WION exclusive: Kubbra Sait: We are rushing representation; it needs to have a narrative

WION Web Team
New DelhiWritten By: Pallabi Dey PurkayasthaUpdated: Oct 30, 2021, 03:32 PM IST


Story highlights

In a tete-a-tete with WION, Kubbra Sait shed light on the topic of age-appropriate roles for women in cinema, the boom of OTT and what it meant for the masses, and why one should not hanker after inclusivity if that doesn’t happen organically. 

When she walked into the room for our virtual interview, the first thing we noticed about breakout star Kubbra Sait is her energy—free, easygoing and no-drama plastered all over her face. “When you are on stage, there are no retakes,” she tells WION, when asked about the difference in approach in West and at home. 

Kubbra, who became a household name in India for her marvellous character Kuckoo in Emmy-nominated ‘Sacred Games’, has now gone global. In Apple TV’s recently released project ‘Foundation’, the actor plays a crucial role—that of Phara Keaen. Ask her about the back story behind bagging such a grand project and she shares it with the enthusiasm of a child. “I was doing my sales pitch left, right and centre,” she joked, or maybe not. 

Kubbra Sait has been many people in her brief yet impactful career and she will tell you she’s massively proud of each one of them. In a tete-a-tete with WION, the actor shed light on the topic of age-appropriate roles for women in cinema, the boom of OTT and what it meant for the masses, and why one should not hanker after inclusivity if that doesn’t happen organically. 

Edited excerpts (for clarity) from our conversation with the actor: 

WION: Okay, so first of all, tell me how does it feel to be called a global star? 

KB: Am I a global star yet? If you insist, I'll take it with a pinch of salt. Thank you so much (grins!)

WION: So tell us everything about Apple TV's ‘Foundation’. How did it happen? What prompted you to take it up? Tell us everything related to your first global project. 

KB: It started off in 2019. I was called in for an audition by Tess Joseph and her casting company. I auditioned, and after a couple of attempts, I got the tape, which we nailed. And then I was called to Ireland for a screen test. I think the first time I really felt that I had got this part was when they put me in a silicone meld, and they took my facial, like size and dimensions. But after my test, I was very sweetly told that, you don't have it yet, so you have to wait to hear from us. (I said) I've come (with) this vibe; please don't do this to me just yet. I was, like, you know, my show sacred games was nominated the Emmys, I'm a very good actor, I was doing my sales pitch left, right and centre. 

All they said is, please focus on your lines and just do this well, and we'll come back to you. I think that was literally the journey, and on the 11th of Jan, I got that proverbial call. I was making my coffee, it was still night in LA. I got a call from my agent saying, well, congratulations, you are Phara Keaen in Foundation. So literally, that was the journey from its inception to me finally going there. And yeah, then the pandemic happened. I shot one scene which is the action scene that you'll see in episode five. 

That was the first scene we shot, and the next day I got a call saying so we're suspending the production for 15 days. (By) the fifth day of suspension, (it) became an indefinite suspension of the show, and then you're like, oh my god, is this even going to happen? What's going to be the fate of this show? Because you've already built so many mountains and so many castles in the air, you're like, oh my god; this is going to be the greatest thing that I've ever done. And now it's like, nothing's going to happen. Just sit at home and wait. (But) I'm so happy to report back after a year that now the show is successfully complete. The show is successfully doing well. It's on Apple TV plus, and I'm so excited. So that's our journey.

WION: Like you mentioned, you joined the cast again after a year. So how did you get back into the skin of your character? Well, that must've required a lot of learning and un-learning on your part?

KB: I came back in March, and we were back (to shooting) in September, so six months later, we went back to shoot. But when I went back, I was literally doing lines for the first time because up until this point (it) was just action that we had shot. So the genesis of my character happened during the second schedule, when I went back. And it was just incredible to build from the script and mouth these lines, and make her come alive and make her the fierce. It's just such a juicy character love it.

WION: So you have worked in a Bollywood movie, you are a big name in the OTT space (featured in Emmy nominated ‘Sacred Games’), of course, and you have also done an international project. So,  what, in your opinion, is the basic difference between these three platforms in terms of the work culture? What  did you observe?

