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Interview Hindi Punjabi Tamil

Wherever I will get a good film, I’ll go there: Wamiqa Gabbi

The Mai (2022) actress speaks about the stepping stones in her career and how she really enjoys auditioning at this stage of her life.

Sonal Pandya

Since making her breakthrough in the web-series Grahan (2020), Wamiqa Gabbi has been booked and busy. The actress has been working in the South and the Punjabi industry since 2013, but it was the Disney+ Hotstar web-series that made everyone take notice.

Cinestaan.com spoke to Gabbi on telephone in between takes in Chandigarh and asked her about this new phase of her career. “I feel like this has always happened with me throughout my journey,” she explained. “It has always been one step at a time, and even now with my Hindi work, I feel it’s the same. My projects are coming out one after the other, and it’s kind of building up for me.”

She landed a small role as a teenager with Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met (2007), when she was in the eighth class. Gabbi recalled always wanting to go into acting and a sweet anecdote her father repeatedly narrated about seeing her face right after she was born and realizing she was destined for the arts.

“I don’t remember wanting anything else but being an actor,” she said. “My dad [Govardhan Gabbi] is a writer, which means artist by heart, and he used to take me and my brother to Tagore theatre, Kala Bhavana [in Chandigarh], and we used to watch plays and I think he is the catalyst between me and art.”

Wamiqa Gabbi went on to describe the baby steps she has taken since her debut as a young girl and how she has tried to figure out how to climb up in the best way.

“I’m very happy and accepting of whatever has been happening with my life and [now] I’m really enjoying it,” she said. “Mera matlab ab sirf aaj se hi reh gaya hai [I’m always thinking of the present]. I keep repeating this line again and again in my life whenever I’m talking to anyone, ke agar main aaj mar jaaon, toh mere muh pe smile hogi [if I die today, I’ll have a smile on my face]. It has been so overwhelming, the kind of work I have been doing in the past one-and-a-half years because I know how much I was craving this work.”

The actress opened up on how she was frustrated about her career a few years ago and wasn’t getting to learn the craft the way she had wanted to. Gabbi hasn’t attended any acting school and was thinking of finding time to attend one, but could not arrange for a break to join an institute and learn.

“I wasn’t really happy with the work I was doing,” she said. “I wasn’t playing the characters that I wanted to, I wasn’t able to be in that environment I wanted to be in, I wanted to learn more and instead I wasn’t learning.”

She continued, “I think I was always working hard, but I think it was towards the wrong things. I realized in the last two years how important it was to work on myself, as a person, because the work you do on yourself helps you in your craft as well. I wasn’t working on myself. I thought my craft was separate from me, like a personal/professional [split]. I realized that they both are going to help each other in the personal and professional life.”

Eventually then, her luck began to turn. She began giving better auditions and, in 2019, she recalled her whole perspective about acting changing, which led her to where she is now, with back-to-back feature releases like 83 (2021) and Galwakdi (2022) in the past few months.

“The most difficult thing is you don’t get to audition only for the kind of parts you want to audition for,” she said. “I’m so glad that people have more faith in me [now]. Casting directors have more faith in me, and I really enjoy auditioning. I remember hating auditioning. I always used to feel it’s very difficult, but now I think I just enjoy auditioning. That imaginative moment where I have to go somewhere else, in a world that’s different from my world, I just jump with excitement that ‘Haan, let’s do it’.”

One of those roles she booked was in the Netflix series Mai (2022), in which she plays Supriya, a mute character whose death is the catalyst for justice for Sakshi Tanwar’s character.

Gabbi spoke about the beautiful and overwhelming experience learning sign language for the part. Her teacher was a young woman the same age as her, whose parents were deaf and mute, and while learning via Zoom, she picked up a few ways in which they communicate with body language as well.

“[I learnt] that this is the only language that they speak and it’s just weird that not a lot of people know about it,” she shared. “They can only talk to people who know sign language.”

“Supriya, in the way she talks and behaves, she is a lot like us, because she is not mute by birth, she can hear and understand,” she reflected about her character. “Talking to a lot of people, I figured out that Supriya must be very uncomfortable with her ‘voice’. I understood that there are a few people who try, because they feel conscious about it, they don’t try to take out their voice. They try to be quiet and they try to talk in breaths. Atul [Mongia] sir also wanted her to [appear] completely fine. It’s only that she’s mute. I had to learn that.”

Gabbi’s character is largely seen in the series in flashbacks, but it’s her memory that keeps the series and Tanwar’s Sheel going.

“Once you understand your character, work on your character, then no human being is uninteresting,” she added. “If you think of a boring person in your life, if you look at them 24x7, they are not boring. It’s just how much you work on your character and I knew my back story in my head.

“Obviously, this girl was going through a lot [in the series]. I had to perform the most vulnerable moments of her life. The flashback sequences were all very vulnerable moments — her first kiss, somebody threatening her, her stage performance, all those moments were very sensitive. She was feeling so many emotions and it was interesting to perform.”

Wamiqa Gabbi: I knew Vishal Bhardwaj would do something beautiful and different in Modern Love Mumbai

Gabbi is also working with Vishal Bhardwaj on two projects — the feature film Khufiya (2023) for Netflix and Modern Love Mumbai for Amazon Prime Video. The latter was released on the streaming platform last week and the actress stars with Yeo Yann Yann, Meiyang Chang and Naseeruddin Shah in the episode Mumbai Dragon.

“I have done absolutely nothing to get this, except working on myself,” she reiterated. “I think I just attracted my vibe. I got the parts, I got to meet these people, I got to audition for these parts.”

But with so many Hindi projects lined up, the actress hasn’t forgotten where she came from, with her work in the South and Punjabi industry.

“At that time, it was very easy for me to juggle between [industries], but now it’s becoming very difficult because I have a lot of work in Hindi. I definitely want to explore this side as well and continue to work in the regional industries, working in different languages.

"I don’t want to lose touch with other languages because they are kind of inspiring me to learn. I have done two films in Tamil, but I still don’t know the language. This year, I decided that I will learn Tamil so that by next year I can be even more comfortable.

“And these days, that barrier is not there any more of language,” she added. “Wherever I will get a good film, I’ll go there.”