It's safe to say how the OTT world has taken over ours and opened it up. For our digital cover on the 14th anniversary of Bazaar India, we take a peak into the lives of the faces behind the stories and speak to them about their roles, their drive, confidence, and inspiration.
Shriya Pilgaonkar, Actor
“I have always had a performer’s instinct. And even though I come from a family of wonderful actors, I never took it for granted. Acting, for me, was an organic step, and I credit my training as a Kathak dancer for that. Learning Kathak was the starting point for me...it helped me realise that I am most ‘present’ when I am performing—whether it is on stage or in front of the camera. So I always knew that I would be connected to this medium of storytelling in some way.
Personally, OTT has been game-changing. It has been defining for me in more ways than one...especially last year, because the characters I got to portray really resonated with the audience. Whether it is Kashaf, the lawyer from Guilty Minds (2022), or Madhubala, a sex worker from Taaza Khabar (2023), or Sweety Gupta from Mirzapur (2018), I have had the opportunity to play some truly interesting characters on screen. The most significant aspect about OTT is that it allows writers and actors to experiment. People are willing to take more risks... Also it gives so many more people an opportunity to be a part of the industry, not just in front of the camera, but also behind it. I also want to emphasise that because of OTT, the audience has come to appreciate good writing and good talent...and that encourages people to push the envelope. Also, because OTT work is compared with content produced around the world, it inspires a certain pursuit of excellence. People are looking for authentic content. I, too, as a performer, seek that authenticity in anything that I do.
A lot of people compare traditional cinema with OTT, but if you ask me, both mediums aim for the same quality. While picking scripts, I don’t think about whether it’s a film that will release in the theatres or a web series that will launch on a digital platform...I am drawn towards the story. If I like it, I will do it.
I have a huge list of actors and directors I want to work with. I truly admire Zoya Akhtar—I think she has an incredible aesthetic. Then, Sriram Raghavan, who makes really exciting cinema. And Chaitanya Tamhane, who has such a powerful voice. It is important for me to keep establishing my versatility, because I don’t want to get stereotyped...and I won’t allow myself to be stereotyped. As a result, all my choices are geared in that direction.”
“The most significant thing about OTT is that it allows writers and actors to experiment. People are willing to take more risks...”
Aisha Ahmed, Actor
“It might sound strange, but growing up, I didn’t feel passionate about anything. My friends wanted to be doctors, engineers, teachers, or dancers, but I felt like I had no talent. And as clichéd as it sounds, I became an actor by fluke. My parents thought I was far too reserved, and they enrolled me for an acting workshop, thinking it would help me open up. That’s when I realised that I am probably decent at acting...I was confident with monologues and the teachers, too, were happy with my progress. That workshop, in a way, nudged me to audition for roles, and that’s how I landed the role of Nikhat Rizvi in Adulting (Amazon Prime Video). I have been working since I was 16-years-old, but I don’t think that I was born with the talent that my mother (actor Rukhsar Rehman) has. She is a natural, and she has learned everything from her experience.
I feel like I owe everything to OTT, because that’s what has made me who I am. Before I was signed on for Adulting, the roles that I was offered were not concrete enough. This show changed my life...it just blew up. I remember, I went to Dubai after the show released, and people recognised me on the streets...it was a defining moment for me.
When it comes to the content that OTT platforms offer, I think initially people were just shooting in the dark, as no-one knew what would and wouldn’t work. But eventually, everyone realised the freedom that OTT offers in terms of the stories we could shed light on. The best part was that you didn’t need the big names in order for the shows to do well...it’s more content driven. For instance, an actor like Jaydeep Ahlawat is not a typical hero, but he is doing so well. Or someone like Sheeba Chaddha...she is a phenomenal actress, but she received recognition because of the OTT shows she has worked in.
As for me, I think I am always nervous. You know, the five seconds before the shot, when the camera starts rolling and there is pin-drop silence on set, that’s what makes me really nervous. And for the longest time, I didn’t know how to calm myself down. However, over time, I have become more confident as an actor. More so after Minus One, because it was a very challenging role. In face, ever since its release, I feel like I can do anything. I always felt apprehensive about essaying serious characters, but seeing Minus One do well has given me the confidence that I can play a mature character.
As an actor, validation is definitely important. But this role made me look deep inside to realise that I should not limit myself. I am really looking forward to exploring different genres...I want to do everything because being an actor brings me a lot of joy.
I’ll leave you with the best acting advice I have received. My acting coach...well, actually, someone who conducted acting workshops for Minus One, told me: ‘You have to serve the art, not the artist’. Which means you don’t think that you are bigger than the work that you are doing. You must let go of who you are as a person, your reservations and ideologies, and just serve what you are on set to serve. In simpler words, don’t judge the work that you are doing or think that it is beneath you.”
Andrea KevichÜsa, Model and Actor
“I come from a very small town in Nagaland, where we don’t even have a single movie theatre. And the only way one can access films and shows are through OTT platforms, which have grown tremendously in the last few years.
Being a model or an actor was never part of my plan. Looking back, both happened to me by chance. I did not audition for my role in Anek (on Netflix)—I was not interested in acting at all. But when I got the opportunity, I thought to myself that if I was being offered a chance that other people weren’t, I must take it up. That’s how I began modelling too.
