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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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.