Did you expect this kind of appreciation for your work in Neerja?
I don't expect anything in life. When I do a film, after the Friday of release, I move on. If my Neerja director Ram Madhavan is happy, I am happy.
He tells me he is happy. At the end of the day, a film actor needs approval from his director. As an actor, I gave a hundred percent of myself to the role. I wish I could have done certain things better. But when I ask Ram, he says there is nothing I could do better. For me, that validation means a lot.
Somewhere, do you feel vindicated after being constantly talked about for your clothes rather than your performances?
With due respects to Neerja, which is a very powerful film, and I don't want in any way to take away from the director's achievement, but that (the fashionista talk) stopped long ago. Because this was serious real life story, it has people talking about my real look and performance. But even if you look Raanjhana, Dolly Ki Doli, Khubsoorat…people have spoken about my performance. The reviews were superlative. But I agree, Neerja is getting me the kind of love I had not experienced before. God willing, no one will call me just a fashionista again.
Whose opinion matters to you?
My validation as an actor comes from my director, co-star and from Neerja's family. For them to say they liked my performance is all the approval I need.
What did Neerja Bhanot's family have to say about your performance?
Neerja's brother Aneesh and Akhil called me up. They've written spectacular things about me after watching the film.
Subhash, we all feel the fear constantly. It needn't be in an aircraft. It could be when you step out of your home. Just like there are different manifestations of love-romantic, filial, parental-there are different facets of fear. The most beautiful thing about acting is that it allows you to use your emotional memory. I feel fear every day of my life. I used that to play Neerja. Of course, I don't know the fear that Neerja felt on that aircraft. But I looked within myself and I had to play her with grace and dignity. Because everybody we spoke to said she was dignified and graceful.
How much did the director Ram Madhvani help you to understand Neerja's fear?
This is the first time I've worked with a director who believes in the same kind of acting as me. Ram kept saying we were bonded. And it was true.
What kind of acting were the two of you looking at?
It was internalizing of the emotions. Feeling more than expressing. That's what Tabu said to me after seeing the film. 'You're just there,' she said. I wasn't trying to act. I didn't want to do a scene like I was showing what I could do with it. I didn't want to take away from the moment, from Neerja. And I didn't want Sonam Kapoor to be standing there saying those lines.
Unfortunately a lot of acting in our cinema is the showreel kind?
I don't want to comment on anyone else. But I felt Neerja deserved to be on screen without the actress' contribution. Every time I was given a flamboyant dialogue I was like, 'I am not saying that.' I have to thank the screen writer Saiwyn Quadras and the dialogue writer Sanyukta Chawla Sheikh for giving me scenes and words that never stuck a false note. It was all about team work. If I didn't have such wonderful creators, my performance would have been mediocre.
You also had some amazing actors with you?
You know, Jim Sarbh who played the most volatile terrorist, he was my main co-star. God, how much he helped me. You are only as good as your co-star and he was so f..king good. The audience hates him. I loved him! He is the kindest and sweetest soul.
You know, I actually had only two scenes with her. But the comfort that I shared with her was amazing. I had never worked with her before. She never once made me feel she was 'THE' Shabana Azmi. She was like a colleague and a friend. A lot of actors in her position would be patronizing. Not once did she tell me how to do a scene. That gave me so much confidence. I am very grateful to her for making me so comfortable, for letting me be and do my scenes. I warmed up to her immediately. Not once did I feel intimidated by her.
Now what, Sonam?
I am doing my sister Rhea's production. But I am not playing the central character. It's an ensemble cast. It will be directed by my Khubsoorat director Shashanka Ghosh. That's the only film I am doing right now.
You are okay with not being the central character?
I don't look at it that way. I had a 25-minute role in Delhi 6. Boman Irani, who is the best human being in the film industry, said something really great when he came to visit the set of Neerja. He said there are no big or small roles. Only big or small actors.
I think another great actor said that before him?
But, I absolutely agree with that. It's not about the size of the role .It's what I do with it. I don't need to be the heroine-heroine all the time. When I sign something more it has to be s spectacular role. In 8 years of my career, I've done very few films.
Finally Sonam, what do you feel about actors speaking up on socio- political issues?
For me, art is related to what is happening in our society. I am very grateful for the platform I've been given. It's a responsibility. There are lots of young boys and girls who look up to me. If I keep quiet on an issue, I believe all those who believe in me they will feel let down. So yes, I am not afraid of expressing my opinion.
Often your frank-speak gets you into trouble?
But the platform to express myself comes with a responsibility. And I take my responsibility very, very seriously. I will never speak on individuals. It will be issues that affect our country. I am so thoroughly Indian. I love my country, but that doesn't mean I'll lie about its weaknesses. I am not blinded by my love for my country.
You mean, constructive criticism is healthy?
I am so glad I don't have yes-men around me. When they surround you with flattery, you stop growing. The same is true of India. We can't just keep praising everything falsely. We can't grow that way.