Neeraj Kabi is one of those few actors who own the OTT space. His latest film, ‘Sherni’, promises to be yet another thrilling adventure. Did you know that the actor jumped on the opportunity to do the film as soon as he got to know that Vidya was in the leading? Interestingly, the film’s director, Amit Masurkar had attended Neeraj’s acting workshop, only to later cast him in ‘Sherni’. As the film releases today, the actor, in an exclusive interaction with ETimes, shares the experience of shooting for ‘Sherni’, working with Vidya Balan, and much more. Excerpts:
Since ‘Sherni’ is largely based in a jungle and was shot during the pandemic, how difficult was the experience?
There wasn’t any major challenge as such, but shooting during the pandemic was definitely there in my mind before I went on the sets, because that’s something that was of huge concern. I knew that we’d be shooting in a jungle, so, that was a safe thing. But again, to film scenes one cannot spread out in the jungle; we had to be close to each other. There were scenes where I was involved with about 20-25 people coming from the village or the staff of the security. So, I knew that there would be scenes with people around me. And I was also concerned about how would we manage to be safe despite being so close to each other.
Vidya Balan is known for her path-breaking performances. How will you describe her as an actor?
After working with Rani Mukerji, Shefali Shah, and now Vidya – I’ve felt that I worked with three of the most promising performers in the industry. Having seen Vidya in ‘Shakuntala Devi’, I was totally blown away by what she is capable of. And then I was sure that I have to work with her anyhow. And a few months later I got a call from Aman telling me that he was doing a film with Vidya and asking me if I would you like to be a part of it. In my head, it was already a yes, because Vidya brings something new to the table every time and does not repeat herself, which is the most amazing part about her. And secondly, Vidya is a very prepared actress, she does her homework. There are some actors who work, they’re called workers, and if you’re not a worker, you can’t create great scenes. And there are actors who have their own star tantrums which are disturbing. Vidya didn’t have any; she never took away or abused anybody’s time. She respected each of us, gave her best shot, and never took off for a break or juice. These are things and experiences that you bring back home from the sets about a co-actor. And I’m so happy and proud that we have an actress of this caliber and attitude in our industry.
‘Sherni’ has an undercurrent of patriarchy and sexism. What’s your take on it?
I do feel it is there everywhere and not just in the profession that we are in. It has been a gender bias issue all over the world, all over the globe for years now. It is being looked into now. A lot of changes have happened in organisations with respect to women, and it will continue to happen, but it will take time because it’s been such a long history of male dominance and sexist approach to everything. It will change, it has to change from within the family, from schools first. I think schools are the first space we have to attempt where the boys are taught at that early age about the coexistence of their lives with women and the respect and grace with which we have to coerce them. It should start from there, it cannot start when we are adults. So this is prevalent everywhere, but it is transforming now.
When the trailer of ‘Sherni’ released, a fan commented that this film should be sent to the Academy Awards…
It is still at a very raw stage for me to say anything right now. So I’m just holding my horses. I don’t want to be excited about anything at this point in time. I know that we’ve all put so much effort into this film. This has been a fruit of labour, so let’s just wait and see what comes out of it. I cannot say anything right now, whether it is Oscar-worthy or if it will win awards. We can just hope for a great reaction from the audience.
‘Sherni’ started off as a movie for theatres but is now releasing on a streaming platform. Were you disappointed?
Not at all; as an actor, I am not disappointed. Yes, you do feel for the theater owners and you do feel that it is losing out on a theatrical release where the experience is going to be something different altogether, obviously. You can’t compare a theatrical release with an OTT release, but, having said that, I’m also excited as an actor because now this will reach a much larger audience than it would have otherwise. So, in a way, I’m happy that this has happened. The shift has happened and it’s going to reach a world audience like it couldn’t have had it released in the theatres.