You may have recognised her first in Gully Boy, or maybe even Raman Raghav 2.0, but Amruta Subhash has been ruling the acting scene in the Marathi film industry, and even theatre, for a long time. We sit down for a tête-à-tête with the actor about her onwards and upwards journey in Hindi and OTT, opening up about her mental health, and the future of storytelling 

When Amruta Subhash won the best supporting actress for her role as Ranveer Singh’s mother in Gully Boy, a Hindi-film-watching audience, including myself, noticed another character actor taking over the scene. Little did I know that this “character actor” made her debut with a National Award winning film and what was India’s Oscar entry in 2004 — a film named Shwaas. Wow.

A very grounded, chirpy voice greets me on the other side of the phone, as we start our conversation for this interview. The openness with which she delves into her story tells me this is going to be a good one. I ask her about the start of her career, intrigued to discuss all that the rest of us who are new to her talent might have missed. Subhash tells me that she comes from Marathi experimental theatre and is the daughter of actor Jyoti Subhash, who played her mother-in-law in Gully Boy.

“My mom’s brother was GP Deshpande, a very well-known playwright in Marathi who is known by theatres in other languages as well. I have been exposed to theatre since I was a child. I used to watch my mother perform, and I was very curious, that my mother is a different person at home, and she’s so different on stage. That attracted me to acting, and theatre. Satyadev Dubey was directing her first play, who I regard as my mentor. He was a unique personality. Everything I am today, I owe it to him,” she says.

Her mother, her uncle, all played a role in shaping up the actor in Subhash. But it was also a lot of literature, and her grandmother’s home that helped. “I think when you’re an artiste in any form, and you’re expressing yourself, your childhood plays a big role. As my uncle was a writer, he was a voracious reader, so he used to give me books and made me develop the habit of reading. My grandmother loved Marathi as a language, and she had founded a library in her village, so I would read the books there when I visited during my vacations. My family introduced me to good content from my childhood, and that’s helped me make good choices in my career. I’ve done smaller roles as well when the content is good, because I want to be a part of good content,” she explains.

Talking about her mother’s influence on her career, Subhash recalls how she used to see her mother preparing her roles. She would study her script at home, and rehearse it, and talk about being alone and being one with her character. “It’s something that stuck with me, and I follow it even now,” she adds. 

Subhash is married to director Sandesh Kulkarni, who also plays a pivotal role in shaping up her choices. She says the first time she met him, she knew she would marry him, and he still teases her about it. When I ask her about how her approach to a script has changed, she also credits that to him a little. “Good content finds good content,” she laughs, “and I knew we’re looking for the same things in life. When I married him, I told him good content is going to be the most passionate extramarital affair I will have.” 

But let’s talk about Gully Boy, I say. How did you land the role of Raziya? Subhash credits Gully Boy to Zoya Akhtar. “Zoya saw me in Raman Raghav, and didn’t even audition me for Gully Boy. I can’t take any credit for getting that role. The only thing I know I’m good at, is manifesting. I put it out in the universe. I wanted to work with Zoya, but didn’t know how to approach her. She gave me the script, and told me it’s my call. I’m so glad people like Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap are there. They see your work, and they call you. You don’t have to keep chasing them,” she says. 

While storytelling has broken a lot of barriers in the past few years, Subhash feels there’s a long way to go. She’s done a Marathi film that isn’t out yet, where she plays a woman who is an alcoholic, and the writer has written the character from a point of understanding where the woman comes from. Subhash recalls an interview Pooja Bhatt did ahead of Bombay Begums, where she spoke about how difficult it is for a woman to open up about her battle with alcoholism, as compared to a man. Such stories, Subhash feels, need to be told more. “I’m still glad that I am working with women like Bhatt, like Alankrita Shrivastava, who have started breaking those barriers. For example, Ratna Pathak Shah in Lipstick Under My Burkha. That could be anyone. There are certain things we’ve been brought up with that we’re not aware of, but seeing it on screen liberates us. It’s amazing how these film-makers are making these stories, and liberating so many,” she says.

Taking up her cue on Akhtar, Shrivastava, and Bhatt, we discuss how women are being written now, and if the space for these characters is increasing, and the opportunities to write them are being created too. Subhash wholeheartedly agrees, and brings up the most powerful line Raziya says about female pleasure in Gully Boy, where she had the guts to ask her husband if he ever bothered to learn how to touch her. “When I read that line, I was taken aback. It is such a powerful line, even for a woman like me who considers myself a modern woman. Earlier, content was the king, but now it’s queen too. It’s a powerful time to be in,” she says.

As an actor in two different industries, what are the main differences she’s noticed in the way the Marathi film industry works. “Budget is a big difference, but other than that, cinema has its own language. There’s good cinema and bad cinema. I don’t believe in any other barriers. You’ve asked me about Marathi and Hindi industries, but I want to work in the Malayalam film industry. I want to work with the director of The Great Indian Kitchen, I want to work with Fahadh Faasil. I’ve started learning Malayalam for the same,” she eagerly tells me.

Subhash was a part of Bombay Begums, a show with many facets, one being a take on the #MeToo movement, and the conversation around consent. Subhash says that the best part about the movement on the show was how Fatima (Shahana Goswami) comes around and supports the victim. “When MeToo was happening, there were times we didn’t know the truth, but changing sides when faced with facts is important. I think the way Fatima realises and apologises for not believing Aisha was a powerful side to show, to understand that women need to believe women, and that you shouldn’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong,” she says, and I agree.

Subhash is one of the few people who has been very candid and open about her mental health, and about being in psychotherapy for her. In fact, when we delve into mental health in this conversation, I almost wish that everyone could talk about it as casually as Subhash does, almost making therapy sound as normal as going to a GP for a headache. Does she feel we talk about mental health enough? 

“I’m very fortunate to have a partner who understands the need of therapy, and goes to therapy himself. We need to talk about mental health a lot more, especially as I feel so disturbed when I see people struggling with depression, and then they’re told it’s just a phase, and then there are situations leading to suicide. It’s so heartbreaking to see people fight these battles on their own. We should reap the benefits of science, and the resources that are available to us that weren’t available before. There are so many techniques in therapy now that are beneficial, and it’s important to keep checking in with yourself.

“When I started going for therapy, people around me thought something was wrong with me. And my response was someone who is going for therapy is already feeling vulnerable, don’t make them feel worse. You wouldn’t say that to someone going to the doctor for a fever, right?” she retorts.

An important conversation during the pandemic is how the country came together during the second wave, literally running itself (because someone had to). Subhash was also amplifying resources, sharing emergency requirements, and lists. “I lost some very precious people too, everyone is losing people. It’s a calamity. The second wave has been a bigger blow. I think every situation teaches us something, and this has taught us how to come together. It has also taught us to be with ourselves, to sit with ourselves, instead of just rushing through life. Covid has forced us to look at everything we have swept under the rug,” she says. 

Slices of reel life, lessons for real life. Amruta Subhash sure knows how to dish it all out.