Bollywood fangirl/fanboy hiding in the shadows waiting to kiss your hand someday 😉

BHUVAN BAM

If there’s one performer the crowd cheered for the hardest on this show, it was Shashi Tharoor. Influencer and star YouTuber Bhuvan Bam came a close second. Bam, who is known for his eccentric and rib-tickling characters like Sameer Fuddi and Titu Mama, among others, on his YouTube channel BB Ki Vines, came in nervous and walked out winning plenty of hearts.

His performance was preceded by mentor Zakir Khan guiding him on which jokes he ought to choose for his act and Bhuvan showing Sapan and Zakir how to pull a near-perfect Titu Mama. I must say, the role reversal sequence at the end of each prep session gave me more meat (as a viewer) to hold on to, because frankly, the celebrity performances were all under ten minutes.

Before Bhuvan’s actual act, Zakir opened the show with one of his trademark ‘Sakht Launda’ jokes. The cult following of Sakht Launda is spread too far and too wide to get ignored, so yes, it did draw enthusiastic laughs from the crowd.

Bhuvan, who admitted he didn’t mind entertaining millions of people as long as he could hide behind a moustache and a wig, but is painfully shy once the mask comes off, began his set by regaling some of his experiences post the YouTube fame. Considering YouTube is his life and there’s no better way to make an audience laugh than to tell them your first subscribers on YouTube were from your neighbouring country, Pakistan, it really helped the audience connect to Bhuvan’s non-YouTube side.

I even enjoyed his ‘Dhania’ and ‘ek baar Bencho bol do’ jokes immensely, and overall the tempo of Bhuvan’s act rose as time went on. In short, Bam offered a slow-burn of a performance, improvising through and through as the jokes came on.

I’d say it was an earnest performance, and while it felt more like Bhuvan’s anecdotes about his life being funny, the lad does have his own brand of self-deprecating humour that gels well with his shy-boy-explodes-on-YouTube image.

Tip: If you want to be someone who you’re not and make it look it isn’t the first time you’re doing it, start from something you already know and rock it like a boss!

TAAPSEE PANNU

Taapsee’s act started off faster than that of the others, primarily because there wasn’t any real mentoring that happened. Going by the format of the show, Sapan had ensured that each celebrity they’d reached out to should be mentored by someone who they had some nexus to. In Taapsee’s case, it was an old ‘classmate connection’ that came to the rescue….or not.

For the most part, I could only hear Taapsee state out loud what a sore loser she was, right from childhood. The fact that she even dissed mentor Angad Singh Ranyal with a blunt, “Tu mentor karega?” and was shocked that he was a known name in the comedy circle speaks volumes about how actors handle their Bollywood fame. I was honestly very put off by her inability to accept the fact that a professional comedian should want to mentor her on comedy – a field she knows nothing about and a subject she was soon going to bring disgrace to.

She started off with the stereotype joke about Delhi, which, truthfully, I’d have digested better had the prelude to the climax of the joke not been so long-winded. For an actor of her caliber, there was zero storytelling – if felt like she was whining to a close group of friends and not entertaining an audience of 200 plus people. The writing itself was flat, there were no punches that linger in your mind long after it’s over. And the fact that she declared she didn’t need cue cards because, hello, she was a critically acclaimed actor and later ended up recalling jokes like school children memorize answers right before the day of the exam, was extremely amateurish.

Overall, neither did I like her attitude towards her debut at stand-up nor did I like the actual performance.

On the other hand, mentor Angad Singh Ranyal opened the show with some terrific writing, cashing in on the Delhi-Mumbai rivalry. He has exceptional storytelling abilities and can induce laughter by saying the most basic things. He’s totally earned a new fan in me 😉

Tip: When you’re trying to make a debut in a field you know nothing about, please just have the grace and sensibility to learn from a pro who’s been there, done it, and aced it.

VISHAL DADLANI

Brace yourself for my honest review of the weakest act of them all. Vishal Dadlani may have had us all tapping out foot incessantly to his music, but his onstage comic timing is pretty much non-existent.

