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Amruta Subhash: An arrow in flight

Shriya Mohan | Updated on July 17, 2020 Published on July 17, 2020

High voltage: In Choked, Subhash plays a memorable role of Sharvari tai   -  Image courtesy: Netflix India

From Marathi stage and cinema to the web, from a layered supporting actor to lead protagonist, Amruta Subhash’s journey just got more exciting

* Bombay Begums, written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, coming soon on Netflix, portrays Amruta Subhash as one of five unbreakable women who wrestle with desire and morality

Amruta Subhash said yes to the role even before she had seen the script. What drew her to the film was the possibility of unbridled freedom. On the sets of Anurag Kashyap’s Choked: Paisa bolta hai, streaming on Netflix, Subhash — who plays the role of Sharvari Tai, the protagonists’ neighbourhood aunt — says it was thrilling to be both an actor and the audience. She watched the plot unfold in front of her eyes, even as she played a role in shaping it.

“Because it was Kashyap, seeing the script wasn’t necessary,” says Subhash, who’d worked with the director twice earlier — portraying the role of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s sister in the crime thriller Raman Raghav 2.0 and as the unsparing R&AW agent Kusum Devi Yadav in the popular web series Sacred Games 2.0.

In Choked, Subhash plays a single mother, part-endearing and part-opportunistic, planning for her daughter’s wedding. In one of the film’s memorable scenes, minutes after the prime minister’s November 8, 2016, demonetisation speech, Tai — who had that very day managed to arrange the cash needed for the wedding — breaks into hysterical laughter, packing in disbelief, tension and pathos. “In real life, I often laugh uncontrollably when there’s too much tension,” she says on the phone from Mumbai.

For the Pune girl, whose father, Subhashchandra Dhembre, held a government job and mother, Jyoti Subhash, was a noted Marathi actor, sets are familiar turf. After a few memorable acting stints in short films and musical plays during her school days, and bagging the winner’s trophy at Purushottam Karandak, Maharashtra’s best known inter-collegiate theatre competition, Subhash decided to join the National School of Drama (NSD), her mother’s alma mater, in New Delhi.

Shooting star: Amruta Subhash’s brief role as the mahout’s wife in Astu won her a national award for best supporting actress in 2013

 

Being coached by greats such as Naseeruddin Shah taught her crucial lessons. She learnt to steer away from ‘fail-safe’ formulas, and to test uncharted waters. Acting, she understood, was like archery: She needed different arrows in her quiver for greater range and depth. She grasped the importance of a spontaneous response to co-actors’ lines — a reaction that remained a mystery until the moment of delivery. And she realised that if she had to choose between playing a conflicted side character that only appeared for a few minutes but stayed in the minds of an audience and a protagonist with no jagged edges, it had to be the former.

The NSD lessons and what she learnt from her college sweetheart-turned-husband, actor and director Sandesh Kulkarni, still shape her film choices. Subhash takes pride in betting on first-time directors with promising scripts. And whether she plays a side role or the lead protagonist, she embraces both with equal finesse.

In the Marathi film Astu (2013), for instance, she plays a brief role of a mahout’s wife. The film portrays the decline of an elderly Sanskrit professor (Mohan Agashe), afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, who is fascinated by an elephant on the street, follows it and loses his way back home. “He’s become a child. We have two. We’ll call this one our own too,” Subhash’s character Channamma tells her husband, unconditionally accepting the professor into her home once she realises there is no way to trace his family. The role won her a national award for best supporting actress.

In 2014, Subhash featured in the Marathi film Killa, shot in the breathtaking Konkan landscape by debutant director Avinash Arun. She played a single working mother, Aruna Kale, whose son Chinmay (Archit Deodhar), is on the cusp of adolescence. Interestingly, while Subhash’s roles have been eclectic, she has often played a mother.

“I’m very conscious when I play a mother because it carries such an exalted status in our culture,” she says. For her role in Killa, she closely studied Deodhar’s real-life mother. In Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, where Subhash played the role of Ranveer Singh’s mother, she prepared by scouring the internet for photos of Singh with his actual mother, Anju Bhavnani. “His mother’s eyes were my trigger each time the cameras would roll,” she says. The role won her a Filmfare award.

A question needs to be asked. Can the pursuit of success or critical acclaim push one off the edge? The cinema world was shocked when the immensely talented actor Sushant Singh Rajput took his life last month. “I think mental health is core. I have been on psychotherapy for the last 15 years. If certain things are overwhelming for you, you need to seek help,” the 41-year-old actor says.

What does she have for her fans now? Her anticipated Marathi language film Parinati, in which she plays an alcoholic, is to be released soon on an over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform. A web series she’s most excited about, however, is Bombay Begums, written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava (of Lipstick Under My Burkha fame). Coming soon on Netflix, the series portrays Subhash as one of five unbreakable women (with Pooja Bhatt and others) who wrestle with desire and morality.

Subhash clearly has one foot firmly planted in Marathi cinema, while another itchy foot strides excitedly ahead. Big screen, or OTT — it’s the role that matters.

Shriya Mohan

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Published on July 17, 2020
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