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“URI showcases a new dimension of me”

With her latest film Uri: The Surgical Strike in theatres now, actress Yami Gautam talks to Team Box Office India about how she got to show a different side of herself through this film, her renewed respect for the Indian Army and much more

Women don’t usually play pivotal parts in war films. How does Uri defy that?

Uri definitely changes that. In the film, I play an intelligence officer. In real life, intelligence officers play a very pivotal role in a mission or an operation. Their roles are of paramount importance. If I am playing one of such characters, the role could not be anything but substantial. 

Let us go back to the time when you first heard the script. What was your reaction then?

When I heard the subject, I thought it was very interesting. The incident was still very fresh in our minds. I told them I would love to read it because it sounded really, really interesting. When I read the script, I was really blown away. I thought, ‘This is something I have to be a part of.’

Very rarely do you get an opportunity where everything is put together, be it the script, the subject, the story, the treatment, the director’s visualizations, the technicians and the actors. Everything seemed to be in place. Most importantly, it was something that connected with me. I am hoping people will say that it is a good film. I think it is a film I am going to be really proud of. And when validation comes from the Indian Army, it matters most (Smiles).

Did that happen?

Yes!

Patriotic films run the risk of becoming propaganda films. How different is the vision with which Uri was made?

When we ask someone what their favourite patriotic films are, they name just two to three movies. We should have more patriotic films that infuse the spirit of nationalism. To those who may feel that this is a propaganda film, I have only one thing to say – to each, their own.   

Uri does not only talk about the surgical strike, but is also a tribute to the Indian Army. And I think we should not associate the Indian Army with propaganda. Governments come, governments go, governments change or may stay but the Indian Army remains at the core and heart of the nation. They do not change. They do not need any propaganda. Even if you point a finger at them, it will not matter. They will still protect you. That is how we look at Uri.

So there is no jingoism involved?

It is just a day away. Why don’t you watch it yourself (Laughs)? I am speaking from the critics’ points of view. I don’t even think the audience is looking at the film from that perspective. 

Uri is a today film. The teaser was so modern and contemporary but the essence of it was traditional. I don’t think the essence of patriotism and nationalism can be anything else but in terms of deshbhakti. So, yes, it is nowhere close to jingoism.

Since we are talking about the teasers and the trailer, what really caught the attention of people was a clip called ‘A Striking Announcement By Yami Gautam’. This was totally new. Were you also surprised when you saw that?

I was quite surprised. But I would not take credit for it. Credit goes to our marketing team. They are handling the film; it is their idea, their brainchild. Cinema is evolving, the audience is evolving. Marketing is also evolving. You cannot have the same marketing pattern for every film. It can end up being boring and repetitive or one cannot follow the same formula while promoting every film.

It can be customised.

Exactly! Rather, it should be. Uri will have a certain connect with the audience. We want as many people to watch it as is possible. But within that, we want to create something different and I think we have managed to (Chuckles). I was not aware of the term ‘surgical strike’ and what it meant. I got to know about it only after it happened and more so when I started working on this film. So I am sure that a lot of other people too must be curious. So we came up with that announcement to give them a heads-up on what it means before the film released.

What kind of homework did you have to do?

I read up on a lot of things. There are not many films that could serve as a reference point, which is also a good thing because you can create something of your own.

And set a precedent.

Yes, hopefully. It is very tempting to visualise an officer who walks and talks a certain way in order to make an impact. But that was not required in our film. We had workshops. Our director Aditya Dhar had interacted with intelligence officers. They are unpretentious people. It is hard to tell just how senior an officer is when he or she is having a cup of tea next to you. You could never tell because that is how they operate. Their identities are concealed for security reasons, for the country.

For them, it is extremely important to be as real and believable as possible. As a performer, I had to understand that point extremely well and try and make it believable. Aditya had said that unless I made my character my own and internalised it, it would look like a superficial performance. That is not how they are. They don’t project any image. It is impossible to tell who they are and how senior they are. 

It’s all concealed.

It has to be. So I made sure I really understood that part and that is where Aditya came in and helped me understand the nuances and this aspect of my character. It is extremely important to get that right because that is the core of the character.

There was a time when you were categorised as the ‘girl-next-door’. When this film came to you, at any point did you think that a role like this could help alter your perceived image?

As an actor, I actually do not want any image attached to me. But if someone does feel like that towards me, that’s okay. I give all the credit to Aditya for looking beyond the stereotypical lens and being able to visualise me as Pallavi, my character. You are right about the industry and critics stereotyping an actor. Even when you give your heart to a performance, they can refuse to look beyond the stereotype. But, as I said before, that is fine. This was an opportunity to do something very substantial and really strong, which is also relevant as well as important to the film, to the storyline. And it is even more special because I got to do this in a film like Uri.

There is nothing frivolous about it.

Absolutely! There cannot be anything frivolous about it. I have never thought, ‘Oh! I want to do this or be showcased in a certain kind of way and hence I will do some other kind of film.’ It was never like that. This film just happened and I am so glad. I don’t think I could have had a better platform to showcase this dimension of me, this side of me, to the audience.

You also have a connection to the South film industry as you have done films there.

It’s been a long time, four years, since I’ve done a South film. And I was never an established actress in the South. It wasn’t like I was a star there and then made my debut in Hindi cinema. For me, the key thing was that I should keep doing good work, keep doing work which was coming my way. I thought it would be a stepping stone from one place to another.

Even before I did my first Hindi film, Vicky Donor, I had done films in so many regional languages, including Malayalam. And I did another right after Vicky Donor, that’s about it. I did this simply because I knew one film would lead me to another. And I wanted to keep working, keep grooming myself to be better. That’s how I wanted to go about it since I was making it on my own.

With so many actors stepping into the digital space, are you also tempted to explore that platform?

If there is something very compelling, if I feel that something has blown me away, I would definitely consider it. It could be anything… a script, or a role, or a director I want to work with. But it would have to be compelling.

Since you said you have showcased a new dimension of yourself in this film, are you nervous about the release?

Yes, I do have butterflies in my stomach. But they are happy butterflies. I am really happy right now. First, when we had the special screenings for the army in Delhi and in Mumbai, they were very happy. When they come up to you, when they congratulate you, they shake your hand and say you are so believable in your character, that they loved the film, it means the world to you. Of course, now it is over to the audience because they are extremely important as well. But to get validation from the army, because Uri is about the Indian Army, it means a lot.

As I said, there are very few patriotic films that are made in our country. I would want the audience to reconnect with the army, with what they do for us, their selfless work. I especially want the current generation to take note of it and recognise the true heroes of our country.

I am also saying this because thanks to Uri, I got to meet some very senior army personnel whose stories gave me goosebumps. I don’t have the right words to describe that feeling. It is hard to imagine that someone has gone through this and they are saying it with pride. They are saying you can do it, it is just about determination and the stand you take. How they surrender themselves to their nation, their battalion, their unit, it is commendable. They really are men of honour. I want the audience to take that back. This new, digital generation should know what our film is about… a new Bharat, yeh ghar mein ghusse ga bhi aur maarega bhi.

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