She feels it’s great for an actor who has no backing in the industry to be approached by a director of Srijit Mukherji’s caliber. She feels even a single line can be enough for an actor to leave a mark and if you cannot act then you will not be able to leave an impact in an entire film. Begum Jaan’s Rubina, Gauahar Khan was at her candid best while talking to Koimoi in an exclusive interview inside her vanity van
Tell us about your role
I am playing a girl called Rubina. She is a loyalist, she is fierce, devoted to Begum Jaan. Begum Jaan is everything for her, so much so that if she says it’s day, it’s day for Rubina and if she says it’s night, it’s night for Rubina. She’ll probably sacrifice her life if Begum Jaan asks for it.
Did you watch the Bengali movie Rajkahini, whose Hindi adaptation is Begum Jaan?
No. None of us did. We were not allowed to. We were allowed only to watch the trailer but not the film because we were told that the way Srijit sir has written the characters for this one, they are suited for this film. It is a little different from Rajkahini. The zones are different. This is a Punjab-based film. That was based in Bengal. Even the characters, the states these characters come from are different. I play a Muslim Punjabi girl in the film. He did not want us to have reference points; he did not want us to be like those characters in Rajkahini. He said, this is a new plot and you can watch Rajkahini only after we have made Begum Jaan.
Isn’t it unusual?
That’s great actually because as actors, the moment you have seen some other performance, you kind of tend to get influenced by that. Then there is a lot of pressure on you about whether you should ape that performance or should you make your own. So, it’s better for me at least that I didn’t watch it. I did it the way I felt is best for the character.
How was the experience of working with Srijit Mukherji?
I’ll just use one word for Srijit Mukherji— he’s a genius. He is the most intelligent person I’ve known in a long time. He is so clear with what he wants. He was fully prepared even with the back stories of each character during the shoot. Imagine, such a big ensemble cast and he knew the purpose of each character! Even if someone is doing something wrong or faking it in some way, he would instantly point out during the shoot, saying ‘Kya kar rahi ho Rubina?’ It was amazing to watch him in his element. I was just in awe of the way he directed us, the way he has written the film, he is a visionary! I think he has paintings in his head, he visualises them.
Did he address you all with your character names on the sets?
Yes, all of us! Even amongst us, we were not calling Vidya (Balan) by her name, we were calling her Begum Jaan. Nobody called me Gauhar on the sets. Everyone was calling me Rubina.
Is this the first time you are playing a sex worker?
No, I have played a sex worker in Ishaqzaade but that was a very different role.
How was the experience of playing Rubina in Begum Jaan?
Playing a sex worker in a brothel during the times of partition was an experience of a lifetime. For me, being Rubina was more important. I didn’t want to be what people think prostitutes could be like— their body language or the way they stand or how you’d expect a quintessential sex worker to be. I didn’t want to go by those norms. I tried to be Rubina given what her back story was, her equation with Begum Jaan, with Sujit, the pimp of the house. As an actor I didn’t play Rubina, I lived her.
How was Vidya Balan as a co-star?
She is a co-actor I’d say and the credit goes to her. When you hear the term co-star, you kind of think that you are working with a superstar who needs to have an entourage of people, she needs to be like not talking to people. Vidya Balan was everything the exact opposite! She was loving and was a friend on the sets. Her humour is fantastic! But when she needed to be serious as an actor and be in the element then I would get inspired by the way she approached a scene or the way she emoted or the lines that she delivered. As a co-actor. I was just in awe of her! But I am amazed by the human being that she is. She is fantastic both as an actress and as a person.
There are so many characters in the film, so many female characters to be precise and you are just one of them. Don’t you think it’s a bit difficult to leave a mark?
I don’t think so. I always strive to leave a mark no matter how big the setting is. My first film was an ensemble cast. It was with Ranbir Kapoor, the superstar, with Yash Raj Films. When Javed Akhtar Saab meets me even today and praises the character of a receptionist, which I essayed, for me, that is an achievement. I believe even a single line can be enough for an actor to leave a mark and if you cannot act then you will not be able to leave an impact despite doing an entire film.
How special is Begum Jaan to you?
This is my most special film. Firstly because for an actor who has no backing in the industry or someone who just came out of nowhere and slowly making her way up the ladder, for me to be approached by a director of the calibre of Srijit Mukherji through Vidya, because she was the one who messaged me about it, that in itself for me feels like wow! I feel probably I am on the right path, people of Srijit Mukherji’s calibre are seeing my work and they are writing roles with me on their mind! I am working with great people like Srijit Mukherji, Vidya Balan and a great ensemble of amazing actors. Also, I have never worked with Vishesh films before. I am humbled, proud and grateful for having this opportunity. No one has believed in me so much and gave me such a meaty role, where I could prove myself in many ways. I hope I make the most of this opportunity. Begum Jaan is a film I was waiting for since a very long time and it has finally happened!