The prep talk between him, Sapan and mentor Rohan Joshi (of AIB fame) is genuinely fun to watch. Partially because Vishal is really keen to get this ‘comedy thing’ right but also spends much of his time muttering what a nervous wreck he is. That bit where he teaches the comedians about conjuring lyrics and music from thin air….ummm…I am appalled, yes, because I now know why so many of these Bollywood songs sound like jazzed up remixes of untainted Hindi songs.

But yes, if there’s hope for Rohan Joshi and Sapan Verma, there’s hope for a content writer like me. I mean, I already write, don’t I? Bas hawa se inspire hoke music banana hai! 😀

Vishal starts off his set by mentioning he has no idea why he signed up for this stand-up thing. Soon enough, he throws in the first joke about his surname which is NOT Shekhar. There are poorly performed jokes weaved around politics, cricket and mental health, and despite him frequently glancing at the cue cards, the delivery fell flat on most of the jokes. There was only one “goo joke” which I chortled at, but that’s about it. In fact, I wish I could say that it at least sounded like a TED talk, but it wasn’t because I was truly bored by the end of it.

Vishal Dadlani seems like someone who’d be witty and sarcastic in equal measure. Confident even. As long as he’s making music or just talking about life in general. However, stand-up is a different ball game altogether and we cannot really expect debutantes with zero experience to even survive as long as they did in their individual performances.

Tip: It’s okay to get it wrong and realize your biggest fear of looking like a fool. So long as you tried it and lived to tell the tale.

Summing up

One Mic Stand is a terrific concept that aptly introduces stalwarts from their respective fields and the audience to have a sneak peek of what it is to be a stand-up comedian. Truth be told, despite how each of these performers fared in their individual acts, I laud them for voluntarily putting their hard-earned fame on the line and trying their hand at being passable at something as novel and nerve-wracking as stand-up comedy.

Comedy is comedy till you’re a viewer ripping apart the jokes and deciding in nanoseconds if any of them is worth laughing at.

It is, however, brutal and extremely brave to willingly learn, practice and make money off of comedy – when taken as an art form.

I truly enjoyed the series because unlike other Amazon-backed shows like Comicstaan, there is no competition here about who can make the audience laugh the hardest. There are no judges taking apart every line, every expression, every moment.

In contrast, One Mic Stand is truly what I’d call the 2019 version of “finding yourself.”

Say what, I’m ready for a second round of One Mic Stand to be served. Stand-up comedians, are you listening?

Rating: 4/5

Kangana Ranaut proves yet again that she’s the Queen – of Badass

Kangana Ranaut on controversies surrounding Manikarnika, Bolly fraternity’s dismissal of the actress, marriage and more!

Source: YouTube

Little did people know that the stereotypical small town girl debuting in Gangster (2006) would go on to become the Queen of Bollywood one day. An unabashed feminist, Kangana Ranaut has taken up a number of controversial issues in the past and has given out fearless statements on issues often desensitized by discriminating personalities. Her recent interview with Rajeev Masand saw her addressing few such elements, best left to the intimacy of one-on-one conversations where baring the soul is allowed. In her latest chat with Masand, the man who can make even rocks speak, Kangana shares her experiences on the sets of Manikarnika (the life of Rani Lakshmibai – the original Queen of Badass in 1857) as well as her views on everything – from marriage and motherhood – to directing and acting in the same film.

She nailed the art of multi-tasking by taking over Manikarnika’s direction midway

While Kris Jagarlamudi directed the complete movie, Kangana stepped in to direct patches of it. “It required a lot of feminine emotions, and so everyone felt and agreed that I must supervise parts of it”, she said while Rajeev quizzed her on how she ended up directing the movie. Quite contrary to allegations that she’d overthrown the director to be a one-woman show on sets. And by the way, she juggled these double roles while shooting for some of the most heavy-duty action scenes in the film. To quote her “I remember every morning I would wake up and have half kg ghee, roasted besan and add a lot of jaggery in it and keep having it and only then could I rehearse for 45 minutes daily…”.

