INTERVIEW

Meet the actress who plays Indira Gandhi in Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Indu Sarkar’

Supriya Vinod steps into the shoes of the former prime minister yet again for Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Indu Sarkar’.

If the movie is about Indira Gandhi, is there anybody better than Supriya Vinod to play her?

Vinod has portrayed the former prime minister in the Jabbar Patel biopic Yashwantrao Chavan in 2014 and her father Ratnakar Matkari’s stage production Indira – The Play in 2015, which is set between the Emergency and her death in 1984. Vinod repeats the feat in Madhur Bhandarkar’s movie, which takes place during the Emergency and follows the journey of an idealistic poet (Kirti Kulhari). The cast of the July 21 release includes Neil Nitin Mukesh as Sanjay Gandhi and Anupam Kher and Tota Roy Chowdhury in pivotal roles. Vinod spoke to Scroll.in about the challenges in bringing a historical character to life and the differences in approaching the role on the stage and the screen.

How did you get associated with Indira Gandhi?
Ratnakar Matkari, my father, wrote a play for me around 10-12 years ago. While he was sure of my acting capacity, he didn’t know if I could look like her. He sent a couple of my photographs to the makeup artist Vikram Gaikwad, who used a wig on them and said I was perfect for the role.

While the play was looking for producers, Mr Gaikwad told Jabbar Patel that the role of Indira Gandhi in his film Yashwantrao Chavan would suit me. They were earlier looking for a North Indian actress because even though the film was in Marathi, Indira Gandhi’s dialogue was in Hindi. They eventually cast me. Because I was accepted in the role, it became easier to play the role in the play, which I have been doing for the past two years.

What is your role in ‘Indu Sarkar’?
Mr Gaikwad also suggested my name to Madhur Bhandarkar, who luckily knew about my role in the play. It is set against the backdrop of the Emergency. There are no controversial scenes. It is more or less in line with what people think of her.

Playing Indira Gandhi is an honour. However big or small the role is, you have to carry yourself properly. You have to speak the way she speaks. You have to work on everything – the body language, the facial expressions – because people have a certain image of her.

The look test for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar.
The look test for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar.

How challenging is it to play a historical figure?
You have to make people remember her. The likeness has to be there. She had a very famous walk, she used to walk very rapidly. The play takes place in her house, so it is not possible to walk around, but you have to maintain that image.

The audience only has an image of her as a politician. Very few people know about her as a person and how it reflected on her career. So there was a possibility of people denying the character. That was a balance I had to maintain.

You can put more of yourself into the role if it is an imaginary character because there isn’t a fixed boundary. In a historical character, there is not enough space for that to happen. Although you still have to find a way to relate to the person.

For instance, although my father is not as famous as Jawaharlal Nehru, he is famous. So being the daughter of a famous person, I know how it feels. Obviously, the scale is different, but it’s a link that helped while playing Indira Gandhi.

What are the differences between the stage and the screen?
It’s a difference of style. For the film, you can do more detailing. Even without lines, you can see a lot. While the play was set in one location in Indira Gandhi’s house, the film has three-dimensional sets and scenes at outdoor locations and during rallies. Naturally, that affects your performance.

Supriya Vinod in the play Indira.
Supriya Vinod in the play Indira.

What research did you undertake for the role?
I studied all her interviews and her photos. For example, the way she wears her watch constantly changes. In some photos, it is on her left hand, in others, it is on her right. Sometimes it’s inside out.

Sometimes, we cannot follow exactly what took place. Indira Gandhi’s sari was always prim and proper, but in those days they didn’t pin the pallu. If I didn’t do it, then it would fall down and would break the image of her. So you have to take the decision of what to follow and what not to follow.

There are other things we noticed – she used to blink her eyes rapidly while talking and bite her lips. Such things I could use in the film and not in the play. My voice has more of a bass tone while hers was shrill, but sometimes I think my original voice might be better suited to maintain an image of seriousness and strength.

How did playing the role affect your opinion of politics?
I had very little information about politics before I played the role. Now I have a better understanding of what’s being written about in newspapers. That has been the greatest change.

Earlier, when I was mugging up the lines for the play, I was scared if I took the name of a politician. But while rehearsing, I came to know who was who, and how their opinions were different about each other. Now if I do make a mistake, it won’t be a glaring one, because I know about politics.

Supriya Vinod in Yashwantrao Chavan (2014).
Supriya Vinod in Yashwantrao Chavan (2014).
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