MORE than being a major movie star, Yami Gautam is a talented actress able to take on any role and she showed that versatility in 2019 with contrasting roles in two Bollywood blockbusters.

Her winning turns in Uri: The Surgical Strike and Bala are the latest chapters in an incredible journey for the naturally gifted performer. Although she sees that remarkable journey as a rollercoaster of highs and lows, the award-winning star has learned a lot along the way and risen to the top on her own steam.

She looks back with positivity and gratitude, and forward to taking on more challenges with happiness in her heart.

Eastern Eye caught up with Bollywood’s secret weapon Yami Gautam to talk about her amazing rise, hopes and more.

Have you consciously mixed up languages and genres?
My first film was in Kannada and came to me when I just wanted to do good work regardless of mediums or language. I knew the key was to work because I didn’t come here with any plan. I was just going with the flow and wanted to watch myself on the big screen, which for me was extremely thrilling. When it’s good work, language and medium don’t really matter. So, I started with TV, moved on to commercials and then I did films in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. I didn’t shy away from taking up work because it was in a language different from the one I’m comfortable in.

You worked hard and showed versatility. Today, you are continuing that by
tackling different genres…
It is extremely important to show versatility and evolve with time. As an actor, I wouldn’t like to be stereotyped or stuck in a zone or genre. That’s why I started (in
Bollywood) with a film like Vicky Donor, which was unconventional at that time. It was talking about a concept that was seldom spoken about. Since then, I have been part of contrasting films such as Badlapur, Kaabil, Uri: The Surgical Strike and Bala. I have always believed in trying to be versatile and have looked for these opportunities. You don’t always get them and have to be patient.

Is finding great roles a big challenge?
Of course, it’s a huge challenge looking for great roles. I think not just for me, but any actress. Today, conversations have begun at a prominent level and roles are being written for actresses, which are strong voices and significant to the story. I am just happy when a great role goes to somebody even if it doesn’t come to me because it means we’re heading in the right direction. It’s important for these films to do well financially because that gives producers and writers the confidence to invest in more such films.

Is any one role closest to your heart?
Playing Ashima in Vicky Donor will always remain special because that was my first (Bollywood) film and led to where I am today. Not many newcomers get to play a performance-oriented part like that. I thought it was contemporary and strong, so for me, Ashima will remain very close. Uri: The Surgical Strike will also be close to my heart because Aditya Dhar felt I could play someone as tough as an agent. The role was not about action, but about the attitude and body language. For example, the interrogation scene didn’t have to be loud, but there was a lot of intensity in it. I’m so happy I was given Pari in Bala – no one had seen me do comedy and didn’t know if I could actually play this part, so am glad that it came my way.

You must be overjoyed with both your 2019 films being blockbusters?
The year 2019 has been the turning point of my life, not just as an actor, but also box office wise. Both films did well. You want to be part of films which are not just huge successes, but also have a strong message. Uri: The Surgical Strike was a blockbuster financially, but dedicated to the Indian army; it’s a sentiment that is above all of us. So, when respect gets attached to fame and success, it means more than just numbers. Bala was also an important topic that did well and gave me an opportunity to play a comic part no one thought I could pull off. The year 2019 was not only successful but also gave me an opportunity to work with two amazing directors and teams.

How much does it mean to you when a film like Uri: The Surgical Strike exceeds all expectations?
With Uri, we knew that we were on to something special. I remember the first time I met Aditya Dhar, the writer-director of Uri. He was so focused, confident and sure of what he was doing. He created the right tone and atmosphere on set. So, we all knew that he is going to make a really good film and every team member believed in it. We all gave the film our heart, soul, sweat and blood because it was being made with such righteousness. Box office wise, the way it performed was a huge surprise. We were confident about the film, but the way audiences embraced it was special. I’ve never experienced that kind of sentiment before.

You do comedy and emotional drama equally well, but what do you prefer?
I enjoy doing both as an actor. An intense scene has its own impact, but comedy and making people laugh is not easy. To entertain people is challenging, so I enjoy both. But if I have to pick, I’d say comedy because obviously when you do a dramatic scene it leaves you with a certain kind of emotion. Maybe you have gone back to a personal memory to attempt the scene. But comedy is enjoyable as it’s happy and fun.

How are you choosing your projects?
Things have really changed in my parameters of choosing films. I am exploring new genres, meeting new directors and reading scripts. I am looking for something different, challenging and new – something that connects me with the audience. If I feel it is interesting – whatever genre – I would attempt it. People should be entertained. The success of Uri shows audiences want you to come up with different subjects.

Tell us something about your next film Ginny Weds Sunny?
We have already shot for it, and it’s opposite Vikrant Massey. It is set in Delhi and it’s a take on new age romance. The story is about a girl called Ginny and her mother, who’s a matchmaker. But ironically, she cannot find a groom for her own daughter and Vikrant who plays Sunny is way different from Ginny. She’s too cool for him. It’s about how, and if, they fall in love. It has fun songs that I have attempted for the first time.

What is the acting master plan and is working in the west part of that?
No, there’s no master plan, Asjad. I have always believed in doing good work and that is what will take you forward. Of course, I would love to work in the west and feel creativity has no barriers. The world has become a global village. I would love to explore opportunities in the west.

What films do you enjoy watching?
I love watching every kind of film from comedy to horror and thrillers. I especially like Chinese Kung Fu films and anything with slick action. I am a movie buff.

Who is your own cinema hero?
Meryl Streep. She has set an admirable example for herself and millions of girls globally. She is a great actor, and the way she carries herself is commendable. She believes in her craft. When you are so confident about your work, you don’t have to bother about anything else. She is a classic example of that and I love that about her.

What are your passions away from work?
A passion I discovered recently would be farming. A few years ago, I bought agricultural land in Himachal Pradesh, where we grow fruits and vegetables without any chemicals. Acting is a part of me, but not my entire life. You need people around who can fill you with positivity. It’s not just therapeutic, but also beautiful. We talk about climate change and this is something I am doing to tackle it.

Did you make any new year’s resolutions?
I am not a resolution kind of a person, but this year I promised myself to focus on my health. The previous year was outstanding, but health wise it took a toll because I had dengue and still had to work. I had barely any time to recover. I was still unwell when I started working on Ginny Weds Sunny.

Do you have any dream role?
One dream is to play a warrior princess in a costume drama.

If you could master something new what would it be?
I went to the Maldives and had a great time in the waters, but diving is something I haven’t explored and would like to take it up this year.

What is the best advice you ever got?
It would be from my parents a long time ago, which was, ‘listen to everybody, but do what your own gut tells you.’

What inspires you?
When you are working in this industry, over a period of time, it becomes really important to stay inspired, excited and enthusiastic every day. You should never enter a zone where you feel it is just another day at work; it is important to feel that every day has something new for you. Whenever you feel tired and bogged down there are so many examples around you like Mr Bachchan, who has evolved over and over again with new generations. It requires another level of zeal and that inspires me. That’s what life is; it should never tire or bore you. Even if I am just sitting, not doing anything, I should be happy about it. The idea is to stay inspired to create something new and feel good that you did something relevant with the opportunity you got.

Why do you love cinema?
Coming to Mumbai was never a plan. I was extremely studious, really driven towards academics and wanted to become an IAS officer, but deep down not a lot of people knew I was this closet dancer or actor. I loved the moment the first time I gave an audition. There were so many times when I felt bogged down with rejections. I still gave it another shot and tried harder. It’s not possible if you don’t have the love for the craft, and that is what drove me, and helped me sail through both good and bad experiences. I love doing what I do.