When Rajeev Masand questioned her on how the directors would feel about an actress being so involved or, in other words, wanting to director other films, Kangana revealed her awesome analogy we frankly may never thought of before. “A film is like a lover/ wife. When you see other people’s wives you don’t go like “oh my god I want to make love to her!”, she explained. She went on to say that while people get stimulated with their own wives only, she understands and feels involved in certain projects only when it strikes a personal chord with her. Giving an example of her relation with Panga director Ashwiny, she said she does not want to contribute in an intrusive manner on other people’s set.

She opened up on colleague’s not praising her enough

We’ve all been that person one time or the other in our lives, haven’t we? Getting passed over for a promotion, an overseas work tour or simply, honest, open appreciation because somebody doesn’t like the fact that we made it (or are on our way to making it).

Quoting Prasoon Joshi Kangana said, “There’s nothing mediocrity fears more than talent”. She said while she doesn’t shy away from praising her colleagues, be it Alia Bhatt or Deepika Padukone, she seldom gets back the love. While she is much wanted in the industry and is getting to act in big banner movies regularly, her colleagues seldom share her movie trailers and teasers. To that, she found Prasoon’s words as the only explanation, and might I say, solace? And why not? We cannot forget her praising Alia Bhatt’s Raazi last year, and her ability to see a film as a work of art and not a rival’s movie or a competitor’s work is commendable.

Switching over to a different note, he asked Kangana about the ongoing marriage fever. After all, getting married at the right age IS the trend most Bollywood actresses are following diligently.

Does Kangana Ranaut want to get married?

She laughed at the question and confessed that when in love and in a relationship, she has considered marriage. However, when single and in control of her thoughts in a rational sense, she isn’t very clear about the purpose of marriage. “Keeping in mind the depleting green cover and population explosion and also the whole legality of the bond…,” she explained, “…there are so many children in this world who need love and we should adopt them more.” Mother to a beautiful dog and aunt to a baby boy who is almost like a son to her, she said there is absolutely no difference between the two.

Her grace under pressure, her kickass replies and her bold statements are proof that the film industry isn’t all pomp and show. There’s substance, if you look closely enough, dig long enough, listen hard enough. The industry might both love and hate Kangana. However, universal public appreciation of her personality prove that she’s a lioness who fears nothing and can fight her wars majestically. Without help.

Manikarnika releases on 25th January 2019. And I’m getting goosebumps here already!

The Actresses Roundtable 2017, and why we need more of this every year

Rajeev Masand is out with his bag of small treasures, right before Christmas hits. Hear the leading ladies of Bollywood talk about acting, love, life and everything else in between.

What is the ONE time you get to see Bollywood actors/actresses baring their hearts open like it’s nobody’s business other than when they’re playing a character on the big screen?

When is the only other time you see a bunch of artists huddled together and bonding AND talking about cinema in a they-make-sense kinda way, a trait we as an audience seem to have dissociated from their seemingly gregarious, light-hearted onscreen and off-screen personas?

I’m not talking about glittery film fraternity parties, nor am I hinting at those carefully orchestrated charity/fundraising/book launch/other non-filmy events where more often than not much of what a celebrity says is PR-driven and meant to serve the script.

I am talking about the pepper-and-salt sprinkled, maddeningly interesting and evocative discussions one of the most charming and affable entertainment journalist in the country manages to engage the public in, year after year, and have a glimpse of the people behind the stars that we so adore and are intrigued by.

Stating the obvious but yeah, it’s Rajeev Masand, the man who can elicit a response from even the most somber, tight-lipped celebrity. The man you just can’t hate because despite the fact that he’s totally being nosy and in-your-face with his hundred and one personal and professional (bordering on personal) questions, he almost sounds and looks like the benign pastor at your Sunday church or that all-knowing, gentle, elderly uncle sitting in the park with lots of time to kill – who knows you have plenty of skeletons to fix in your closet, and he’s simply helping you take the burden off your chest by giving you a space to talk about it. Sometimes it is not as much a dirty secret as it is a constant annoyance, like flaky dandruff you would want to brush off your glossy black jacket before anyone else has a chance to judge you for it. Other times, like in Kangana Ranaut’s case, it’s a steely polite of conveying to people who matter and who’re definitely listening – hey, watch it before I take you down!

