Interview Hindi

A RAW agent could be a chef, a journalist, anyone: Saiyami Kher on Special Ops

Actress Saiyami Kher speaks about her role as an undercover officer in the HotStar web-series, Special Ops.

Shriram Iyengar

"We have all these preconceived notions about RAW agents,'' laughs Saiyami Kher as she explains her new role in Neeraj Pandey's upcoming web-series, Special Ops.

In the web-series that marks her debut on digital platforms, Kher will play an undercover agent of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's external intelligence and espionage agency, as she joins Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) in an operation that has taken over 19 years to come to fruition.

The story follows a group of RAW agents, led by Menon, who track down the key figures who organized and planned the 2001 attack on India's Parliament. With Kher, Vinay Pathak and Divya Dutta, the series is set to begin streaming on Hotstar from today (17 March).

Speaking on the phone, Saiyami Kher remarked that it was just as well that the series is hitting the digital platform Hotstar as the film industry is reeling from the closure of cinema halls and other public spaces on account of the spread of the coronavirus health threat. 

Kher herself travelled back from Hyderabad just before the call. 'There were just three people at the airport,"she remarked. "It is quite a scary situation."

This has not stopped the actress, however. With the second season of the Amazon Prime Video series Breathe wrapped up, as well as Anurag Kashyap's next, the actress is currently preparing for a Telugu film with Nagarjuna. Following are excerpts from the interview:

How are you doing?

I am doing well. But it has been terrifying. Pretty much everyone is sitting in. Everything around is shut. It is pretty scary. I flew down from Hyderabad and there were three people in Hyderabad.

I suppose states are shutting down as a precaution. That is a good thing. Speaking of good things, you have Special Ops coming up....

Yes, and the good thing about Special Ops is that it is online.

It is a very different project from anything you have done before. So, how did you come to be a part of it?

I audition for pretty much everything I do. It was an audition process I went through and Neeraj sir [filmmaker Neeraj Pandey] probably thought I suit the role. Then, we had a narration and meetings with sir.

Neeraj Pandey, director, Special Ops

It is very different from anything I have done. It is an ensemble led by Kay Kay sir [Kay Kay Menon]. For me, it was the draw of the action and working with Neeraj sir and getting to play a RAW agent. There were quite a few things that attracted me to it.

I have never had a problem playing a part in an ensemble film because I feel that if the story appeals to you, as long as the project is good, it makes sense to be part of a good project. It was pretty much the script which I read from start to end.

This is a subject he excels in. From A Wednesday (2008) to Baby (2015), Pandey does seem to be the perfect choice to helm this genre.

I think he is the perfect person we have in this country for an espionage thriller. A Wednesday is my favourite film, followed by Special 26 (2013), Baby.... If you associate a period drama, you think of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. But if I had to associate an espionage thriller, I would think of Neeraj Pandey.

Since you play an undercover RAW agent, was the prep any different?

We have these preconceived notions about what RAW agents would be like, armed with guns and cargo pants and all. I play an undercover agent. It could be a journalist, a chef, a photographer.

I am a travel blogger in the series. When Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) calls us in for a mission, we have already received our core training in martial arts, guns, etc. Otherwise, they live a very normal life. Sometimes, they live this undercover life for six months or 10 years.

These were just facts that Neeraj sir told me. He was clear that I don't need to put on muscle or do anything special. I have to be exactly as I am, and work on the action sequences. We had a wonderful action director, Cyril Raffaelli, on the show.

Did action come naturally to you? You are a big fan of cricket.

Sport has been my first love. I continue to do sport whenever I get time. So, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ever since I was young, watching the Fast And Furious films, Mission Impossible series, or any Bond films, I was the first-day-first-show watcher. Being part of an action film is great fun, and when doing it, if you have a good action director, it becomes much simpler.

It is also your first digital series, though Breathe season 2 is also on the way, so how was it?

We finished shooting for Breathe a long time ago, but we have been waiting for release. So, this is my first digital release, yes.

Is it a different medium to work in?

Technically, it is all the same, be it the prep (mental/physical). It is just that the duration we shoot for is a little longer. For a film, we shoot for two or two-and-a-half hours, which is pretty long. But for a digital show, it is close to 10 hours of footage that we need. The duration is longer. With the film, you know that this is the start, middle and end. With a series, you know the same for that season, but you do not know where it goes from there. That was the only difference.

With Breathe 2, it must have been a fun experience with Abhishek Bachchan now taking on the role of the protagonist.

We finished shooting sometime in November last year. It was a very very interesting project. For me, at the script level itself, it was so engaging. You finished reading the first episode and you were left with a hankering for the next episode. Mayank Sharma, who has written and directed it, is very talented, and has shown his skills in the first season.

This season was great fun. Abhishek is kind of the protagonist of this season. Working with him was great fun because he was very entertaining on the set. 

You also have a feature film with Anurag Kashyap coming up this year.

Anurag sir's film we have also finished shooting, and it should be released hopefully in two or three months depending on the results of the coronavirus.

That is the big worry. Everybody is fine and taking care at your end, one hopes....

I am in the process of shooting for a Telugu film with Nagarjuna. I just finished it. I am playing a RAW agent there as well, with a lot of action. We have finished our first schedule and we are supposed to shoot in Thailand. It has been cancelled and we have been waiting to see what we can shoot now.

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