As an artist, Smriti Kalra has left an indelible mark in every medium she has been a part of. Smriti started her journey in the space of media and entertainment with radio, went on to play the lead in several memorable TV shows, forayed into cinema and experimented with audio fiction content as well. This year proved to be quite eventful for Smriti as she championed social causes and did things that helped her elevate her consciousness both as an artist and a human being.
In this interview, Smriti talks about ‘Kaagaz 2’, exploring the medium of cinema, being witness to the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill this year, collaborating with UNICEF, how social media can be used as a tool to champion social causes, reservations with content on streaming platforms and more.
Radio, television and audio fiction, you have explored so many different mediums over the years. You made your debut in films with ‘Cash’ in the year 2021. This year, you had a theatrical release in the form of ‘Darran Choo’. You will next be seen in ‘Kaagaz 2’, a film also featuring Anupam Kher and Darshan Kumaar in principal roles. Are you enjoying the experience of exploring cinema as a medium?
I am an explorer by nature and there is so much to explore in cinema. Because of streaming platforms, we have access to films from all across the world. Given a chance, I would love to be a part of films made in multiple languages and in different countries. That would help me understand this medium better and also enable me to grow as an actor.
For the longest time, we used to divide cinema in different categories like national cinema, regional cinema and international cinema. Do you think the lines have blurred now?
I don’t think the lines have blurred. What has happened is that there is more access to watching different kinds of cinema now. While actors from Mumbai are working in the Southern film industries and vice-versa, not many actors from India have got the opportunity to work in international cinema. Similarly, very few artists from other countries have worked in Indian films. A lot of people in India praise Iranian cinema but how many actors from our country have worked there. All of us are working hard in our own spheres and we should get opportunities from different parts of the world. There should not be any line in the first place. We still use terms like ‘south Indian actors’ and ‘north Indian actors’. All of us are just artists and art should have no boundaries.
From the beginning of your career, you have known to be very selective about the projects you take up.
In my decade-long career, I have done just six shows. I have done three films and the fourth one should come out soon. As an actor, I want to do a lot of work. However, I also want to be happy about the work I do. What I feel happy about is that all my roles have been different from one another. I feel life is like a buffet. There are so many starters, main course meals and desserts. I am giving this analogy as I love food (laughs). In this one life I have got, I want to try out a lot of things. Because of my educational profile, I am tapping into a lot of other things as well. I want to work harder and looking forward to getting greater opportunities.
‘Kaagaz 2’, your next film, has been produced by the late Satish Kaushik. You mentioned in an interview that he was a very kind person and once told you that you should never stop at 100 percent and give nothing less than 150 per cent.
I miss Satish sir a lot. A couple of days back, I was speaking to my co-actor Darshan Kumaar and he congratulated me being invited in the Parliament on the occasion of the Women Reservation Bill being passed. I told him that Satish sir would have been so happy to witness this. Now that he is not around us, I realize the kind of impact he made on my life. Satish sir served as the perfect example of what a warm and kind person is like. He was one of the kindest human beings I had come across. He was somebody who shows faith in you and encourages you. During the Covid-19 situation, he helped so many people selflessly but he never spoke about these things.
A while back, you were invited by the UNICEF as a guest to celebrate the International Girl Child Day and World Mental Health Day in Raipur. How was that experience?
I strongly feel that social media should be used to promote social causes. I used to do a live session every Sunday at 9 pm on Instagram. I started it during the Covid-19 situation. Through these live sessions, I would speak to experts from different fields. There are many people out there who need the opinion or advice of experts but cannot reach out to them for various reasons. With the experts, I would share questions sent to me by my followers. One of my friends, who works as a casting director, suffered from a stammering issue. When I spoke to a speech therapist from Africa, she shared some insights which greatly helped him.
Some of the people working with the UNICEF might have seen my live sessions and decided to invite me for this. They were celebrating Nani Johar, International Girl Child Day and World Mental Health Day in Raipur. They asked me to come and meet the girls and encourage them. When I met them, I felt so inspired. What the youth in our villages is doing, despite so many challenges and issues, is highly inspiring. They are helping their community get stronger. I am a certified clinical hypnotherapist. I realize we often fail to find people who would listen to us.
You were also invited by the government authorities to witness the passing of the women’s reservation bill in the new Parliament building.
I have always believed that women serve as the foundation of every family. For the longest time, a large number of women in our country were deprived of their rights. By passing this Reservation Bill, the government has taken another important step towards ensuring that men and women have equal rights in this world. I felt honoured to get the opportunity to witness this important and historic moment at the parliament. I am grateful to Mr. Anurag Thakur, the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs and Sports for inviting me to be a part of this event.
You have often stated that Suvreen Guggal from the TV show ‘Suvreen Guggal: Topper of the Year’ is one character that shall remain the closest to your heart.
I am quite similar to Suvreen. You put a bit of yourself in every character and a while after playing a character, you imbibe some of its qualities. Suvreen will forever be the closest to my heart because of her ideology. Like Suvreen, I never give up. She will always find a way out of every problem. I also do that in my life. Right from the time I was a child, I had this habit of questioning everything around me. Suvreen is a part of me and I gave a part of Smriti to Suvreen.
You have also stated in an interview that you like walking on the lesser trodden path.
It is something that has been consciously embedded in my mind. For the longest time in our house, we did not have a cable TV connection. We used to go to the neighbour’s house to watch television. At that time, Shefali Shah ma’am was doing a show for Zee TV. Even though I was a child and knew little about acting, I realized she was a brilliant actress. She was very different from other actresses who were working around that time. I like things that are a little offbeat. That reflects in my life choices and the work I do. After doing a project, I take a long break. From studying science to switching to arts to doing an MBA to taking up acting to studying clinical hypnotherapy, I have done a lot of different things in my life. I get a kick out of doing new things.
Do you plan to explore the streaming space next as an actor?
I was supposed to do a very interest web show but unfortunately, it got shelved because of some reason. This is one medium I have not explored as yet. My film ‘Cash’ had a direct-to-digital release but I haven’t done a full-fledged web series yet. While I want to explore this space, I don’t want to do something that makes me uncomfortable. A lot of shows made for OTT platforms feature a lot of violent and sexual content. Sometimes, the usage of foul language in a show makes sense as it works towards showcasing the milieu the show is set in. However, many a times such elements are inserted forcefully into the narrative. I would love to do a web show as long as it appeals to my sensibilities. When it comes to creativity, nothing is right or wrong. However, what is right for somebody might not be right for me.
A while back, you co-directed a short film called ‘Ambu’. You also played the titular role in the short. Do you plan to explore direction in a bigger way?
I had a great time co-directing ‘Ambu’ with Abhijit Das sir. It was a wonderful opportunity and I enjoyed every bit of it. However, there is a lot that I want to do as an actor. So, I want to focus on my acting journey at the moment. After a couple of years, I might pursue direction a little more seriously.
In the industry, actors sometimes have to wait for months or even years to get a new project. Do you suffer from stress or anxiety when there is a gap between two projects?
All of us go through such emotions. Anxiety and depression are terms that are being discussed now. Anxiety happens when our expectations do not match our reality. As we grow up, our expectations keep going higher. There are times when I really want to do a certain kind of role but I don’t get it. You have to be mature and sensible enough to understand that it is important to move forward. When anxiety happens, I try to understand what is causing it. I address the issue and work towards solving it.