What was the best compliment that you received for your look as Mrs Indira Gandhi?
The biggest compliment for me, honestly, comes from my dad because he used to be Mrs Gandhi’s personal pilot when he was in the Air Force. He is somebody who knew her personally. And if I could convince him, I think that, for me, was a job well done. He saw my look only when the trailer was released and I was really glad to see his reaction.
What was Saira’s response to your transformation?
Saira is a nine-year-old but she knows who Mrs India Gandhi was. And she was around me, right from the beginning of the prep to the creating of the character. So, for her, it was more intriguing to watch the entire process; she was curious to know who is this that my mother is going to turn into? She loved the whole procedure of the prosthetics being done. She was most worried when the mould of my face was being done because she thought they were going to kill me because I couldn’t breathe. But once I was ready, she said, “You look weird ma”. She was not even saying, “You look so amazing or you look so much like my mom; all she said was that I look weird (laughs)”.
You also adopted the body language, style, and personality of the former Indian Prime Minister. How much prep work did it take to get that right?
The make-up artist, Vikram Gaikwad, did an incredible job with the prosthetics and after the look test, we saw that the resemblance was pretty uncanny. And then it became a big responsibility for me to make sure that my performance really matched that. My director and I watched hours and hours of footage of Mrs Gandhi’s interviews, archival footage of her interactions with other people at various events. And, we made a lot of notes about the nuances, the movement of her eyes, her hand, the way she spoke, interacted with people, the way she reacted when she was provoked by journalists. Dad was also an invaluable source of inputs because he was able to give me an insight into her, how she behaved when she was around people. So we have pieced it all together keeping in mind that the situation in the film is quite dramatic. It is about a hijack that took place during Mrs Gandhi’s tenure. She was never an over-dramatic person; she was always very in control. And it was important to portray that as well onscreen, regardless of what was happening around her. So yeah, I mean, I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far and I’m really excited for people to actually experience it once the movie releases in theatres.
How difficult was it as a mother to leave your daughter and shoot for ‘Bell Bottom’ during the pandemic?
It was extremely challenging because at that time, when we shot last year, everything was still in complete lockdown, and ‘Bell Bottom’ was the first film on the floors, internationally too. It was a huge responsibility and I give a lot of credit to the producers to make this happen. And, of course, they had a tremendous amount of support from Akshay too. There were very, very strict protocols in place. And even when we went to Scotland we all knew what was expected from us as actors to make this film happen. We all knew that we were going to have to be in two weeks of quarantine before we even started filming and things like that.
But I think Vashuji (Bhagnani, producer) created a safe environment where we were comfortable enough to take our family members with us as well. I took my daughter. At that point in time, as a mother, you feel you will be able to control things a little bit better. But I don’t think anybody could control anything with Covid. But it definitely felt better to have them closer and an environment was created for us so that we got to spend enough time with our families as well. So, this film, I would say on a personal level, has been a really special experience.
How was it reuniting with Akshay Kumar? How much has your relationship changed over the years?
This is my 13th film with Akshay and I have always said that he is like family to me. When I work with him on a film, I don’t feel like I’m actually going to work. I feel like I’m going on a picnic with my family and before you know, work has started. He is the ultimate professional, so there are no issues; there’s no waiting on the sets for Akshay, work happens really fast with tremendous amounts of positive energy. Over the years, our relationship has gone from being just co-stars, who are fond of each other, to this comfort that you actually feel when you are with family. He’s constantly pulling my leg, just like any other family member. And he doesn’t have to spell out anything to me. I mean, we just play off each other really well. I know exactly, instinctively, what he needs in a scene and it is great fun. It is very effortless chemistry.