Exclusive: "I Like The Fact That I Am An Outsider," – Amyra Dastur

Jahnavi Patel , 19 Jan 2019

Amyra Dastur comes from a family where her father, Gulraz Dastur is a doctor, her mother, Delna Dastur is into landscaping and her brother, Jehangir Dastur is a chef. But Amyra always knew she wanted to be in the entertainment industry. She grew up watching a lot of movies. In fact, when her mom would plomp her in front of the TV, was the only time she was quiet. “I grew up watching certain stars like Meryl Streep and Amitabh Bachchan ji,” she shares. Movies kind of started growing her in and today, she is an actress. From talking about the ‘tough’ phase before her debut film to being content with how her career is shaping up, Amyra gets candid in this interview with us.

Below are the excerpts:

How did your parents react when you told them about wanting to be a part of the entertainment industry?
I think they kind of knew because I had done so many drama workshops. I would come to my mom every month with some flyer I would find and I went for Raell Padamsee’s workshop when I found out she was doing one. Then I would participate in every school play. So I think somewhere down the line, they knew I am definitely going to try something in this field. I think when I was 16 and I managed to save up enough money through my entire life, I told my mom I can afford to shoot for my first portfolio. I looked for the photographer, stylist, and everything. I had a couple of friends who were models and I asked them how could I get into it. Basically, I think they were so supportive of it because I had just walked in and said I want to become an actress. This is something I have been doing ever since I was born. When I got my stuff together and I told my mom that I would try it and I got selected by an agency, luckily, they were just relieved they didn’t have to do anything. I had done as much research as possible because I knew this is not something my parents would be into. So to convince them, I knew I would have to show them that I’m serious. It’s not a field that everyone just ventures into.
How was the phase before you made your debut with Issaq like?
That actually was a very tough phase for me. I shot the film when I was 18 and it came out when I was 20. We finished shooting it in a span of 4 months. The waiting period killed me. Because I remember I was under contract and I was not allowed to go in for any other film meetings or auditions. And a couple of really nice films had come to me at that time. It was really sad because I didn’t know what to do. At the point, I felt like my entire life had come to a standstill, even though I was so young. But then the film came out. It didn’t do well but I received a lot of critical appreciation and that made up for everything. The minute I got that sort of praise I was just, like okay. Even my parents saw the film and they said the film sucks! My dad said I am so proud of you. And I think they were just relieved again. Everybody was waiting to see, especially my family, ‘Can she do this?’. Coming from South Bombay and my Hind being the Parsi Hindi that it was, and then having to play a Banarasi girl and all of that stuff. This for me was the make or break. Because at the end of the day if it didn’t work, I would probably be going to university and studying medicine and venturing into that the same way my father did.

Are your parents honest with their feedback about your work?
Not my mother, my father is. For my mother, it is ‘bohot accha beti’. My father will tell me the truth. I love him for that. My mother is so entertaining, imaginative and loud. And my father is just logical and smart. He’s my reality in a way and she’s like my fantasy. She helps me to imagine and he keeps me down to earth.
Are you content with the way your career is shaping up?
I am very content. I am very happy, especially now. I feel 2018 has been my best year so far. I still don’t feel like I am in the industry to be completely honest. I don’t think I ever will because of the way I have been brought up and the friends I have been around. Honestly, I’m a very socially awkward person. There’s something about the fact that I don’t want to be in the industry in that social way. I feel like I have this advantage. I don’t know how to explain it, I hope it doesn’t come out badly. I say the wrong thing at the worst time. Even while shooting with Prabhudheva for the Tamil film, I called him sir and everybody said ‘no, no you don’t call him sir, you call him master’. These are the kinds of things I just find very funny. I just feel like we are all people. that’s what I like see in it as that we are just people doing a particular job that we all like to do rather than someone being put up on a pedestal. I like the fact that I am an outsider and I think I’ll always keep myself like that.
But why?
This is not a world I see myself really living in. I love working in it, I love being on set. My life is on set. The minute I have to start doing promotions or go out and talk in front of people, that’s when I want to cry because I get very scared. I have said the stupidest things at the stupidest times.
Have you regretted it then?
That’s the thing I don’t regret it, people make me regret it. I am happy saying it. It’s the truth. Other people don’t like it so I get into trouble.

