Aahana Kumra in a still from the film
Aahana Kumra, who plays a small- town beautician in Lipstick Under My Burkha, opens up about her journey
Kusumita Das (MID-DAY; July 16, 2017)

She may be one of the newest crop of actors in the industry, but Aahana Kumra exudes the sure-footedness of a veteran. Having done a few indie ventures such as The Blueberry Hunt and Sona Spa, both with Naseeruddin Shan, the 32-year-old actress is now waiting for the release of the much talked-about Lipstick Under My Burkha, where she shares the screen with acting stalwarts Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sen Sharma.

Kumra was, in fact, a student of Naseer and Ratna, in her Whistling Woods International days. From the classroom to the camera, she appears to have made a smooth transition. In the film, directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, she plays a small-town beautician who feels stifled in her personal and professional life, and wants to elope to a big city with her lover. The feisty role involved her engaging in several intimate scenes.

“Under the hands of a male director, this kind of material, about four women exploring their sexuality, could have easily become crass. But, when I read this script, I was blown away by the finesse with which Alankrita has handled the story and situations. Even in the indie space, such well-crafted roles are not written. I’d have been an idiot not to have taken it up,” Kumra says.

Born and brought up in Lucknow, Kumra was 13 years old when she moved to Mumbai. “My mum is a former CID officer and my dad used to work in pharmaceuticals in Moscow.” Her initial days in Mumbai were marked by long hours spent at Prithvi Theatre, assisting Sanjna Kapoor. “I had too much energy, and realised just hanging around in Prithvi, doing workshops, assisting backstage, even selling tickets, would channel that energy in the right way. It was only a matter of time that I would be drawn to the stage.” Kumra recalls herself as a hyperactive college kid. “I was into every performance platform possible.”

There was a slight U-turn she took after her graduation, when she started interning at Lowe advertising agency. But soon after, she charted her path towards Whistling Woods to begin her journey as an actor. “I wanted a job where I could go to work and not get bored. That’s why, no matter how big or small the role is, I am mindful about how impactful it is.”

Even for an actress who has in the past worked with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan in Yudh, her role in Lipstick Under My Burkha, made her nervous. “I was doing sex scenes for the first time. I don’t think even my co-star, Vikrant (Massey) had done anything like that before. I remember, during one of our initial scenes, we just sat there for 15 minutes staring at each other, wondering how to get started,” she laughs.

There was also the time, when she had no idea which co-star had left her slightly bruised. “I had a few intense making out scenes with both Vikrant and Vaibbhav (Tatwawdi). And they had all to be filmed in a single day. The next morning I was cribbing about my ordeal when Plabita (co-star) pointed out that my lips had turned blue! And, I had no idea if it was Vikrant or Vaibhav.”

Aahana was nervous about her mother seeing the film. “I told her she didn’t have to, if she didn’t want to. I was greatly relieved when she told me she enjoyed it.” This is the first time that Aahana was working with a female director, and she describes Alankrita as a hard task master. “She’s very inspiring, and she’s never easily satisfied with a scene. When you feel you have done your best, she’ll keep nudging you for a better take. It was exhausting, but, I guess it all paid off.”