It was a big break for Annapurna Soni, when she got finalised for the role of one of the pivotal characters in the Netflix original The Railway Men based on the Bhopal gas tragedy. Hailing from Madhya Pradesh, she was more than familiar with the tragedy and its impact, but working on the show helped her uncover undisclosed truths. In an exclusive Interview with Hindustan Times, she talks about the series and her journey in showbiz. Also read: The Railway Men review
On her role
Talking about her The Railway Men character, Annapurna said, “It is a very different character. My first audition was for the young girl, who is getting married. Later, I auditioned at studios and the ADs told me they were ready to finalise me with the first audition itself. Then, I got this role of Shazia. This is the most time I have given for a character. Shazia is very different from my real life personality.”
Talking about her preparation, she said that she read news items, and watched videos of research about the tragedy. The director, Shiv Rawail, and her co-star’s also helped her get into the zone.
“I can tell you about a life-changing experience during the shoot of The Railway Men. I was conscious while shooting the hospital scene with Babil Khan. I had read my lines and all but was a little conscious so I had asked director Shiv to get my close shots first. Babil agreed to give me the cue and he sat below the camera lens to give the cues. I looked in his eyes and suddenly felt lost. I could only see his one eye and it looked so huge.. .it was a different feel. After the entire take, I could not even realise what I was doing. My mind stopped working. Everyone else was applauding the take, but the joy I got in that moment… I realised ‘This is what I want and this is what brought me to acting.”
On working with Kay Kay and R Madhavan
Talking about her experience of working with stalwarts like Kay Kay and R Madhavan in The Railway Men, Annapurna said, “I was supposed to shoot right after Kay Kay’s take, and he was shooting the railway station sequence, which was taking a lot of time because it is a crowded scene. After many takes, the entire set started panicking, but he kept doing it again and again. The way he behaved with junior artists was amazing.”
She added that she is not starstruck, but she got to learn a lot about dealing with stardom working with Kay Kay and R Madhavan. “They patiently teach and guide young ones like us and are so humble with everyone around.” She also said she was happy to see Babil introduce her to his team as Shazia (her character in the show).
On her earlier work
Recalling the time she worked on Debashish Makhija’s short film Cheepatakadumpa, Annapurna said, “It was all improvisation. He gave us such freedom to explore the idea that we experimented a lot and arrived at something that turned out to be so much fun.” The short film explores female orgasms in a fun manner and is available on YouTube.
Recalling her earlier days as an aspiring actor, Annapurna said that her family, especially her elder brother, dealt with much more struggles than she did. “My father was not sure of the profession as we did not know much about acting and the industry in our town. But people around us would taunt them even when I was in NSD (National School of Drama). They told my family ‘Beti nachaniya ban gayi (Your daughter is a dancer),’ when I got work in films. My brother had a parallel struggle explaining things to my parents, dealing with people criticising me and finding ways to convince my parents.”