Every year Masand takes on the powerhouse performers and their standout performances of the year, and grills them (albeit with all smiles and a lot of heart) on a range of introspective questions – from how they prepared for a certain role to how they felt playing a role that was a contradiction of everything they were and stood for in real life, from how they felt about the changing perception of film fanatics to how society continues to be connected with this medium in a deeper way, as the years go on.

And while each year has a unique annual offering distinct in terms of the evolution cinema and artists are touted to have accomplished as the year wraps up,  2017, with its diverse range of performances and its clawing relatability to more humaneness, and less fiction indisputably comes out on top for being THE year where women in cinema took the spotlight for regaining their individual as well as collective voice – something they had found, lost, and then found again.

Now that I have gushed aplenty about Rajeev Masand and the reactions he routinely draws in these closeted, yet absolutely unscripted discussions, it’s time to explore why 2017 will be remembered as the year that shook us from within, as much as it did on the outside by making our cushioned butts squirm uncomfortably.

Below:

The most unmissable picks of year 2017 (from left to right): Zaira Wasim, Ratna Pathak Shah, Vidya Balan, Bhumi Pednekar, Swara Bhaskar

Stealing Masand’s words right off his mouth (but only because this is what I noticed too right at the beginning): “The most interesting thing about the line-up here today is the sheer spectrum that we cover…the range and the talent at this table is staggering.”

Hear, hear! He couldn’t have said it better.

From the newcomer (Zaira), to the veteran (Ratna Pathak Shah), to the experienced but-not-long-enough-to-be-called-a-veteran (Vidya Balan) to the ones still exploring the medium but not really struggling (Bhumi Pednekar and Swara Bhaskar), this table represents the range of aspirations and spectacular talent of young and old India as well as those who are middling it.

Not giving it all away because you must watch this intellectual, raw play of words and layered emotions among the ones who’re living it on and off the screen, but just so you know this roundtable is sheer gold, here are my top 6 favorite statements from the discussion.

  1. Ratna Pathak Shah (Lipstick under my Burkha): It’s good I hadn’t begun writing film reviews around the time this movie released, or else I’d never been able to hit full-stop. Can I just say Shah’s character in the film (as Usha Buaji) just knocked our socks off? Or hit the guys right on their balls, you know where it hurts the most (smirk, smirk)? Because an ‘old’ woman being so vulnerable about her sexual desires, so much so that she dares to make the mistake of falling for an attractive man years younger than her, can be termed as nothing but audacity and a huge blow to the ever-inflating unfounded male ego. I mean, how dare women acknowledge their own bodies and desires? To top it off, how dare OLD WIDOWED WOMEN even think they can get some action?!! I know I am digressing but coming back to the discussion, one of Shah’s first statements from the round table hit the nail right on its head, turning even Hollywood upside down on its heels.

““We don’t need to be Gal Gadot, who is doing everything that the guy would do, except that she is a pair of breasts. We are telling our stories, the way we see our world”

There, there Wonder Woman, our desi ladies might not be dressed in metal and leather and conquering battles alongside warring men, but they sure are turning heads and shaking up the quintessential Indian man’s ego simply by stating they have needs, even when they’re 50 plus. That they need sex. And they LIKE it. And slut-shaming or age-shaming them isn’t going to douse that fire of awareness anytime soon.

Our women have made people sit up and notice – even if to judge – merely clad in sarees, kurtis, burkhas and a touch of lipstick.

         2. Ratna Pathak Shah again (I’m being biased here right?) – 

“Every woman who decides to act in a film like ‘Dabangg’ where she is made a complete object of lust, they also need to stand up and say no.”

It cannot get more direct and hard-hitting than that. Sonakshi Sinha, are you listening? Thankfully, you have graduated to better choices, but we dearly hope, going forward, you will not make us cringe with the characters you choose to play.

Not related, but Shah’s candor in openly stating she never really fit the “heroine” bracket because she was no longer young, to saying “I never really got any work to start with, obviously I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t the right choice, just never got any work” -as a response to why it took her so long to make a comeback to mainstream films, was a breath of fresh air. Plain, unvarnished truth, instead of beating around the bush and saying she wanted to take care of her kids and be a “family person” yada yada.

