Calendar Girls: Five Striking Debuts In One Film
This interview sounded more like a 10-year-old girl’s slumber party than anything else – lots of giggles with occasional screams between answers. We finally managed to get Kyra Dutt, Avani Modi, Akanksha Puri, Satarupa Pyne and Ruhi Singh to come together and sit down to share some of the most fun, memorable and insightful moments shooting their debut film Calendar Girls under the watchful, nurturing eye of Madhur Bhandarkar.
What was the experience of working with Madhur Bhandarkar like? How would you describe him as a mentor?
Kyra Dutt – I think I’m always going to be thankful to Madhur sir because he’s given me my first break. It’s been a very emotional moment to finally get my debut film, and it’s amazing that I got my debut in Madhur sir’s film because he’s really an ‘actress’ director’. I have a lot of respect for him and yes, I do consider him my mentor. He’s so encouraging — he keeps reminding us about how we were the ‘heroes’ of the film. We lead the film without a male actor being in the forefront, and that really built my confidence.
Avani Modi – This has been an opportunity of a lifetime, that too in a debut film. Working with Madhur ji is something that actresses aspire to and generally get to do after proving their box office value; I think we are very lucky. It’s very important to decide who is launching you in the industry, and with Madhur ji you are associated with a certain brand that vouches for good acting. I’m hoping we’re recognised not just as faces, but powerful actresses. That takes years to achieve.
Madhur ji is supportive, co-operative and helpful and has taught us the nuances of acting, having worked with so many well-established actresses, such as Konkana Sharma and Tabu. He’s always guided us and protected us. I know he will always stand by us, because he’s launched us and discovered us. I feel like he knows the feeling of being an outsider in the industry – and that’s why he’s more supportive. He’s a very grounded person.
Akanksha Puri – Working with Madhur sir has been a fun experience, I really enjoy his kind of cinema. He’s one of those few directors who does ‘real’ cinema. He makes very hard-hitting films, but he’s actually very fun-loving, his sets are high on jokes and pranks. It’s very easy to work with someone like him! It was easy to perform, because I got my space as an actor, and none of us was treated as a newcomer.
I’m very fond of him, and when I got this opportunity First break in Bollywood – wanted to be sure that it had to be something very good. I’m really glad that I was one of those five lucky ones a part of Calendar Girls.
Satarupa Pyne – I’m playing a Bengali girl (being one myself) in the film, who has dreams that she hopes to go to Bombay and achieve. I didn’t really know what to expect during my first meeting with Madhur ji, but he’s very warm and easy to be around. I realised that he was gauging my character and mannerisms, the way I am, and seeing how it related to the character — this is how he casts people, so he know they’re comfortable on camera as well.
Madhur ji is a great judge of character — he knows you before you even introduce yourself. That’s very interesting. He’s also very insightful as a person. I’m very happy, nothing would be better than to have one’s debut with him. The film is really causing waves now, and I feel it’s going to be a well-received and remembered film.
Ruhi Singh – Debuting with Madhur Bhandarkar is something I’m very happy about. It’s the right platform for me, and I’m glad that he saw and recognised my talent. When you start your career, you always want to start with someone who’s doing well, and is recognised and of repute.
He’s been very inspiring, and he’s very down-to-earth and really friendly. Not at all intimidating, which makes it easier to learn because it helps when you, as an actor, have a friendly relationship with your director. All of us had a lot of fun on the shoot. Sir is very chilled out, he’s like a friend to have around, he’s always cracking jokes. Which is probably why we were able to perform, and that’s why the film is what it has turned out to be.
What was the brief/guidance that you were given for this film, and how did you work on your respective performances?
Akanksha Puri – I play Nandita from Hyderabad, and Madhur sir was able to bring out just the right emotions out of me on-screen — and all the other girls too. He just captures the essence because of his amazing directorial skills. It was very spontaneous sometimes, his cue would be perfect. I feel like I’m very close to Nandita as a person, although I would’ve made some different decision.
Avani Modi – We are all very close to our characters — somewhere we are like them, deep down inside. So sometimes, on set, it didn’t even feel like we were acting, because I feel like I was on the same page emotionally as my character, Nazneen Malik from Lahore.
Satarupa Pyne – I play Paroma Ghosh, and he wanted to focus on my Bengali features with the right make-up and more than dialogues, expressions were very important. Don’t do anything too much, is what I learnt.
Ruhi Singh – I play Mayuri Chauhan from Rohtak, Haryana, and yes, there might be some situations in which Ruhi would react the same way as Mayuri but my character is definitely not an exaggerated version of me. Real life and reel life – a lot of similarities, which is where Madhur Bhandarkar’s job comes in. There is a certain vision that he has, and personality that I have, and the point where these two met is where Mayuri born.
Kyra Dutt – My character, Sharan Pinto, is nothing like me. I’m Bengali, I’m from Calcutta and the character I play is from Goa. She’s such an interesting character — the more I read about her, the more I wanted to be with her. Everyone on the sets started calling me Sharon because I ‘look like a Sharon’. (laughs) Madhur sir wants his scenes to be very real, so as for the acting part of it, he’d just tell me to feel the scene and as long as there’s a truth and sense of reality to it, that’s what he wants. He wants you, as an actor, to surrender yourself completely to him, as a director.
Do you feel like you grew over the course of this film, and what have been your biggest learnings?
Avani Modi – He’s a great observer, and he really understands emotions very well. This is something that really stuck with me. Madhur sir would also share a lot of different acting techniques and variations that other well-established actresses would use so that we could see what suited us. He turned us from actresses to performers, with his experience as a director.
Kyra Dutt – I used to observe him on shoot, look at how he is as a person, besides being a director. How he is with the actors, the spot boy, how he interacts with people. What happens a lot of times on Madhur Bhandarkar’s sets is a lot of important people sometimes drop in, and when I’d see him interact with them as well, I understood that he’s someone who understands the human psyche really well. He takes content from reality, from all the people he’s met and that’s why his films are so real.
Akanksha Puri – I never met a man who understood the female psyche better. He understands each and every emotion of a scene, how it unfolds — we don’t need many dialogues, or anything like that. His skills as a director are enough. I think we all also learned how to come out of our shells, and talk to the media properly and so on.
Satarupa Pyne – He told us to just go ahead and be ourselves, and because he’d cast us like that, it really worked. His support was great, and he’d come and meet us and talk to us about everything except work which made it a relaxed atmosphere to work in.
Ruhi Singh – When you’re on set, it’s the basic technicalities that you really learn, firstly. How to catch the light, and still emote, how to do a hundred retakes and still maintain continuity… these are things that you only learn on a film set, and that no acting school can really teach you.
Tell us about one funny/interesting incident on set that stands out.
All – Well, it was mostly Madhur ji who’d be the funniest person on set even when there’s a serious scene to be filmed. (all laugh) He’d constantly be cracking jokes until we had to ask him to stop making us laugh so much. We’d joke with him and ask – how are you like this, being a director?
Describe your experience working on this film in one word.
Satarupa Pyne – I’d say this film is fantastic, please make sure you watch it!
Akanksha Puri – It was a complete experience for me, it had everything.
Avani Modi – I’d say the journey has been very emotional, because it’s my debut and means a lot.
Kyra Dutt – It’s been a dream come true.
Ruhi Singh – Phenomenal.