Yami Gautam opens up about her reticent childhood and the lucky break that set her on her way toward the City of Dreams
“I’m a private guy, you know nothing about my business, and if I had my fifteen minutes, I must’ve missed it” is the riff that reminds me the most when talking to Yami Gautam. Having been in the business as long as she has – 10 years to her breakaway feature film, Vicky Donor, Gautam has managed to keep her life and its commanding philosophies remarkably private. “It’s better if they know me as my character. I’d like to believe my work is interesting enough to be the centre of whatever attention I get,” she says.
While Gautam admits that keeping her true persona somewhat veiled has come at the cost of being overlooked for roles at times, it has never discouraged her from living life the way she wants to. “I remember when I got the role of TikTok star Pari Mishra in Bala, a bunch of people were very sceptical about it. They said they didn’t think I was the kind of person who could pull off a high-wire comedic role. I might not be that person, but I’m still a professional actor. So, I don’t think people should get roles based on how they are in person or on talk shows. It’s an actor’s job to transform; trust them with it.”
LONG WAY HOME
Gautam’s quality of being tastefully reticent (albeit always keen and observant) goes back to her schooling days in Chandigarh. “You wouldn’t know anything about me even if you sat next to me for hours. I wasn’t shy, I think, just reserved. I knew the people I wanted to talk to, and those are the only ones I opened up to.” But “beneath the still surface,” as she puts it, a performer had always been bubbling. “I remember being very good at impressions. I used to mimic actresses and entertain my close friends for hours on end. I was even a pretty good dancer, but that was, of course, reserved for my tightly latched room where I danced in front of the TV.”
Throughout her childhood, Gautam battled a pressing dilemma that came with a burning existential question – who was the real her? The shy kid wrote off by everyone in school or the star performer who danced her heart out in front of every television/radio set her house had? “I don’t know why it’s always about having a performer’s personality. If you told the people in my school that’d I be who I am today, they’d probably say, ‘Yami? Really?’ I partly don’t blame them because I didn’t give them a reason to think otherwise.”
Gautam’s first stage experience further solidified her belief that, perhaps, the stage wasn’t for her. “I was an excellent student, so teachers pushed me to expand my horizons and try performing. This one time, I participated in a poetry recital at 15, and I froze when I climbed up on stage. It was like everyone in the room was looking at me, making me feel so out of my skin. I just rambled through my lines and ran off the stage. I told myself I’d never do that again.”
But that feeling wouldn’t last too long. Once the jitters went away, Gautam made another promise to herself – one that’d get her closer to being the person she believed was in her destiny. “I decided to work on myself throughout college slowly. I knew I had to present my ideas well to get somewhere. I might not even feel like the warmest person right now, but trust me, I had to put a lot of effort into getting here.”
LUCK BY CHANCE
All this effort was about to pay off in more ways than she could imagine. “Doing good in college presentations and debates was planned, landing the TV auditions and eventually a job was not. Then, finally, the right things came together at the right time to give it to me.” Gautam was about to break out of her shell by doing something she couldn’t dream of a couple of years later – moving to Bombay to work on a daily soap.
While she was now a step closer to her childhood dream of being in Bollywood, this phase in Gautam’s life presented a new challenge. She was performing in front of cameras now, but on projects that were not well crafted and articulate as she’d like them to be. “It was work but not the kind of work I could see myself doing for a long time. Fifty-hour shoot weeks suck the life out of you; not putting in as much effort becomes essential for your survival. I knew I wanted to get out of it as soon as I could, so I started going out on audition calls during the lunch breaks.”
All those skipped lunches paid off big. “I’m eternally grateful to Shoojit sir for Vicky Donor. That was the first project of the rest of my life.” Now, ten years and a few dozen films later, Gautam is still aware of where she comes from and how she got to where she is. “I came here because of my hard work, so that’s what I want to keep doing. Every role is a new challenge.”As for her future in the industry, Gautam chooses to be blissfully existential. “You never get to determine how your work is received. I’m lucky I even get to be in the movies. So each new project I choose is a spin of the roulette wheel, and I hope to keep winning against the house.”