Only four years ago, Wamiqa Gabbi was thinking of quitting acting because she was not getting the kind of work she wanted to do. Four years hence, she has worked with some of the most talented filmmakers including Vikramaditya Motwane and Vishal Bhardwaj, and been appreciated for her performances in web series such as Mai: A Mother’s Rage, Modern Love: Mumbai, and Modern Love: Chennai. Only a few months ago, she yet again impressed the audience as the vulnerable yet ambitious Niloufer in the period drama Jubilee.
Gabbi, who started her acting journey with a small role in 2007’s Jab We Met, went on to establish herself in the Punjabi film industry and has also worked in a few Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil movies. However, it was not until 2021 that she was yet again seen in Hindi projects, including some of the most revered OTT series. The actress who hails from Chandigarh is currently headlining Vishal Bhardwaj’s web series Charlie Chopra and the Mystery of Solang Valley, based on Agatha Christie’s novel The Sittaford Mystery. In a candid chat, the actress shared her admiration for the maverick filmmaker and her excitement about sharing screen space with a number of stalwarts in the show which is currently streaming on SonyLIV.
1.Before working in this series, did you read Agatha Christie novels? Were you aware of the book on which it is based?
I was aware of Agatha Christie, her work, and that she is one of the most celebrated murder mystery authors in the world. She is the queen of whodunits. However, I had not read any of her books. I am just very glad we made a series on her book and I got to play a character written by her. I think that is really cool.
2. What aspect of yourself did you get to explore as an actor while playing detective Charlie Chopra?
To be honest, I was just really excited to live her journey. I started working on the character and realised that she is a lot of fun, but she also has an interesting past which gives her more depth. I want to explore that more and I hope it happens if we do another season of the show. I think we need more fun detectives; we have had enough boring ones (laughs)! A fun, female detective is the need of the hour.
3. You got the chance to work with some of the most talented actors we have including Naseeruddin Shah, Neena Gupta, Ratna Pathak Shah, and Gulshan Grover among others. How was it to work with this cast?
It was amazing. I would have been elated even if one of them had been in the show, but to get them all? I was over the moon and also nervous and excited. I was everything all at once! I feel lucky and grateful to have worked with them.
4. This is your fourth project with director Vishal Bhardwaj, including Modern Love: Mumbai, the short film Fursat, and the upcoming series Khufiya. Do you recall your first meeting with him and your impression of him?
I met him for the first time in 2019 when I gave an audition for a show called Midnight’s Children which Netflix was supposed to make and which would have been Vishal sir’s first series. I was so confident that I would not be selected that I gave the audition in full masti! That is also probably the reason I got shortlisted for it (smiles). I was called for another round of auditions and that is when I got to meet him. I had been living in Mumbai for six-seven years by then and had been rejected so many times that even after I was shortlisted, I was sure I would not get the part. I was just so happy that I got to meet him. He is someone whose work I have loved, and I believed that I would get to work with him only after doing a lot of other work in the industry. I told him that I am such a big fan of his! I had no idea then that I would end up working on four projects with him. I am grateful that I got the chance to work with him at such an early stage of my career in different formats with unique stories.
5. What are some of the things that you have learnt after working with him?
I think one of the most important lessons I have learnt is empathy and kindness. I learnt that I need to be a more empathetic person in order for me to look at my characters with empathy. He himself is such a kind-hearted person and also, so dedicated! We would be shivering in the cold while shooting and wondering how to reach a high cliff, and he would already be one step ahead and on the cliff himself! That kind of dedication and passion is amazing.
6. In your career, you have picked characters who are multi-layered and complex. What is your process of getting into the headspace of these characters?
I am not a trained actor and I am also trying to understand my process. I try and see if something I did helped me in a certain role, then I try it for the next. It is almost like trying to understand another person. I ask questions, just like you would ask a friend, about their childhood, their parents, their likes and dislikes etc. I have conversations with myself to understand my characters, so I can know them better.
7. You started your journey with Hindi films and then moved on to Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu projects. Now that you are getting to do good work in Hindi, are you still open to acting projects in other languages?
Oh yes, I most definitely am! I had the most fun working in all these languages and I want to do more. Punjabi is my language and my dadi only understands Punjabi, so I have to keep doing them (smiles). I will not leave any industry but yes, it will get a bit limited because by God’s grace—I have a little bit of luxury to choose my projects now. Initially, you want to do everything that comes your way because you want to work and survive in Mumbai; but now, I want to do projects that touch my heart 100 per cent. I want to only do regional projects which I really feel I should do. I want to enjoy my time. I wish to do a film in a new language now. Working in these different industries has taught me so much about my country and its culture. It is nice that I am getting to learn more about my country through my profession and getting to be part of stories from these regions.
8. You have done quite a few Hindi series including Grahan, Mai, Modern Love: Mumbai, and Jubilee in the last three years. Can you tell us a bit about your journey in the OTT space?
My journey in the long-format shows has been really beautiful. I was looking for characters where I could really explore myself as an actor, and I am glad I got the opportunity to work on different formats with such good filmmakers. These are the people I have admired for so long and I have been dreaming of working with them.
9. From wanting to quit the acting industry in 2019 to headlining a series made by Vishal Bhardwaj, how do you look upon this journey?
It is very exciting and challenging for me to headline a series. I am thankful and grateful—I don’t know how else to be. I know there are thousands of girls who are prettier than me, more talented than me, and probably would have done better than me. I don’t know what role luck plays in someone’s life but it has played a big role in mine. I want to work even harder and perform better so I can convince myself that it’s not just luck (laughs).
10. What’s next in the pipeline? What is exciting about all the work coming your way?
Apart from Khufiya with Tabu and Ali Fazal, I have a film with Varun Dhawan directed by Atlee, who has just given one of the biggest hits in history with Jawan. There is another Tamil film with Jayam Ravi. The exciting part is that they are all so different and nothing like what I have done earlier. I look forward to going on the sets because I know I am getting to do something new. I am getting to live the life I always wanted to live.