KB: Eventually, we all are actors, and that is something that we need to first understand before anything else. But what particularly blew my mind is that time is an important factor for everybody there. Time is valued and people are valued. There are no excuses for being late, or not learning your lines, or you will not have an assistant director standing in to like give lines for somebody else. Everybody is there, and everybody is sincerely performing, even if the camera's not on them. Because most of these actors belong to a theatre background, they studied acting, they've done this for a long time. When you are on stage, there are no retakes. We all are in this together, and I thought that, for me it was an incredible learning experience. I say this a lot. And I'm going to say this again, as if I really have no other words. But to be honest, me this was like going to school and getting paid to go to school.

WION: In ‘Jawani Jaaneman’, you play a mature character, right? So there was a time in Indian cinema when actresses did not get to play central characters after a certain point in their careers. But I feel that has changed with time. Vidya Balan doing ‘Sherni’ was a classic example of that. So what do you think about the advancement in the depiction of women in cinema?

KB: I think it's changed drastically. I think it's been changing over years. You are playing age appropriate roles. Maturity is a state of mind. It's how much you've travelled, how much you've eaten, how much you've seen, and how much you live, and how much you failed. That's what reach reaches maturity, even in that film. So I'm saying that maturity is something that comes to you with experience, and that doesn't mean you need to be old or not. I think, for me it's a very cool character, because (it was) for the first (time) I've ever played a pretty person on screen. So I'm very grateful. It was angst-y, and I wasn't like that loud and bubbly person that I am, I was just like a very, like, simple, grounded, very self assured person. I thought that was just the greatest experience of playing Ria in ‘Jawani Jaaneman’. When you come to Mumbai, you think that I am going to be that quintessential heroine but then you need to have the quintessential hero, and then you need to have that antagonist. So I think that being said, just the scope of stories, you're telling is changing. 

We just have got so many stories to tell, like today a film like, ‘Pagglait’ gets made, and it’s about a young widow, right? This really, really touched me, like really close to my heart, because my help who lives with me, lost her husband, she's one year older than I. Who talks about these stories, who talks about people like them who can be characters on screen. And for that kind of a story to be told is fantastic. It means we are evolving, because these are real people, somewhere in the real world. So I remember Ruthie and I watched that film together. It's such a beautiful film. It was pretty good.

WION: ‘Shang Chi’ released recently. And we are awaiting the release of another diversified movie, ‘Eternals’. With the changing time—now more than ever—there's a lot of conversation around inclusion, especially of Asian actors in Hollywood. So do you think that Indian actors—with so many of you having made it to global cinema—are slowly but surely becoming a part of the whole inclusion narrative? 

KB: I think it's not to make a statement, but as I said, everybody is evolving, and you need to give that room for evolution. Allow stories to be told. But we are like also in a rush. I'm like, what's the rush? The question is, are people opening their eyes? And are they ready to embrace your individuality? And when you are there on that stage in that room? Do you deliver? And if you do, then you will receive the validation and the gratification, but I don't think we are necessarily waiting for XYZ to come in and say, ‘You are a part of my show, because I want to address inclusivity’.

Because let's take Phara Keaen (my character) for example, right? She could have been from anywhere in the world, she just happened to be me, because of my audition. And the makers believed that this character could be authentically from Southeast Asia. So that had nothing to do with me, except for the fact that I worked hard and gave my audition and delivered. But everything else depended on the vision of the makers. And they stood by their vision. And they stood by the fact that this choice is right. It's as simple as that. And I really, really wish that more stories are written and more crossovers happen. I wish that we stopped typecasting a white person to be somebody who is British, and a tyrant. Now they are getting better roles, we are getting better roles, the world has become smaller.

OTT has allowed all of us to see the world in a different light. Today you've got Eternals being directed by a female director. So instead of harping on all the things that aren't happening, try to speed up the process towards things that are happening. As you know, a journey that needs to happen is that arc that needs to be explored. Then I think we'll get there together.

It's not about throwing in inclusivity for the sake of it, right? It needs to have a narrative; it needs to have a story to be told. And I'm so grateful that my story as Farah in foundation is worth a story being told. That's all that matters to me. And I think if I do something that allows people to see more Indians in that space, very well. At the end of the day, we all are doing great work, and the least we can do is sit in our respective living rooms, have a cup of chai, watch the show, watch the work and celebrate each other. I think if that's what we are doing as a community, we are excelling. As a race, we are excelling, and that's what we should do.

Watch the trailer of 'Foundation' here: