She started her acting career eight years back with a show produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s company. Though her journey has been filled with a lot of struggle, something which most outsiders go through, the London-born Anisa Butt continues to maintain a very positive attitude towards the industry and hopes it will give her due soon enough. In this interview, the actress talks about her journey as an actress so far, the stereotype an actor who comes from a foreign country faces, her upcoming show ‘The Verdict’ and more.
You started your career with a Shah Rukh Khan produced show.
Yes, ‘Ishaan’ was my first professional assignment in India. Actually, I auditioned for ‘Always Kabhi Kabhi’, a film which was being produced by his company, in London. I was shortlisted for the film but did not get the part. That is the point I decided to go to India and explore the film and television industry there. Finally, I bagged this show which incidentally was produced by Red Chillies Idiot Box, the TV production company which Shah Rukh had started.
Was it difficult to get work after that show?
People have a certain typecast or notion about actors who come from a foreign country and that is not fair. The challenge for somebody like me is to fight against this typecast constantly and make them believe I can do different kind of roles. Other than somebody like a Katrina Kaif or a Jacqueline Fernandez, most actresses who come from abroad get only item numbers or roles where you are shown as a firang. I have done those kinds of roles in ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ and ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ myself as that is the kind of work that came my way back then.
You also played the lead role in a film called ‘Baat Bann Gayi’.
Yes, it was a good film but not marketed well. The writing was good and we had some wonderful music but most people were not aware about the film releasing in theatres. I have known Ali (Fazal) from my theatre days and it was wonderful working with him on that film. I am a trained actor and acting is something I am very passionate about. I have always wanted to do meatier parts and now, slowly those opportunities are coming my way. It was not easy to get the kind of work I wanted to do. But, now with the digital revolution, a lot of new actors are getting good work. Our generation is not watching daily soaps on television. Most of them were watching western content and there was a demand for such kind of content to be made in India. That is now finally happening with shows like ‘Sacred Games’ and ‘Made In Heaven’ being made here.
You are doing ‘The Verdict’ with AltBalaji.
Yes, it is based on the Nanavati case. It is a period drama and I am paired opposite Angad Bedi. I act like a support system to Angad’s character in the show. A couple of films have been made on this incident but since this is a series, there is more chance to explore the story a little better. The show is in the post-production stage at the moment and it should be out sometime this year.
Tell us about your connection with India.
I was born in a Punjabi family in London. I was in a meeting the other day and the director asked me ‘are you sure you don’t have European blood running in your veins?’ (laughs). I was fluent in Punjabi as a child but once I started attending school, I lost touch with the language. I started training myself in Hindi after I came to India. Today, I can speak Hindi better than most people but I am still trying to get better at it.
You could have pursued your acting career in London too. Why did the thought of coming to India come to you?
I have always been fascinated by Hindi films. Later, I went to the university and trained in drama. At that point of time, it was very difficult to get agents. When I auditioned for ‘Always Kabhi Kabhi’, I was still in the university. Since the last two years, I have an UK agent. I am doing some work there as well. As an actor, you want to be malleable and versatile. I do not want to restrict myself to a particular industry.
Apart from acting, dance is also a major passion. How did you get interested in it?
I grew up watching Hindi films and dance is such an integral part of them. By the age of 12, I was sure that I wanted to become an actress but I was very under-confident as a person. Dance was always the first passion as it enabled me to get up on the stage and perform. It helped me gain confidence as a performer. From that, it became the bridge to acting as it gave me so much confidence.
You are a young actress working in the Hindi film industry. How do you look at the MeToo campaign that gained momentum last year?
I think it was high time something like this happened in India. To be honest, I feel a little disappointed that it has not been discussed by the people in the powerful positions. In some way or the other, we have come across such people at different points in our lives. As a woman, we deal with a lot of prejudices and in an industry, where there is so much pressure to look good and glamorous, one has to be careful about the kind of people one meets. People have been affected very badly. In the west, the support system has been very strong. I wish more people, who are in higher positions, had supported the movement in India. I also realise there is a danger of it being misused. It is a really tricky thing but it is really good that we are talking about it.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I would love to work between USA, UK and India. I wish to hop between industries and work in each of them. Despite the struggle I have been through, I feel grateful about all the opportunities that have come my way.
What are you doing next?
I am yet to dub for ‘The Verdict’. I am in talks for a few more web shows. I shot for a couple of short films both in India and in the UK. One of the films, which I shot for in India, is called ‘It’s A Girl’ and it talks about how a girl child is being discriminated against. We went to several film festivals in the US. Times Of India has the rights and I hope they release it soon. There is another short film directed by Kanakana Chakraborty which aims to spread awareness about cancer. It has been made in association with Yuvraj Singh Foundation for Cancer. I have also shot for an independent feature film.