Through her short but illustrious career so far, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan has made a point to play strong, memorable characters. To many, her recent role – Trisha in Disney+ Hotstar’s School of Lies – is the natural progression within her filmography. But Trisha differs from everything the actress has done so far in a number of ways. In a no holds barred chat with DNA, Geetika opens up about the show, the fear (of lack of it) about typecasting, and what keeps her on her toes.
How well a role or performance is perceived largely depends on the interpretation of the audience? Does that make you anxious or are you more secure in your craft?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, up till now, the characters I have done up until now are ones that will get a lot of sympathy. For instance, I received a lot of love for Soni, I did wonder if it was love and sympathy for the character which is suffering so much or for my ability and attempt as an actor. Will they like it or won’t, that question hasn’t come so far. But for Trisha, I am excited about the audience reaction because when there is no sympathy for a character, getting love is tougher. Hence, the butterflies in the stomach. There is a possibility that the audience might not really love Trisha.
Something else that I observed about Trisha in School of Lies is that in two ways, it is very different from many of your other characters. Even though her son is missing and she is vulnerable, she is still firm and forthright, a confident woman. Secondly, the socio-economic class is different from a Soni or Thappad (where she played a house help). Is it more challenging?
Absolutely! It was a challenge to create Trisha. For one, I have never even been a pet parent so to play a mother was a challenge indeed. Now, the fact that something has happened to her child, she is a young mother who is doing it all by herself and someone who has also made choices for her own growth. Portraying that was very difficult. But the fact that Ishani (the show’s writer) was always on set helped.
When a character you play gets love or hate, how do you dissociate from that feedback and don’t think of it as hate towards or you, or conversely get carried away by that love?
I remember when my grandparents were watching Soni, They are people who have nothing to do with films. Soni was only the second film my grandmother was watching in her life. In fact, up until class XII, I had only watched one feature film, when the whole family had gone to watch Hum Aapke Hain Kaun at a single screen near my home. So, when they were watching, they were very proud to see their child in a police uniform. I told them that it is a character that I am playing who is doing all of this. A few years later, if you see me as a woman selling her body to make a living on screen, it won’t be me. That is when I had told myself that I should learn what I am preaching to them. That is why choosing good characters becomes important.
You say ‘choosing good characters’ and that makes me happy that you are in a state in your career, where you are choosing things.
Yes, the last few years have been good where I have had the option of choosing things but it wasn’t always like that. There have also have been parts like Thappad where I did audition. The fact that Trisha is so different from my previous parts, as you mentioned, means it took a director to envision me like that. I feel it is easiest for casting agents to imagine me in a certain way. I was one of the contenders for the lead role in The White Tiger. But when someone had initially told my name to the casting director, she said: “The Soni actress? Does she know how to speak English?” People who were representing me said that she has a Master’s degree in English literature. It is sad that it happens to actors.
So how does one fight that? How does an actor make sure they don’t get typecast?
It’s funny that after Thappad, I was offered Unpaused, where I had a similar role. And they said that you don’t need to audition because after Thappad, ‘ye to aap kar hi loge (you will do this easily)’. I felt it was a validation of my acting, for sure. But I was also falling into a trap. Thankfully, my director in Unpaused was Avinash Arun, who eventually gave me Trisha in School of Lies and helped me break that chain. Like I said, it does take someone to make that brave call for you.