Meet Kumra, the fierce army of­fi­cer

Aa­hana Kumra, who plays the lead­ing role in the Net­flix show, re­veals her strug­gles

Gulf News - - FRONT PAGE - By Man­jusha Rad­hakr­ish­nan Chief Re­porter

Ac­tress takes on the role of life­time in Shah Rukh Khan’s Net­flix show Be­taal

In­dian ac­tress Aa­hana Kumra, who plays a dis­fig­ured army of­fi­cer in the ac­tion-zom­bie hor­ror se­ries Be­taal — pre­mier­ing on Net­flix to­day — is no stranger to re­jec­tion.

But the string of bru­tal put-downs didn’t break her spirit as she learnt the art of ‘suck­ing it up’.

“I was of­ten told that I looked like a vamp and not that pretty, sweet

bahu­rani [house­wife]. The cast­ing di­rec­tors don’t mince their words and you end up feel­ing like an ab­so­lute [ex­ple­tive]. They make you think that you should have gone into bank­ing or some­thing… I didn’t fit into that quin­tes­sen­tial pretty hero­ine char­ac­ter,” said Kumra in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with tabloid ahead of her web se­ries pre­miere.

But be­ing dis­cov­ered by Anurag Kashyap for his tele­vi­sion show Yudh, which starred Amitabh Bachchan, and the fes­ti­val-friendly thriller The

Blue­berry Hunt, fea­tur­ing vet­eran ac­tor Naseerud­din Shah, put her ca­reer strug­gle into per­spec­tive. All theswift re­jec­tions and harsh words about her act­ing be­ing ‘too real’ and not hammy enough didn’t break the Luc­know-born in­dus­try out­sider.

“I got to work with le­gends early on in my ca­reer and see­ing these two gentle­men work so hard at their age re­minded me that I can def­i­nitely suck it up and work hard too,” she said.

An­other pop cul­ture icon that made her sur­vive the bru­tal Bol­ly­wood in­dus­try was Shah Rukh Khan,

Be­taal’s co-pro­ducer.

“He came out of nowhere and he showed us that if he can do it and make it so big, then we can do it too… My 90s were filled with his films. When I went to Lon­don, I was hop­ing that I would run into my Raj [Khan’s hit char­ac­ter in the sem­i­nal ro­mance

Dil­wale Dul­haniya Le Jayenge] too,” said Kumra.

She re­mem­bers sprint­ing to­wards the stu­dios where Khan was watch­ing snip­pets of Be­taal on her day-off from shoot­ing, just to get an in­tro­duc­tion to the su­per­star.

Like any good ac­tor worth their salt, Kumra au­di­tioned for the role and beat hun­dreds of hope­fuls to nab the role of Ah­luwalia, a Deputy Com­man­dant at CIPD (Counter In­sur­gency Po­lice Depart­ment) Baaz Squad in the se­ries.

“We are the first ones to at­tempt a se­ries like this. There’s hor­ror, there’s zom­bies and there’s thrills.” AA­HANA KUMRA★ Ac­tress

Di­rected by Pa­trick Gra­ham and Nikhil Ma­ha­jan, the am­bi­tious hor­ror/zom­bie se­ries Be­taal, also star­ring Vi­ineet Ku­mar and Su­chi­tra Pil­lai Ma­lik, is set in a re­mote vil­lage and chron­i­cles the bat­tle be­tween In­dia Com­pany Colonel, in­fected with the Be­taal’s curse, and his bat­tal­ion of blood­thirsty zom­bie red­coats who are at­tack­ing hu­mans in­dis­crim­i­nately. Kumra is on call to pro­tect the vil­lagers and dis­placed trib­als.

Parag Me­hta, who had cast her for

Lip­stick Un­der My Burqa and Rang­baaz, had alerted her about this role. “There’s al­ways one guardian an­gel who looks out for you in your life and for me that was him. I was shoot­ing all night for a se­ries when he called me to au­di­tion. I was all groggy and went, ‘Are you mad, I haven’t slept and I look like a zom­bie’. And he said, ‘That’s per­fect’,” said Kumra.

Her au­di­tion for Be­taal didn’t re­quire her to put mon ake-up or have salon-per­fect hair.

Kumra’s char­ac­ter sports a prom­i­nent scar and crinkly skin on one side of her face and that was one of the most chal­leng­ing parts about her role. “As an ac­tress, we are used to be­ing fussed around to look pretty and beau­ti­ful. You are al­ways wor­ried about your hair. But in this case, I was pet­ri­fied that ‘Boss, my pros­thetic mask shouldn’t come off’. My call time was two hours ear­lier than other ac­tors. If they were asked to come at 7am, I was asked to re­port at 5am. It was a role that was phys­i­cally and men­tally chal­leng­ing.”

Learn­ing to han­dle arms and am­mu­ni­tions and wear­ing that heavy bul­let­proof vest for this role wasn’t easy ei­ther.

Be­taal spelt a se­ries of firsts for this ac­tor. “I have never fired with a big gun be­fore and I have never crawled with it ear­lier. All the phys­i­cal hard­ships re­minded me of that sti­fling heat you feel just be­fore the mon­soon ar­rives. It’s a hor­ri­ble feel­ing. It was suf­fo­cat­ing and I couldn’t breathe… it was a role that was tax­ing men­tally and phys­i­cally.”

While the role con­sumed all her en­ergy, the daugh­ter of a po­lice of­fi­cer was aware that a high pro­file pro­duc­tion like

Be­taal with stream­ing gi­ant Net­flix and a co-pro­duc­tion of Khan’s com­pany could be a game-changer in her ca­reer.

“Be­taal is go­ing to be shown across the globe… While I have acted for 50 peo­ple [on the stage] in my ca­reer, know­ing that around 290 coun­tries will see my work fills me with great happiness. This is go­ing to a his­tor­i­cal mo­ment in my ca­reer. We are the first ones to at­tempt a se­ries like this. There’s hor­ror, there’s zom­bies and there’s thrills. As an ac­tor, I have ticked so many boxes with this se­ries.”

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Net­flix and In­sta­­hanakumra

Di­rec­tor Pa­trick Gra­ham on the set of ‘Be­taal’. Aa­hana Kumra on the set of ‘Be­taal’.

Aa­hana Kumra in ‘Be­taal’. Jit­e­dra Joshi in ‘Be­taal’. Vi­ineet Ku­mar.

Kumra with Shah Rukh Khan at the ‘Be­taal’ wrap party.

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