In a chat with ETimes over a video call, the actresses get honest about why they signed on for the film, how they hope to change the ‘no means yes’ narrative and the stalker culture in Bollywood and even weigh in on how men in power have monopolised institutions that have women facing the brunt. Dia also shares how she hopes this Amazon miniTV short will empower young people, including her own kids, to set boundaries and provide them with tools to tackle unpleasant situations.
Tell us a little about your characters and what made you sign on for this project.
Shreya: I don’t know how much of the story we can give away, because it is a very delicate sort of subject. It is about the lines people sometimes cross without even realising it. It speaks about the necessity of having a boundary and being comfortable in your own space and what to do if there is a violation of that space. The lovely Dia Mirza plays a therapist that my character goes to when a certain violation happens with boundaries, spaces and consent and how they navigate the situation together.
Dia: Consent is honestly something that we as a society haven’t fully understood. Take a look at the news and you’ll see the kind of things that happen around us. Consent is something we have just not understood. We have this big debate going on right now about marital rape, so I think that consent is something we should all learn about and understand better. The most exciting part about being a part of this story was that this was an opportunity to educate people and help them learn and understand something so sensitive and simple. And as Shreya said, it has been handled very delicately, and intelligently, and it is something that will speak to a lot of people. I hope it is watched widely because it will help a lot of men and women navigate their relationships more responsibly.
Every single woman would relate to this story, because every single one of us has been through something like this at some level or the other. That’s what sets this apart from the other films.
You both play these emotionally heavy roles, how did you both prep for the part?
Shreya: I don’t think the word ‘victim’ is right here. People need help because we don’t know how to navigate situations in our lives, like when we are overloaded mentally, and emotionally. I think mental health has also not been given as much of a spotlight in our country. As much as the topic has been discussed over the past years, it is not where it should be. Gray tackles a subject that is so lovely as consent is something that we have not talked about, sex education is something that doesn’t exist, and there are so many things that aren’t even discussed. When they aren’t discussed, how do you realise that something has gone wrong? And, if something has gone wrong, how do you talk about it? Do you have the tools that will help you deal with something like that? There are so many things that we don’t talk about, so navigating that system becomes something entirely different. I wouldn’t use the term ‘victim’, and wouldn’t necessarily say that there was some sort of prep involved apart from the unfortunate fact that all of us have gone through something that we still don’t know how to deal with.
Dia: I think that is a very pertinent point that Shreya has made. One of the first reactions I had, when I read the script, was the fact that every single woman would relate to this story. Because every single one of us has been through something like this at some level or the other. That’s what sets this apart from the other films. As far as the prep to play a therapist is concerned, it is only to come to the sessions with empathy, be receptive and truly listen to what the person in front of you is telling you.
I’ve been in therapy and I have benefitted from it. I think it is important for us to normalise the concept of seeking therapy because it is something that at some point in our life we should be comfortable doing. Another advantage of being a part of Gray is to normalise therapy. It is such an integral part of the story and it will make people comfortable about going to therapy.
Shreya: It is a heavy subject and I hope we have done that with grace.
The idea of this is to approach it with empathy and know that some people are also not taught about boundaries, asking for consent, noticing the non-verbal signs and feeble attempts to say ‘no’.
He doesn’t remember the night the way I do… was a line that stood out in the trailer. How does your show get a man to see the world through the eyes of a woman?
Shreya: I don’t think the point of our short is to get anyone to see it through the point of any particular gender. Unfortunately, what Dia said, women have been on the receiving end regardless of age, stature or cast. The idea of this is to approach it with empathy and know that some people are also not taught about boundaries, asking for consent, noticing the non-verbal signs and feeble attempts to say ‘no’. All of us don’t have the necessary tools to be able to stand up for ourselves. To say no is a very necessary skill, but I don’t think all of us have that.
Dia: Even for the individual who may be experiencing what they are. That’s what makes Gray even more unique. I think it will help people recognise that when you are in a situation yourself, why is it that you may not be able to refuse something the way you are expected to. Sometimes it can be hard to say no, how do you say it? That is an area that’s never been explored before. It is so necessary. I know if I had watched this when I was younger, it would have given me a lot of perspectives and helped me deal with a similar situation better.
Shreya: Especially when it involves someone you know, saying ‘no’ becomes harder.
I know I have played a big part in normalising this ‘stalker culture’. I think the more people get educated, and thankfully with a film like Gray, more people should get educated.
Speaking of consent, how do you think Bollywood played a role in this ‘No means yes’ narrative? And how do you as women in the industry hope to change it?
Dia: Why don’t we just flip this around and say that there was a film that came along that really helped the industry for the first time question consent. There was a very powerful line ‘No, means no’ and there were many debates that occurred at the time. I know I have played a big part in normalising this ‘stalker culture’. I think the more people get educated, and thankfully with a film like Gray, more people should get educated. We should probably change and create our narratives. Thankfully, Shreya and I aren’t a part of those stories anymore.
Shreya: I want to flip the question a lot more because I think it is unfair to put the burden of change on women when they don’t control so much. Unfortunately, in a country like ours, it has to be a trickle-down effect. Unfortunately, again, we need people in positions of power. We need male actors, people who command the big paycheque, have the power or walk into boardrooms and make stuff happen, it would be nicer if the onus of change were upon them because they are actually the movers and shakers and not the people who are on the receiving end of it.
Dia: Sakshi is only the second female director I have worked with. We need a lot more representation of our gender for things to change. And wherever that is happening, we are experiencing change.
We need male actors, people who command the big paycheque, have the power or walk into boardrooms and make stuff happen, it would be nicer if the onus of change were upon them because they are actually the movers and shakers and not the people who are on the receiving end of it.
Whether it was the Kangana Ranaut-Hrithik Roshan case or the Me Too movement in Bollywood, or even the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp case, why do you think it is so hard for women to believe women, for women to support women?
Shreya: I don’t think that is true. I think it is a narrative that is created that women are the worst enemies of women. I don’t think it is a thing about women not believing women, it is a general thing about society not believing women.
I think there is a lot of perception in terms of media and society that uses certain words when they refer to women. In headlines when there is a case of assault or rape, it is always, ‘A woman got assaulted’ and never in the active voice ‘A man raped a woman. There is a certain language and conditioning that has tipped the scales in the favour of another gender. And usually, the ones facing the brunt side of it were women.
Dia: That is again because the men have monopolised the narrative. They run most of the institutions. It just boils down to that.
There is a certain language and conditioning that has tipped the scales in the favour of another gender. And usually, the ones facing the brunt side of it were women.
Dia as a mother, what’s your message to all mothers, whether they have sons or daughters?
Dia: Now when I do work, I do it asking myself how my children are going to respond to this story? Is this something that will help them learn, understand and respond to be more empathetic? I do believe our kids will get something from this and it will empower them. I hope that I can continue to be a part of such narratives. Personally, I feel justified about going away from them, otherwise, it just hurts too much to be far away from my babies.
Shreya, how was co-starring with Dia different from working with Dulquer Salmaan, Sunny Deol in ‘Chup’ or Nawazuddin Siddiqui in ‘Adbhut’?
Shreya: You should ask them actually. All three of them have been “victims” this time I am using this word. They have been victims of my incessant singing. Every single person has faced this torture and I will continue to do this. It has been EPIC!