That touch of real “ness” in the make-believe world of cinema is so so rare to come by. Ratna ji, you have my heart ❤

3. Vidya Balan (Tumhari Sulu) – The industry is a place of flagrant irony. It thrives on objectifying and demeaning women and relegating even the top crop of female talent to the background by having them play shoddy characters that exist to support the inherent dominant patriarchal vein, but won’t let actresses love their bodies and themselves without being part of an external narrative.

And while every actress routinely gets under the scanner for a pimple here and a little flab there, Vidya Balan, going by the mass vitriolage and public scrutiny over the past few years until very recently, has sure had it worse than her contemporaries, all because people can’t get over how she continues to wow us with each power-packed performance despite not having washboard abs.

She asserts herself, and beautifully so, that she is content being who she is, and how she is and in case haters are wondering if it’s going to come in the way of a remarkable career she has built on her merit alone, no, she isn’t going extinct anytime soon.

“We don’t want to be shamed by our bodies anymore. We are proud of our bodies.”

More power to you Vidya. We know we’ve said it out loud before, but we need to keep hammering this in so patriarchy knows we don’t anybody’s permission to own our bodies, to shape our identities.

4. Bhumi Pednekar (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan): Two of the perkiest movies this year with two much-needed but needlessly shushed subjects, Bhumi has scored a hat-trick with these two releases in 2017.

In one she plays the supposedly compliant village belle (Toilet) till the adventurous and abominably humiliating experience of shitting (literally) comes in the way of her basic rights, to being the confused and distraught yet progressive fiance who isn’t ready to back out on her man simply because he cant get it up (ahem), she has succeeded in tickling our funny bones, while slamming social messages right down into our bathrooms and bedrooms!

For someone who had to put on 30 kilos for her debut role in Dum Lagake Haisha to someone who has thankfully lost the drive to see herself in the mirror every now and then and fret about how she looks, she has traversed some philosophical journeys without having to painfully prolong the process of self-realization.

Here’s what she had to say:

“It’s liberating to not care about the way I look.”

5. Zaira Wasim (Secret Superstar): Since she graced the silver screen two years ago, the teen actress has been unstoppable. Quite literally. If there had to be a fledgling in this cinematic world to carry forward the baton of yesteryear’s’ legends, I dare say, Zaira could be on her way to greatness.

And while she continues to pop in and out of news headlines for reasons both good and bad, and I absolutely condemn the misplaced, unsubstantiated allegations of molestation she lately leveled against a poor, hapless chap flying in the same airline as her, I have to, and must laud her for her honesty, and willingness to delve into some areas of personal introspection even adults in this realm probably wouldn’t have dared to, at least not at her age.

So when asked about what she likes about acting and what she doesn’t, she revealed she might not yet be ready to face the big, bad world called Bollywood, reminding us of the chaotic dark mess the film industry can often be.

“I like that I can become somebody else, but I’m not ready for it, maybe because of the vanity that comes with it. I don’t think  I’m the kind of person who can handle it.”

Keeping aside her possible hunger for the arc lights (as I have ranted about at length in this piece here) though, the forthrightness and simplicity with which she responds to Rajeev’s questions is something I haven’t come across in a long, long time. Or maybe, she is just an actor par excellence, but let’s give her the benefit of doubt, shall we?

With that poise and sense of awareness of her very being and her surroundings, I would  not be surprised if she managed to take nepotism by its horns and twist them out of shape (Jahnvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, and the rest of the nepotism clan, brace up!)

6. Swara Bhaskar (Anarkali of Arrah): Since the time I first watched her in Tanu Weds Manu, I have been an ardent fan of the actress. Despite having no connections, as well as not quite accommodating the typical Hindi film heroine image, she has managed to consistently climb the ladder with movies like Ranjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, and most recently Anarkali of Arrah, which also happened to be the first movie she played the lead in.

The movie which largely revolved around a small-town erotic singer-performer being publicly molested by a powerful chap (Sanjay Mishra) and then fighting for her rights, borders on a heated debate which has consumed much of our spaces this year: sexual harassment in the workplace and/or sexual harassment because of the work women do (read actors, performers).

