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Wamiqa Gabbi: ‘What I enjoy most is the time between action and cut’

Having broken through with her performance in ‘Jubilee’ earlier this year, Wamiqa Gabbi is back in the whodunit series ‘Charlie Chopra’ and the film ‘Khufiya’

Wamiqa Gabbi in 'Khufiya'
Wamiqa Gabbi in 'Khufiya'

Wamiqa Gabbi, who turns 30 next week, started her career in Punjabi comedy films. She then grabbed opportunities in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam cinema before moving to Hindi film. She had bit parts in Jab We Met (2007) and other films, mostly as the cousin or sister of the lead, finally landing a break in the 2021 crime series Grahan. She played a mute murder victim in the series Mai (2022), and was widely praised for her turn as the courtesan-turned-actress Nlioufer in the period show Jubilee (2023). She headlines Vishal Bhardwaj’s Agatha Christie adaptation Charlie Chopra (27 September, SonyLiv), has a part in Bhardwaj’s upcoming spy thriller Khufiya (5 October, Netflix), and her first commercial film, produced by Atlee and featuring Varun Dhawan, is in the works. We spoke to her about her process, overcoming insecurities and working with Bhardwaj. Edited excerpts:

Also read: Jubilee review: Sprawling, fascinating look at a bygone era of Indian film

Does 2023 feel like a breakthrough year for you?

It’s already been proven to be pivotal. I am overwhelmed. This has been a lucky year for me. I’ve been looking forward to this since Jab We Met. I thought it would be 2019, the year Midnight’s Children with Vishal Bhardwaj was meant to happen, but it did not take off. Then I thought 2020 would be that great year, but the pandemic struck. Then 2021, and 2022. I kept waiting for my work to be released. Jubilee was finalised in December 2020 but took two years to release. Grahan, my first OTT show, got me a lot of appreciation. So I no longer had any expectations and also I was too busy to think about it, but this year has been amazing. Dreams don’t get fulfilled, you just live them and right now I’m really enjoying this phase.

What did you learn from playing Niloufer in ‘Jubilee’?

When I was preparing for Niloufer, I was very under-confident. But she gave me confidence. My characters give me confidence and I bring the required confidence to the characters. Niloufer is so confident. She has no issue with her body. She knows people are mad about her manners, her grace. As I felt very under confident with my body and everything,

I followed a lesson from an acting course I did. We were told to look at ourselves in the mirror, bare body, every day and find one nice thing. I did this. I built my confidence for Niloufer, because Niloufer has no problem with herself, so my own insecurities had to go. In real life, I have those problems, but I can’t bring that baggage to my performance.

What is your process for getting into a part?

I’m still looking for my process and starting to understand it. I am not a trained actor, so I feel I need to sharpen my skills. I don’t have to learn to get into character. But I need to figure out easier ways of getting there.

One of the things I have understood about my process is that I need to read the script repeatedly. Then I try to understand and build the character’s backstory and life journey. That’s not necessarily in the script but I create it in my imagination. Like in Vo Tere Mere Ishq Ka, the opening song of Jubilee when she sings of another man, I had built the story of a lost love, a boy called Salman who broke her heart. I write these ideas down and then I run it by the director to make sure we are in alignment.

I generally feel that I’m not enough, especially in our industry where you are constantly being compared. Of course, you are always working on your acting, but it’s more about positioning or comparing OTT with cinema or people saying she’s so fat, she’s so thin. You’re never enough. Someone is always doing better. It can be very taxing.

But I love my work. I don’t like costume trials and sitting in the chair for hair and make-up. I do all that for my character and I know these things are a part of my work, but what I enjoy most is getting on set, the time between action and cut, when everyone is quiet. They all get blurred out of my sight. In that moment you are just living with the character, in that moment in her life and dealing with that situation.

Tell us about the move from Punjabi films to roles in many languages.

I got tired of the kinds of roles I was playing and the films I was doing. Some of the Punjabi films were good but the issue was that I was not enjoying my work. My acting was superficial and repetitive. Comedy is a big genre in Punjab and I couldn’t get out of that genre. I love those comedies too, but I was seeking something new when southern films came my way. So in the quest for a new challenge, I took them on and got a lot of exposure.

I enjoyed working with Selvaraghavan on Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam (2016). As a director he was clear about what he wanted me to do, so I could no longer play myself. Similarly in the next few films.

Are you looking forward to your first big commercial film?

I am really looking forward to it because in real life I am a fun, energetic person who loves movies like Hum Aapke Hain Koun? (1994), Andaz Apna Apna (1994) and Jawan (2023). I want to do a good commercial film which is not illogical and fun to watch. I’m so glad the producers trusted me with this because, for commercial films, they usually look for established big names or star kids.

‘Khufiya’ will be your fourth collaboration with Vishal Bhardwaj after ‘Modern Love Mumbai’ (2022), ‘Fursat’ (2023) and ‘Charlie Chopra’. What has that been like?

Vishal Bhardwaj is one of those directors with whom you just want to work, no matter the size of the role. I am not a formally trained actor, but my maximum schooling has been while working with him. He’s a beautiful mixture of art and commercial cinema. He has those Dhan Te Nan or Darling moments but his cinema is also artistic. That is the kind of balance I want. He’s that friend whose good habits I have observed and adapted to my life too, such as listening to Osho, which has helped me calm down and become more accepting.

Modern Love Mumbai was like a warm up for our collaboration. Then Khufiya happened, which was a very intense role and process. Fursat was an Apple iPhone film and completely different to Charlie Chopra. It’s pretty cool to see him working through new things. I think our artistic language is very similar so it doesn’t take long for us to understand each other.

Also read: Hasan Minhaj: The comedian who cried wolf

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