By Mohnish Singh

Anushka Sharma encompasses everything one wants from a leading Bollywood heroine: she is beautiful, ingenuous and, most importantly, extremely talented. Ever since making her debut in Hindi cinema with the Aditya Chopra-helmed Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in 2008, Anushka has been consistently delivering blockbuster performances year after year while climbing her way to the top.

After winning accolades for Pari and Sui Dhaga, she is now looking forward to the release of her third film of the year – Zero. Directed by Aanand L Rai, the relationship drama also features Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif in lead roles. It is a very special film for Anushka for a variety of reasons. First, it marks her decade in showbiz. Second, it reunites her with Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) co-actors after a gap of six years.

As Zero races towards its theatrical release on 21st December, our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, sits down with Anushka Sharma for a freewheeling chat where the actress talks candidly about her character in the movie, what attracted her to do the part, her process of finalizing scripts, and much more.

In Zero, you play a girl with cerebral palsy, something which you have never attempted before in your career. What kind of preparations or homework you had to do to perfect your part in the much-anticipated movie?

I knew it from the very beginning that it’s going to be a difficult role for me, especially because my whole body was supposed to move involuntarily owing to cerebral palsy, something which I had to create voluntarily as an actress. So keeping my character’s physical condition in mind, memorising dialogues and focusing on emotions at the same time was definitely difficult to do. Initially, it was strenuous. I would ask for more takes, go to monitor after every shot and see if it was perfect. If it’s not, then redo it. It was definitely a challenging part to play. I studied about cerebral palsy for three months, spent time with an occupational therapist and audiologist who helped me understand a lot about the condition and how it limits a person’s life.

Anushka plays a character with Cerebral Palsy in Zero

What drew you towards this character?

The character I play, Aafia, is highly intelligent. She is very brilliant. She has achieved a lot professionally. Nothing in life can take away her spirit from her. She has overcome all obstacles in her life. That’s her beauty. So, depicting her beauty, her confidence and her spirit on screen was very important. As an actor, you always look for challenging roles. I am happy that I keep getting such opportunities one after another.

India as a society is not very kind towards differently abled people. Do you agree?

I totally agree with you. As I told you that I met a lot of people to prepare for my role in the film. It was then I got to know what sort of problems they face in everyday life. They don’t have reserved parking lots. There is no proper facility of ramps for them. So, for an independent differently abled person, who wants to go out and work, it’s difficult to function in day-to-day life. In other countries, you find these basic facilities, but back home, these facilities are not available everywhere.

What was your first reaction when director Aanand L Rai approached you to play Aafia in the film?

I knew it would be a challenging role to play and perhaps that was one of the reasons I took up the part. As an actor, I have always strived for challenging roles, roles that detach myself from me and put me in somebody else’s shoes. Why go far? Look at the three films which I did this year – Pari, Sui Dhaaga and now Zero. In Pari, I wasn’t even a human (laughs). In Sui Dhaaga, I played Mamta, a character completely different from who I am as a person. And now, I play a character with cerebral palsy. I received a lot of adulation for my performances in Pari and Sui Dhaaga. I believe that directors who approach me know well that I can play challenging parts. I think Aanand sir approached me for the same reason. Having said that, I completely followed his vision while playing Aafia in the movie.

Anushka with the team of Zero

When did you feel Zero in your real life?

I want to feel that way every day in my life, because that is where everything originates from and ends with. It sounds very philosophical, but that is the reality of life. If you are in a zero, you are at peace with yourself. It’s always important to feel that way.

You have always awed critics and your fans with your selection of films. How do you pick up scripts? Is there any person you discuss your scripts with before agreeing to do it?

I take help from my brother who has a lot of knowledge about films. He knew a lot about movies even before he ventured into film production and became a producer. Whenever I discuss any script with him, he gives a very confident and sure reply. I have many friends in the industry, but I don’t seek their help while finalizing any movie. I also depend a lot on my gut feeling. I have said yes to many films instinctively. Maybe because of that I have done some roles which were never attempted before. But it is always nice to discuss with my brother.

From Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra to Rajkumar Hirani and Aanand L Rai, you have worked with some of the most accomplished directors of Hindi cinema. Who is next on your wish list?

I have never planned things in life; I’ll be very honest with you. Before the release of Band Bajaa Baaraat (2010), I had made a list of directors I wanted to work with. Almost 10-12 directors were on the list. And I believe I have worked with all the directors who were on top in my list. It’s a great thing. I think I am one of few actors in my age bracket who have worked with all the top directors of the industry. I think it’s my biggest accomplishment. At times people ask why not you have done any film with this and that actor. For me, working with good directors is most important, because ultimately it’s a director’s medium. Besides that, I have also worked with some amazing writers. I feel very happy about it. Story and the director helming it are of the utmost importance for me and I’ll follow the same process in future as well.

What is next on the production front? Is your production house is going to announce a new film soon?

At present, we are working on a web-series for Amazon Prime. We are also in talks with Netflix for a film. I feel extremely proud to say this that as an independent production house, we have carved our niche in such a short time. People talk about us and our production house even if I am not associated with any project it produces. They look at us as a viable production house that can create and generate new content. We always try to come up with unique stories.

Anushka produced and starred in the well-received Phillauri

When Shah Rukh Khan’s name is attached with a film, the audience starts expecting a lot from it in terms of box-office performance. Do you ever feel the pressure of box-office figures?

Zero is Anushka’s fourth film with Shah Rukh Khan

I don’t understand a bit of it, frankly speaking. I think a film is a film. It can go on to even earn ₹ 2000 crores, then why should we focus on just ₹ 100 crores or ₹ 200 crores? Suppose a film does a business of only ₹ 200 crores, but it was made to rake in around ₹ 800 crores. What can you do then? A film should appeal to the audience. People should discuss it and talk about it with their friends and family. That is more important. The best example is Badhaai Ho (2018). It’s still running in cinemas, thanks to excellent word-of-mouth. If a film has a good story, it will definitely appeal to Indian audiences.