I moved to Mumbai to become a model, and I was always keen to grow in that space...even work internationally. But I got an opportunity to act instead. Anubhav Sinha, the director (of Anek) saw a photograph of mine and he thought I would be a good fit for the role. Initially, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. It took me a long time to get comfortable with acting—there was a lot of training involved. Since I was essaying the role of a boxer, training was crucial. I also had to take Hindi diction classes and learn to ride a motorcycle, because the role demanded it. On the whole, it was challenging but equally rewarding.
I was extremely nervous about my debut—especially before we began shooting for the film, because I knew the kind of people I would be working with. I knew how well-known they are, and how good they are at their craft. I, on the other hand, had no idea what I was doing. However, the environment that the cast and crew had created made me feel at home. They made me believe that it was okay to make mistakes as long as one was willing to learn... I deeply admire my co-star Ayushmann Khurrana. I was aware of the gap in our skills...it was quite evident. But he was very patient and encouraging during the shoot.
I am grateful that my first film was an OTT project as a lot of people were able to watch Anek—I love the accessibility this
Currently, I am focused on furthering my modelling career as I am very passionate about it. I plan to work internationally...it is something I am extremely excited about. As for acting, I have seen what it can do for me, and if I am offered a project that excites me, I would be happy to take that up.”
Ishwak Singh, Actor
“When I was young, I was fascinated with the idea of being on stage and essaying different characters—I used to wonder how one could transform into someone else...a new character with the help of costumes. I just found it magical...I still do!
As I grew older, I began working with a theatre group. I still remember my first solo performance. It was a short play at a film festival, and it was a full house. I knew that a lot of veteran actors and directors would be attending it, so I was nervous for months! But once I got on stage, I was okay...probably because I was prepared. And that’s the discipline I work with even today—if you are well-prepared, you might get anxious before the performance, but once the technique takes over, the character takes over, then you don’t need to worry. Over the years, I have gotten more and more comfortable. Now it all feels like a transcendental experience.
My first professional role was for Raanjhanaa (2013). I played the small part of Sonam’s (Kapoor Ahuja) prospective groom...that’s where it all began. And my first big role was, perhaps, in Aligarh, but it was after Paatal Lok’s release (2020) that the audience really began noticing me.
The best acting advice I have received is from my mentor. He made me understand the value of reading, and encouraged me to read good literature. Reading allows you to get a sense of the real world...it helps one understand human psychology. He helped me observe life and learn from it. He once told me, ‘Zindagi se acting hoti hai, acting se zindagi nahin hoti’. So instead of watching movies and seeing what other actors are doing, you must draw inspiration from the real world.
I respect OTT as a medium as it allows one to watch anything and everything on their wish list. At the same time, the content that’s being created for OTT is extremely diverse. People are willing to experiment and I find it authentic...unadulterated. That’s the strength of this medium—everyone has a lot of freedom, right from the filmmakers and producers, to writers and actors.
I have a host of releases this year. I am excited about Rocket Boys Season 2. Then there’s a film called Bas Karo Aunty, which is light-hearted and fun. I am also a part of a film called Berlin, and I am really looking forward to its release as that story is very close to my heart. So I am excited about all the projects that are lined up this year.”
Anjali Sivaraman, Model and Actor
“I have been interested in acting ever since I was a little girl. I think it is because I grew up watching my mother, who is a playback singer and actor, and my sister, who is also an actors. I also watched a tonne of movies...and continue to do so even today. I am deeply impacted by the characters I come across in movies...and I wish to make others feel the same way these characters have made me feel. I would also like to be a positive influence on someone, or impact someone’s life through the characters I play. I believe this is what drew me towards the craft.
Cinema has always been such a powerful medium of expression, and today, OTT platforms offer ease of access...allowing us to reach people across the globe and share wonderful stories with them. Along with paid platforms, there are many others that can be subscribed to free of cost, ensuring that people from different economic backgrounds have access to content. That, according to me, is what makes it so, so powerful. Plus, one has access to world cinema, which is a big advantage because most people don’t have the luxury to travel or subscribe to certain channels.
I have been a model and acted in a couple of projects, so I don’t fear the camera, but I do get conscious from time to time. I am relatively new to the world of acting, so I take it one step at a time, as I try to understand what works for me. For instance, if there is a very intense scene that demands me to express myself in a way that I am not used to in my day-to-day life, I get a bit nervous. That’s because I don’t know whether I am emoting it correctly, or if I am overdoing it. Also, I have a different process to get into the skin of each character that I play. In Cobalt Blue, where I played a character called Anuja, I maintained a journal where I wrote down all my thoughts as Anuja...I documented my daily activities as Anuja. Whereas with Suhani (in Class), I tried to reminisce a lot more versus jotting down my thoughts. I also worked on my breathing to get into that zone of distress that she was always in...try to be a bit weird, you know.
During moments of doubt, I think about the greats that constantly inspire me...like Meryl Streep. At the moment, I am completely awestruck by Zendaya, mostly because she’s an all-rounder. She is a brilliant actor, brilliant singer, brilliant dancer, and seems to be a really good businesswoman as well—everything that I aspire to be. When it comes to Indian cinema, I think there is just one person that I deeply admired: Irrfan Khan. Lastly, I have a couple of exciting projects lined up—I can’t really talk about them at the moment, but I am very, very excited about them as I am certain they will help me evolve as an actor.”
Photographs by Neha Chandrakant, Styled by Shaurya Athley, Hair and Make-Up: Pratiksha Nair. Fashion Assistants: Aprajita Puri and Janvhi Jaiswal. Production: Studio Little Dumpling