Paayal Kapoor was recently praised for her role of Ms. Shiraz Jamshedji, a single Parsi woman (presumably a human rights activist) in the movie Chhapaak starring Deepika Padukone, where Malti’s father worked as a house help.
Shiraz is an independent woman who aids Malti in her legal and medical battle/help after the acid attack on her. Shiraz facilitates all her (Malti) court cases in terms of contacts and lawyers, doctors etc, since Malti’s family cannot afford it. In the movie, Shiraz comes across as a rock solid yet silent supporter for Malti and is instrumental in motivating her to fight to get justice.
In an exclusive conversation with IWMBuzz.com, Paayal spoke about her character, movie and more…
How was your experience working for the movie?
My experience of working for Chhapaak has been amazing. Right from the reading session, we had, along with the whole interaction with Meghna ma’am and the rest of the cast, it has been a great learning experience. Despite being in the industry for the last 18 years, when I take up any project, I become a part of the project. Especially with Chhapaak, which is directed by Meghna Gulzar, who is such a celebrated and a wonderful director and a great human being to work with. There is always a lot of learning experience from other co-actors. Just being on the set is so amazing to see how she works, how she directs. It’s been a great journey and through Chhapaak, I have made a lot of good friends who were my co-actors.
What made you choose the project?
Well, quite frankly, Chhapaak chose me and I did not choose Chhapaak. I mean as an actor, I didn’t have that option. I think it just came my way, and I am most thankful for that. I auditioned for the part of Shiraz Jamshedji and there it was. That’s how I got the role. I am most grateful to the casting director Gautam and Meghna ma’am for picking me up for the project and so it is not the other way round.
Did you interact with the real-life acid survivors who were part of the movie?
Before we started shooting for Chhapaak, we all obviously knew that it is based on the life of Laxmi Agarwal, the acid attack survivor, so I read about her a lot. I listened to her. I saw a lot of her videos, which were very very inspiring and amazing. I briefed myself about the horrifying violence against women and also the acid attacks on women happening in the country. But my awareness level increased manifold when I became part of Chhapaak. It also made me want to know more about what kind of work is actually happening to help the victims, what kind of NGOs are working to help the survivors, rehabilitate them and give them hope and courage. For that reason, I read a lot and watched a lot of videos. Unfortunately, I could not interact much because none of my scenes were with the real life acid attack survivors. Most of my scenes were with Deepika Padukone. She is the protagonist of the film, playing the role of Malti, and her character was the biggest acid attack survivor I interacted with. For me, when I first saw her in the prosthetics, it was not Deepika Padukone the superstar of Bollywood. For me, she was more like Malti on the set and we were supposed to shoot with her. So that’s been a very humbling and a great experience.
Chhapaak chose me and I did not choose Chhapaak.
How important is it to have women in leadership roles for the larger issue of equality and gender representation?
You know when you talk about leadership, one thing that comes to my mind is that the person who is right for the job, and fit to be a leader should be there. So in that case, the gender does not matter, be it a man or a woman. But unfortunately what happens is, for a woman to even reach the leadership position, she has to doubly prove herself all the time at different stages of life. It’s a dichotomy. Unfortunately, that’s the thing. Whenever you talk about leadership and women, if they have to reach a certain position for being a leader, whether it’s in the corporate sector or even in the film industry or anywhere else, why is it that they have to prove themselves and work twice to reach that position which we can call as a leadership position?
So yes, it is not as easy for a woman to reach a leadership position. At the same time, when we talk about gender equality, we see a lot of women going the length to prove themselves and occupy the positions of power and being a leader.
Do you think such stories inspire people to stand up and fight? Also do these movies help in changing society?
Well, I like to believe that Chhapaak has been a milestone film and such an important film in today’s time when crime against women is on the rise, be it rape, domestic violence or acid attacks. The reviews and the way it has been received by the audience is quite remarkable. And why not? If good cinema starts and initiates good dialogue to try and bring about change, then I think that’s the greatness of this line of work. You are trying to bring about some kind of change through your creative work. It should start. At least the awareness will be created. Many people are not even aware about this heinous crime of acid attack. It is so high and if you go and read the statistics, you will read that there are almost 250 attacks every year. This means, every second day, a woman is going through an acid attack. It is not a small number that we can just kind of brush aside and say that it happens somewhere, maybe in B-town or smaller towns. No, it is happening all across the country and the fact is because the main culprit, which is the acid, is being sold so randomly and is so easily available over the counter. Things have changed after Laxmi’s case and after the Supreme Court’s verdict, but it’s still there. So, yes, it should bring about the change in the mindset of the people, leaders, policy makers and in the society at large. If the film does that, and we are hoping it is going to do that because a lot of people are coming up and a lot of movement is happening around it, it will be a great achievement.
When I first saw her in the prosthetics, it was not Deepika Padukone the superstar of Bollywood. For me, she was more like Malti
Any future projects?
As for further projects I am just hoping that, with the kind of reviews and the response my role has got in Chhapaak and with all the people calling me up, that the filmmakers I really want to work with take notice of my work and hopefully good offers come my way.
I am just hoping this film kind of brings about the shift in my career which I have been waiting for a long time. I am not in a hurry to just pick up work. I will wait till good roles come and hopefully keeping my fingers crossed that they will.
Message for fans…
Well, message to all my fans is that you have seen me on television, seen me in digital media, you may have seen me in past films also, but Chhapaak is a very very important film for me. Not just for me as an actor but also as a human being. I learnt a lot and I think I have become a much better and a more aware person about the violence happening against women. It’s a great film and so please go and watch Chhapaak and follow me on social platforms. Give your feedback in which ever way you can reach out to us. There are a lot of hashtags available right now for Chhapaak, Meghna Gulzar, #Stopacidattacts, #stopacidviolence, so reach out to us and please give your reviews and feedback.