Actor Yami Gautam started her career as the charming Ashima Roy in Vicky Donor, impressed everyone with her performance as the visually challenged Supriya Sharma in Kaabil. And just as the audience began to typecast her as the sweet girl-next-door, she surprised everyone with her portrayal of Annu Karkare in Sarkar 3, proving her versatility. That’s not all, most recently, Yami revealed a never-seen-before side of her talent, in the latest thriller A Thursday. In Behzad Khambata’s directorial, she plays the role of playschool teacher Naina Jaiswal, who kidnaps 16 children and initiates a series of unexpected events.

In an exclusive chat, Yami Gautam spoke about playing the complex role, detaching from the characters she chooses, her journey, her husband, and director Aditya Dhar’s opinion on A Thursday, her upcoming films, and more. Excerpts:

What made you say yes to A Thursday and how are you absorbing the appreciation?

A Thursday is a story that was needed to be told. You don’t often see characters like Naina, and as an actor, I felt it was important for me to tell her story. I am glad that people are liking the film, it gives assurance that I am doing something right as an actor.

How difficult was it to understand the character?

It was intense and challenging. I do work on all my characters and each of them demands different things. Naina was difficult as I have to think like her, be in her shoes. I pictured her life, identified places that needed expression switch. I wanted the audience to follow Naina’s journey and relate to her. I did everything I could to bring out her emotions and stories.

How is the process of detaching from the character for you?

You have to detach even if it’s not easy. It was emotional to leave Naina. I was relieved to do that but a part of her is still with me. It has been an emotional journey to play her. As an actor, we cannot overdo things or get swayed by emotions. 

A Thursday is a psychological thriller on the surface but there’s more to it. It addresses something that we refuse to talk about. What do you have to say about that? 

I did A Thursday to start a conversation. It’s important to talk about it. As an actor, I felt the conversation around capital punishment for rape should begin. I hope that it will encourage and inspire millions of women out there. 

How do you look back at your journey? Was there a time when people told you that you cannot do it?

I look at my journey with a lot of content, respect, and dignity. It took 10 years to reach a point where people are appreciating and liking my work. It doesn’t happen overnight – it happens with time, resilience, patience, determination, experience, and disappointment. I come with certain middle-class values and they cannot go away. There has to be dignity in whatever I am doing. I feel happy to see my journey and the fact that the innocence has not gone anywhere. It takes a lot to achieve it. I am proud of myself. 

At this stage in your career, how important is it for you to play the lead?

Be it a lead or supportive role, what matters is the value of the role. I wish to play meaningful characters and those that create a positive impact on the audience. I want to be remembered for the substance of roles I play and not for their popularity. This is normal in the West and we should not be scared to do it. I don’t feel that I won’t get to play the lead if I’ll play a side character. The shackles are breaking and characters are standing out. I think this discussion is beyond time now. I have done Bala where I was not the lead, and Uri where I had a small part.

Each film of yours is different from one another. Is that a conscious decision? 

It is a conscious effort. The shift happened for me with Uri and Bala. It helped me to break stereotypes; the idea of the set notion that if you do a certain kind of film then you are successful. It changed the game for me. The writing was so strong that my character became important. The directors didn’t go by my looks and believed in me. At this point in my career, I want to do diverse and layered characters. I am not going after volume but quality. I have to consistently give my best. 

Actors need to look a certain way, be for a certain size, age, colour. I know you’ve been through that. What do you have to say about it?

Everything brings its own set of challenges. Ageing is something one has no control over, naturally. During the initial phase of my career, some people told me to look younger, to dress my age, and that confused me; I was judged based on appearance rather than my talent. That time I just walked out quietly but right now; I openly talk about these things. I choose to be comfortable in my skin and encourage others to do the same. It’s 2022 and some filmmakers believe in strong characters.

Coming back to A Thursday, Aditya has a hilarious take on it. He recently posted that he is scared to share his home with you. Did I want to know how are you both as a team? Do you guys give each other feedback or discuss things related to work?

I have worked with Aditya as an actor, have seen his work and I know him as a person. I love his perspective, his idea, his passion for films. No matter how tired we are, we end our day with a film. He feels inspired when he watches something good and he loves sharing ideas and stories. I have evolved as a person, as an actor because of him. We discuss and we love doing that. We support each other and that keeps me motivated. 

Any BTS moments in the film that are special? 

It was fun shooting with so many kids. I used to do this fake makeup on this little girl and she would ask for eye-shadow, blush. I used to listen to their stories and play with them. Even if I was tired on the sets, these kids gave me so much energy. Working with Dimple Kapadia, Neha Dhupia, Atul Kulkarni has been an experience. We modified the script for Neha, as she was pregnant during the shoot. 

Do you remember your first day in Mumbai?

At first, Mumbai seemed intimidating to me. I was fine with being independent but being away from family was tough. My journey wasn’t’ really a piece of cake. From numerous auditions to direct rejections, comments on my looks, and more, it was a journey full of learnings, perseverance, and grit. However, all these experiences have contributed to what I am today!

We’ll get to see you in OMG 2, Lost, Dasvi, Dhoom Dham… Do you think you are finally getting your dues as an actor?

I still feel that I am new in the industry, there’s so much more that I want to do. I am taking one step at a time. That mystery about an actor and the audience’s expectations is always good but it is also scary. I’ll give my best and work harder. I don’t constantly seek validation but would want to work on myself and improve with every passing day. The next step would be to give my career another curve and prove myself yet again. I like surprising myself with every film I do. 

OMG 2 talks about a subject that holds great significance in our country. As for Dasvi, I had to prepare more for my role as it was the first time, I played a Haryanvi character. I had to fine-tune my language, my body gestures, and more since the character was a bit challenging for me. Lost had my heart right from the start. As a person who studied law in her younger days with the desire to pursue it, this investigative drama was a pure delight to star in. A quest for lost values of empathy and integrity is at the heart of Lost an emotional thriller that represents a higher quest.