You worked with Rishi Kapoor in Rajma Chawal. Would you like to share some anecdote about working with Rishi ji?
I really enjoyed spending time with him and chilling with him on set because he’s someone who is very real. We don’t have that in this industry because everyone tries to be diplomatic. Even I am guilty of it because you are always caught in a situation where you might offend someone. He doesn’t care and I love that. I love the way he talks. I love the fact that he’s so bindaas and so unfiltered. And he doesn’t care about what the other person is going to think of. Whatever he says he’s not doing it to be harmful. He’s outright, unfiltered and very loud spoken and that’s just how he is. So either you take it or you leave it and that’s up to you. And honestly, if you don’t like him he won’t even be offended. So for me to see people like that in this industry, I love it.
You have been in this industry for a while now, is it a safe place to be in?
I don’t know to answer that question in a way because at the end of the day you can’t say yes, you can’t say no. Especially stories from the #MeToo movement that have come out and especially some of the things I have dealt with, but I guess you can say it’s safe for some and not so much for others. You also have to make it safe for yourself as it can be. I have been sickened by some of the experiences some of the women have faced. I don’t think there’s anything you can to do to save yourself from that. Now, actions have consequences and I feel like if it wasn’t as safe as it was before at least things have been put into place to make it safe now. And I really hope that it stands and it stays safe. Even with the South when I was shooting you can see people are a little…not just there. People have become a little more cautious and that itself is a huge step. Because trust me, when I say there was not even one thought of hesitation when a man spoke to a woman in a certain way in some of the things he would say. Now you can see the men actually thinking ‘Can I say this, should I say this?’ In our industry, that’s a huge thing.

It was very brave of you to open up and speak about facing harassment. Did you ever feel the hesitation?
This is why I didn’t want to name the people. Honesty, I know exactly where I stand and I know who those people are. They have that kind of power and money to easily be able to run me down if they want to. So my entire goal was not to go out there and naming people. But just yes, it has happened to me as well and that itself was to encourage other women to just stand up, even if they don’t want to name the people. And I got a lot of flak for it because I didn’t name anyone. And it’s okay. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to be as truthful as I possibly could, without harming myself, without harming my career and saying ‘yes, this is there, it’s not being made up or not unheard of’. Luckily my experiences have not been as bad as the others. It’s an experience in itself. So you have to be able to stand up at some point and say it has happened to me and there are going to be people who are going to try to shut you down. Harassment is there, it’s always been there and at least now women can, not just talk about it openly but stop it.

You mentioned that you had done your homework before being a part of the industry. But were there times when you had to go back to your parents because of the financial crisis?
I had a slump in 2017. I did have a bad time where for the first time since I started working which was at 16, so it’s been 9 years now, first time ever I had to actually go back to my parents, especially my mother and be like ‘mom I need money’. It broke me. I was shattered. Because for me it’s the whole point of being self-sufficient and independent. I knew my parents would willingly give it to me but it felt so shitty to actually have to go up to my mom after being so independent and be like ‘mom, can you please help me out financially’. It really hurt.

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At the point did you think that if I was in some other profession, at least I would have been financially secure?
I would have, but would not have been happy. I understand that and I get it. I think especially in our profession people think we earn some mountains and mountains of money which is not true. First of all, we have to pay mountains and mountains of taxes, over and above your GST and all that’s come in. Then we have to pay PR. Then we have to pay commission to our agency. Then we have to pay our hair and makeup artists for particular events and you have to pay your stylists and all. If you want to courier stuff down from the international brands, then that’s like twenty-thirty thousand bucks for just couriering stuff.  So trust me, it’s an expensive lifestyle. Then forget the gym membership, the training, and the dance classes and Hindi classes, that’s a whole different ball game. So ya, I have bills to pay.

Tell me something about your future project.
There’s Prassthanam which also stars Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff, Manisha Koirala, Ali Fazal. Then there’s Mental Hai Kya and Made In China, both with Rajkummar Rao. I am very excited about Mental more than anything. It’s such a different thing and it’s going to be first of its kind here, it’s a psychological thriller. Everything you’re going to see from this movie you’re going to have to watch from beginning to end, very seriously. It’s a crazy ride for your mind. I am really looking forward to people seeing that. And I am excited about Made In China because it’s a comedy and it’s got Boman sir (Boman Irani) also. My family is very excited about it. For them, Made In China is like an Oscar award for me. They are like our baby is acting with apro Boman. I have made it according to them. My bua is like she’s coming in my wedding saree for the premier.

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