Aaditi Pohankar: Imtiaz Ali thought I was too pretty for SHE

The actor talks about how she bagged the Netflix series, averting sexism and how a tragedy led to acting
Aaditi Pohankar in SHE
Aaditi Pohankar in SHE

When Imtiaz Ali called Aaditi Pohankar for a meeting, she expected a romantic role. The actor is returning as Bhumi, the meek-constable-turned-undercover-agent, in the second season of Netflix’s crime-thriller series SHE. She tells us how she first met the director. “He used to come to Prithvi Theatre frequently. I was doing plays there. It was a typical struggler story. I met him and asked for work,” says Aaditi. “Later, I sent him a production reel.”

She shot the reel on a “proper camera” and even took people to Goa for the shoot. “The video was about different moods of a woman in love, like melancholia, awaiting,” she says. “When I asked Imtiaz whether he had seen it, he refused. I had to plead with him to watch it.”

Aaditi was then called for a meeting with the director. “I did my own makeup and went there dressed-up like a doll,” she says. “You are young now; you should be doing romantic roles, Imtiaz told me. I thought he was hinting towards such an opportunity. The character is older and not pretty; maybe this is not for you, he said. I was disappointed.”

Imtiaz, however, asked Aaditi to come for an audition and look as messy as possible. “I gave a reading amidst the shambles of his office which was just being built. Later, I met his daughter and he introduced me to her saying, ‘She is SHE’. Then, I didn’t even know what the series was called. In hindsight, I realised what he meant.”

Apart from SHE, Aaditi also essays a titular role in the MX Player series Aashram, where she plays a wrestler. As both series fall under the ambit of crime-thriller, we ask her what other kind of parts she is seeking. “Romance,” says Aaditi. “I am tired of tying my hair up. Now, I want some roles where I get to flip it in a filmi style.”

In SHE, Aaditi plays a constable who goes undercover as a prostitute in order to bust a drug racket in Mumbai. The series has a considerable number of intimate scenes but the actor says she didn’t feel uncomfortable doing them. “Imtiaz believed I would sail through. He shifted my attention towards making sure that my co-actor is comfortable. I never thought of the scenes as intimate. I wanted the audience to focus on what is going into Bhumi’s head, rather than what is happening to her body.”

Asked if she has ever faced any casual sexism, as Bhumi does in the show, Aaditi says, “I will never face any sort of sexism because I give out a vibe that you cannot take my power. It’s important to take charge of yourself.”

Although Aaditi forayed into the world of cinema through the stage, she didn’t think of acting as a career while growing up. Her parents, Sudhir and Shobha Pohankar, were both athletes. She too had the sports gene. Aaditi ran for the state of Maharashtra and even bagged medals in 100 and 200m races. A tragedy, however, changed her course.

“I lost my mother when I was 15. My coach too lost his three-year-old daughter around the same time. Devastated, we took a break from training. We started again but it didn’t work. I had this urge to explore my inner self, to express how I was feeling. I started doing plays with Makarand Deshpande and realised I could get lost in the world of theatre,” says Aaditi.  

In 2014, while acting in Makarand’s play Time Boy, she was spotted by the late director Nishikant Kamat. He offered her the Marathi film Lai Bhaari opposite Riteish Deshmukh. The film had a meagre budget of Rs 8 crore but ended up earning about Rs 35 crore at the box office. After that there was no stopping Aaditi. In 2017, she starred alongside Atharvaa in the Tamil film Gemini Ganeshanum Suruli Raajanum. She also appeared in several advertisements and was even directed by Shoojit Sircar.

“I am from Mumbai but didn’t know how sometimes things just fall into place here,” she says about getting opportunities. “Things are lined out for you. You just need to align with them.”

SHE will return for its second season on June 17.

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