It was in this context that Swara give us a teeny-weeny glimpse into how life is like an actor, especially when you’re a woman, and how real even reel can feel at times.

“When the molestation scene was shot, the whole crowd was cheering and whistling. You get to see the sides of our society.”

This truly made my skin crawl, considering those men were undoubtedly partaking in some sort of vicarious pleasure, despite the fact that it was a movie and not real. I shudder to think what their reactions might have been had it been real life? Sad you had to confront that side of patriarchy Swara, but at least we know how much educating this country’s sinister male crowd needs.

Other reflections that made me nod my head going, “Yeah, I get you!” to grinning like a cuckoo

In a conversation spanning more than an hour involving the participation of five powerful, articulate women, and covering some very shocking to amusing stuff, it’s pretty darn difficult to pick favorites right?

And so I’ve listed some of the other things that blew my mind away. Truer words have never been spoken.

  1. Ratna ji on how Zaira shouldn’t think of acting as short-term and be bothered by some of the unwanted attention and other hazards she was currently faced with; expounding on this point, she truly embodies an artist’s spirit, stating in no uncertain terms that her desire for acting was not dependent on her success. I’m not sure if she has ever read the Bhagavad Gita, but she has beautifully rephrased the famous quote from the scripture, “Karm karo, phal ki chinta mat karo.”

2. Ratna ji again on getting comedy right, “If people on the sets are laughing, you’re making a mistake.”

Damn! We all knew pulling off comedy is tougher than bawling your eyes out on screen, we just didn’t know a good comic act had a yardstick it could be measured by.

3. Ratna ji, PHIRSE (okay, this blog post has started to sound like a seedy fan hyperventilating in the “Compose Mail” section of Gmail, except this “fan mail” won’t be mailed to the actress ever) –

“The nicest thing about growing old and letting your hair go grey is that I don’t give a shit about how I look now.”

Bhumi, you said pretty much the same thing, except Ratna ji said with it more aplomb and a dash of finesse, like a queen reining in her best years of her life after successfully navigating the fretting-and-feeling-depressed-over-how-I-look stage. There is something about life experience that you just can’t buy, or rehearse. And there’s something about a woman embracing her age and all the flaws that come with it.

4. Vidya Balan“Live life!” Well, want to be an actor, writer, performer? Go live life. Go watch plays, listen to music you love and even the kind you hate, meet people, fall in love, have your heart broken.

We have all been dished out this category of advice bordering on YOLO, but decades before YOLO even took birth, Vidya had the chance to imbibe her soul and spirit with this advice, imparted to her on a TV commercial set, and it seems to have served her well. It’s time those of us wanting to be honest to our craft do that. Live life. And draw from its infinite well of experiences. Accept the poison and the nectar, and retouch it with hand strokes of our own.

5. Zaira Wasim on conviction as a key weakness and strength she has discovered in herself in the last two years,

“If I’m not convinced about something, I’m not gonna do it. If I am, I am going to do my best.”

May not sit pretty on the expected narrative of an actor’s life and approach to roles, but hey, it is a good starting point for each one us dreaming of showing our art to the world one day. Let’s have faith in, and be convinced in the magic of our written and spoken words, music, art, sculpture before we try and make the world pull down its stubborn walls and let us in.

6. Swara Bhaskar on being real, and keeping it realistic

“Bollywood is just a small part of a really big universe, and if it doesn’t work out, then it’s not the end of the world.”

For an outsider who has made it here on her own and has a long mile to go, keeping one’s expectations free from the confetti-wrapped optimism an actor’s life is frequently prone to, is a no mean feat. Swara borders on cynical, but her feet firmly planted on the earth, acknowledging that even happy spells can cease to last and that there is a plethora of opportunities and experiences to be lived outside of Bollywood.

There. Just like that, some of the glamour has worn off hasn’t it, but does it make sense? Absolutely!

Is it a good way to keep one’s sanity intact? You bet.

It is no surprise then that we see her dabbling in a world devoid of Bollywood’s scripted mania, as is evident in her latest spoken-word performance titled Conceal, Remove, Repeat in association with TLC India.

