Lunch, Camera, Action!
Over pasta and pizza, actors Sapna Pabbi and Aisha Ahmed discuss growing up in different cities, web shows and living in the age of Instagram
It's hard to share a table with Sapna Pabbi and Aisha Ahmed and not believe them to be everyday lunch partners. Having dabbled with feature films, TV and web shows, both actors bond for the first time over Italian fare at Juhu’s Mangii Ferra. And even though they have distinct interests — Pabbi equates food with life and, well, Ahmed describes food as, "something you have to eat" — they share a camaraderie that requires no cue from the interviewer.
Dalreen: Both of you have lived in multiple cities. Which of these places have been important to your progress as actors?
Sapna: In terms of acting, the UK has nothing to do with my career here. It was where I grew up watching Bollywood films; my dad is like Amrish Puri from DDLJ. I did drama growing up but he was like, “No acting, get a degree.” I was a corporate girl; I did my Masters and went to business school.
Aisha: My diction in Hindi is good since I grew up in UP and can also speak a bit of Urdu because of my grandparents. It helps me as an actor; it is easier to learn lines and improvise. Nashik was fun; I’ve fed off many memories from there as an actor.
Dalreen: So, did your food preferences change with the shuttling, too?
Sapna: I’m a huge foodie. My dad was a chef and he made sure I learned to make everything. I can cook very well and travel for food, too. I don’t think the shift mattered at all. In fact, since we had Punjabi food at home, when I came to Mumbai I started exploring other regional Indian cuisines with dishes like pav bhaji and chaat.
Aisha: I stuck to the basics while growing up with dal chawal, chicken and rice. But I started hating paneer because of boarding school. They would give it to us four times a day for six months straight: paneer bhurji in the morning, paneer matar in the evening, paneer cutlet for tea and paneer matar again... Do you plan your trips around cuisines?
Sapna: No, I already know. I’m a huge fan of eastern European and Israeli food. I’m so happy when I’m talking about it. So, when I was shooting in Cape Town, we had Indian food on set and then, you had the sweet potatoes and yam. The caterer complained to the production team saying, ‘This girl keeps taking our food. This is for the South African crew.’ And then production was like, ‘But she’s not Indian, no? So, there was this big fight.
Aisha: Because of you, one South African didn’t get his meal!
Sapna: No man, they could have had Indian food for a change. (The food arrives: burrata cheese caponato, grilled elephant asparagus, spaghetti aglio olio, goji berry and asparagus ravioli, margherita, butterfly wings mocktail, mocktail espresso martini)
Dalreen: Can you recount the experience of your first acting gig?
Sapna: Well, it was 24, Season 1 and it lasted for about 370 days.
Aisha: Um, that was your first acting gig!
Sapna: Yeah, so I was thrown straight into the deep end. I was the youngest and most inexperienced actor on that show. I would constantly get shouted at by Abhinay Deo sir who would go like, ‘Miss Pabbi! Got a lot to learn!’
Aisha: But considering that was your first show, I thought you were a fabulous lead.
Sapna: It was really scary at times because I had no idea what was happening. But at the same time I felt like I learnt everything that one needs to learn at acting school.
Aisha: But did you always want to act?
Sapna: Until the age of 13, I think, yes. After that, you know your mind goes everywhere. But after that also life was quite good.
Aisha: I’ve no idea, I’m sorry. I’ve only studied till class 11 and then dropped out. But everybody still keeps telling me, ‘Arey, it’s very important,’ and I keep telling them, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m going to study law one day.’
Dalreen: But do you miss academics?
Aisha: The studying? No. But for a few months now I’ve been thinking about going to acting school. Sapna, you’ve been lucky to get back-to-back projects and work with great people. In web, what has happened for me is that one character of being a young 21-year-old sort of worked and so, you’re just being yourself. Now, I feel like I want to act not because I want to be myself but because I want [to be] different characters.
Dalreen: When you ventured into web shows, were you apprehensive?
Sapna: For me, it was the content. I first branched out in the web with The Trip. I always wanted to do something female group-related and didn’t think of the platform. It ended up doing so well and that’s when I realised how important OTT is.
Dalreen: You both have a generous fan following on social media. How important is it for someone who is just starting out as an actor?
Sapna: It is now. I’m not going to lie, I’m not tech-savvy but I’m trying...
Aisha: Yes, everybody is trying and struggling. People tell me, ‘Oh, your social media game is so strong.’ I said, ‘Sorry, I don’t think what I’m doing is strong because I have other friends who are killing it, but they’re also struggling.’ By the time we got used to Orkut, Facebook came. Then, you got used to Facebook, and now there’s Instagram, where the stakes are higher since you can get paid for it and people cast you on the basis of your profile.
Sapna: I get very conscious because I want to be myself but you can’t always do that. I don’t always have the best pictures or captions and say silly things. But we’re not perfect; I do have pimples on my skin. I can’t sit there and retouch. But hat’s off to everybody who is doing it right and doing it well.
Fave food to eat on set
Aisha: Maggi, because it is always available.
An actor you’d love to work with
Sapna: Ranveer Singh. He could be a foodie right?
Aisha: Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah.
A character from a film/TV series you’d like to play
Sapna: Rekha in Khoon Bhari Maang.
Aisha: Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.
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