In the seven years that Saiyami Kher has spent in the film industry, the actress has managed to work with some of the topmost directors in the country, whether it is Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra in her debut film Mirzya, Anurag Kashyap in Choked, or Ashwini Iyer Tiwari in the web series Faadu. In August this year, the light-eyed actress bowled everyone over with her performance as a paraplegic cricketer in R Balki’s Ghoomer. As the film makes its debut on Zee 5 on November 10, she speaks about what the film means for her career and what lies ahead.
1. There’s a lot of appreciation that came your way for Ghoomer, including a letter of appreciation from Amitabh Bachchan. What was going on in your mind when you received it?
I think anyone who has received such a letter has said that this is the biggest award any actor can get, and now I know the feeling. It is almost as if you are working and hoping you get a word of appreciation from the institution itself. I remember he sent it to me a day after the release of the film. I was sitting quietly at home and was not really expecting anyone when the doorbell rang and I got flowers and a letter from Mr Bachchan. AB (Abhishek Bachchan) and Balki keep laughing at me and saying I don’t show emotions in real life, but the tears came flowing down when I got this. Over the years there have been many casting people and others who I have said that I am no good, so this brought a big sense of validation.
2. Abhishek and you have worked together in Breathe. Ghoomer required a certain sense of trust and equation with the actor working with you. Did it make it easier for you to play this role because it was AB working with you and not any other actor?
Certain films require a certain trust and there are certain relationships that you build over time. It was almost as if Breathe was a stepping stone to Ghoomer. We had a lot of scenes together in the series and we were on set for almost three-and-a-half to four years, so we got to know each other very well. That was a big positive for Ghoomer because with this film, I knew everything I had within had to come out–it is that kind of a character. AB is an extremely sensitive human being and I am genuinely glad that it was him because I have that equation and comfort level with him.
3. You had to play a cricketer who loses her arm but as someone who has been playing the sport since a young age, did it make it any easier for you, either physically or emotionally?
With regards to the physicality of it, Balki sir was clear that if he was to make this film, it would be with someone who has played the sport before just for the basic body language when you are not on the field. Yes, I know the game so it was easier for me to pick up the sport with authenticity. I’ve played the game since I was young but it was a whole new learning because I had to learn to play from my non-dominant hand. If you have to do something which you haven’t done with your hand all your life—and on top of that to have just that one hand—it’s a difficult feat to pull off physically. More than the physicality, I think it was the emotional graph of the character which was extremely difficult to try and bring to life. It was exhausting!
4. Speaking of cricket again, you are the technical host for 2023 Cricket World Cup. What does that exactly entail?
This is like a childhood dream because I am obsessed with this game. I am working with the portal called Cricbuzz where they have the best cricket experts like Harsha Bhogle, Virender Sehwag, Michael Vaughan and Dinesh Karthik among others. It is all about analysing the game and is very geeky. Unfortunately, women sporting anchors are used like props which is very disheartening but here they are very serious with their content and I am loving asking technical, geeky questions to my childhood heroes. It is surreal because I am absolutely starstruck by sportsmen.
5. India has been playing really well so far. What do you think are India’s chances at winning the World Cup?
I don’t think there is any team that has come close to the way India is playing. We thought that there will be some competition in the India-South Africa game but our bowlers just ran through them. I don’t think there is any team which is looking so dominant but it is an unpredictable game, so on the day of the semi-final or final, one can only hope that everything goes right as it has been going so far. Up until now, quite honestly, we look quite untouchable.
6. You are a sportsperson and very dedicated to fitness. How do you manage to fit in fitness during your hectic shooting schedules?
There is no one who is so busy that they cannot take out even 30 minutes a day to exercise. Vin Diesel wakes up at 3.30 am before the shoot to exercise! One needs to stop finding excuses and find the time.
7. What is your exercise routine when you are shooting and on your off days?
It depends! If I am not shooting, then I am either training for a full marathon or an Ironman (long-distance triathlon races) so the training is very different. On shoot days, if one is shooting nights then it becomes difficult to wake up early; so I find time in the day to go to the gym. We shoot in exotic locations at times and I like running around in the city because that’s the best way to see the city as well.
8. You have done a number of unconventional roles in your career, and some of the country’s best directors have come to you with such roles. How did this come to be?
With regards to them being unconventional, it hasn’t been a choice. It started with an unconventional role with Mirzya and since then, what has been offered to me has been stuff which has been a little out of the box. It is exciting and I am extremely blessed to start with Rakeysh Mehra and then filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap, Neeray Panday, R Balki and Ashwini Iyer Tiwari. All of them have been on my wishlist and sometimes it feels like a dream that I have worked with them. As an actor, one is always insecure. So, it is a sense of validation when there are such renowned makers who back you.
9. You are playing a firefighter in Agni. Can you tell us more about it?
I was unaware that there are so many female firefighters in India, and it is sad that we don’t even know who the people are who are keeping us safe in our city. Thanks to this film, I got to spend a lot of time with them. There are 80 odd female firefighters in Mumbai itself. It is a very exciting part and it is an ensemble film. I don’t think anyone has ever played a female firefighter so far, so that makes it even more special.
10. You are currently shooting for Special Ops? How is that proceeding and what else is in the pipeline?
Special Ops has been long overdue. It is a project that was really accepted by the audience during COVID three years ago. Working with Neeraj sir is always great fun. He is a man of very few words but it is a very enjoyable process working with him. It should be ready sometime next year and the same goes for Agni. Anurag had wanted to start something so I’m hoping that happens soon too.