That is some badass poetry, and the sass game perfectly on point! Not to mention, we hear the message loud and clear.

7. Zaira Wasim again, because I was saving the best for the last. Her parting advice for youngsters (and am sure even the older crowd out there):

“We are the sun and the moon and we have our own times to shine.”

Okay, honestly, this was so beautiful it made my hair tingle and my eyes tear up a little, because that sort of profound language shooting off a 17 year-old’s mouth is as common as the BJP acknowledging Muslims as human beings.

I envy her so much right now it’s not funny, but I am glad the Hindi film industry, amidst all the paid media and scripted answers and the pressure to entertain but not be contemplative or meditative, has this one gem. Predictably, all the other actresses at the table were in awe of her, just as we were. If only, she hadn’t jumped the gun and have poor Vikas Sachdeva publicly condemned for something he didn’t do.

Hits and Misses

From cackling wildly at Ratna’s sarcastic comebacks in Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai (as Maya Sarabhai) to actually listening to her talk in that fluid, un-self-conscious, organic way was an enriching experience in itself, one that had me consumed in the intensity and layers it unveiled. But what I was most bowled over was her voice. Her timber, tone, pitch are perfect; with an alluring voice like that paired with a feisty mind, who wouldn’t want to hear her talk for hours on end?

Speaking of voice, isn’t that what grabbed our attention through the run-time in Tumhari Sulu? Vidya Balan continues to enthrall us by drawing us in the coherence and fluidity of her thoughts, making her stand on numerous issues clear while unabashedly exhibiting the way to love oneself. It can be quiet, unassuming, never over-the-top, but always there. She’s sexy, powerfully feminine, and not afraid to speak her mind, and while as she chattily tells us what life and movies are like from her perspective, we can’t help but soak in the shimmy of her gorgeous metal earrings.

Zaira Wasim is one of the most self-assured actors to have occupied Bollywood’s ever-expanding, and admittedly over-crowded space in these times. Her present and growing awareness about survival in the tinsel world is glaringly honest, and commendably structured. Not only did she hold her own in the session, but chimed in at the right moments, without breaking into the conversation unnecessarily, preferring instead to absorb what the others had to say. That is quite unbecoming of a millennial (more so, in the film industry) in an Insta-bombed age, which is why I just cannot wrap my head around why she acted so hastily in the airplane molestation incident.

Bhumi Pednekar has had us thrilled with her acting chops considering the commercial success of all her chosen projects till date, and yet, I cannot say the same about the round table discussion – I was less than thrilled to hear her speak, visibly annoyed by how she kept throwing the ‘privilege’ word around. Yes, I get it, you had never stepped out of Mumbai and been a part of the cultural milieu of a tier two/tier-three cities in the country (it’s not A,B,C city for god’s sake!) until you chose to step into acting, but I am sure so have the others. Vidya Balan has lived her whole life in Mumbai, Swara has braved her growing-up years in Delhi, what’s the fuss then?

Might I say I was also unimpressed by the fact that Bhumi wouldn’t talk normally, but let the words tumble out in a drawl, like she was speaking to impress. An actor putting on an act when she clearly doesn’t need to, is obviously off-putting and dilutes the overall tempo of the discussion.

However, lest the tempo meander into the territory of scripted interviews and actors acting even when the cameras aren’t rolling, Swara ensures she was heard, AND seen, quite a bit, courtesy the excessive gesticulation. At one point, I started getting a mild headache from all the different directions her arms would keep flying and with the way her head/shoulders would twitch. Her animated movements more than made up for the sober, cautious, controlled approach taken by the others. Having said that, maybe we need to step beyond how actresses should present themselves on and off the cameras?

Note: why do I think Bhumi and Swara were constantly trying to one-up each other (goofy grin, the ‘competition’ is unmistakable, huh)? 

Now that I have penned no less than an epic on this topic, it’s time to wrap up, but not without thanking Rajeev Masand for his insightful questions, his diplomacy and intuition in ferreting out just what we want to hear from our stars.

Also, thank you for not asking some of these ladies the parroted and much-dreaded sexist question: So, how was it working with the Khan (s)?