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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Meet Flora Saini, The Woman Who Played The Title Role In One Of 2018’s Biggest Hits, Stree

  • IWB Post
  •  January 5, 2019

“We women are, by default, wired to love and care unconditionally. But many view it as our weakness and dare to exploit it to their advantage. What they forget is that a woman craves and deserves respect above anything. So, if you ever disrespect a woman, remember that she is a warrior, she will fight, she will win, she will survive,” said Flora Saini.

With a never-give-up attitude, Flora Saini is a known face in Kannada, Tamil and Hindi films and has co-starred with noted actors including Rajinikanth, Vijaykanth, Prabhu, and many others. She hooked the attention of her audience with her mere presence in the widely appreciated film Stree, starring Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao, creating just the right balance between horror and comedy.

Flora Saini

Hailing 2018 as her comeback year, after film offers dried up for her when she came out as a sexual assault survivor way back in 2007 and pointed out her abuser, she shared with IWB about working in Stree and fighting the odds to come out as a winner.

Excerpts:

So, being a mad fan of Stree, I would like you to know that the best thing I found in the film was the fact that the scary character was actually played well and had a backstory!

Well, thank you so much for the first compliment. (she laughs) But yeah, in most horror Bollywood films we see the scary character just dribbling blood and running after their victims screaming, which I did too and literally tore my vocal cords recording those scary screeches. But yes, giving the Stree a solid back story, something that gives her base, was truly amazing.

Flora Saini

How did you land up the role, though?

It’s all destiny. When I was first called for the role, I had denied it. The next day I was shooting for an ad where the shooting of Stree was taking place as well and I noticed the auditions going for the various characters in the film. And I was floored, Apeksha! Whatever story I could deduce from being there, appeared to be too amazing to not be a part of, even though my face is only partially seen in the film.

So, tell me about your experience of working with Amar Kaushik, Rajkummar Rao, Shradhha Kapoor and the entire cast of Stree.

The VFX guy would tell me how ugly he was going to make me look and I was all “Bring it on!” After all, if I am going to give my scary best, there should be no lack when it comes to boosting how much my mere look can horrify the audience. Mission accomplished, I’ll say.

Flora Saini

I was told that for most of the film I will be suspended in air via a harness for extended periods of time. I was game! Then I was recorded screaming for the film and after it was over, Shradhha, the sweetheart that she is, would bring warm water with honey for me. To sum it up, I would say that I totally enjoyed the entire experience.

Though Stree was a commercial and critical success, many have panned the old Bollywood trend of sidelining the female characters in the film and just focusing on the male characters.

While Bollywood and other film industries in India undoubtedly follow that pattern, I feel that Stree was a film, in fact, a message to all men out there that if you respect the women in your life, they are ready to compromise, care for you, and love you unconditionally. But if you snatch away that core necessity, she can be a force to be reckoned with. And to relay that message, the story had to focus on Rajkummar Rao.

Flora Saini

But the pattern of killing the part of female- characters in films, serials and these days web series is slowly but surely fading away. Films like Queen, Veere Di Wedding, Tumhari Sulu, fared very well even though they broke the male-centric-film rule. This proves that the script rules now, not the male actor with the superstar status.

Talking about web series, you are starring in an upcoming web series by ALT Balaji, called Gandi Baat, an erotic drama. Recently, an intimate scene featuring you and actor Anveshi Jain was leaked online and the viewers reacted rather negatively…

… and perceived it with lust only. Unlike the sequences involving the men in the show, the scene was a celebration of love. But what they are seeing now is just the lone scene without the background story that added the emotions to it.

Our director Sachin Mohite made us feel very comfortable, he made sure that the set is locked and no one could enter while we are shooting. Sachin would stand with a towel which we would use to cover ourselves as soon as the shot would end. Except for the cameramen, there were no men allowed on the set. I didn’t feel like an object on show but an actor allowed to immerse herself in the character she was given. Even my mother was present on the set when the scene was being shot!

The mentality of an individual decides how they perceive things. And that includes the #MeToo movement in India where many questioned the women who came out with the allegations of sexual assault against many high-profile men. But you spoke up against sexual assault in 2007 when the stigma of victim shaming was even worse.

I was new in the industry and had starred in a handful of films. And when producer Gaurang Doshi, the man who I loved and trusted, beat me so bad that he broke my jaw and I called him out on it, I was labeled as someone who was just doing all this to get famous.

Flora Saini

All was okay till the point I accepted his cruelty, his beatings in the name of love but the second I put my dignity first and said that enough is enough, I was shunned by him and the society. I was living with him then and he didn’t even allow me to take my things, my passport, my driving license and shut the door in my face.

Even today, 11 years since I filed a case of assault against him which is still going on, he still says that he did nothing, that he never knew me. I have fought the case when the film offers had dried up in the light of sexual assault allegations I had made, I had little to no money but I still fought the expensive legal battle against him.

Standing up against such people drains one, both financially and emotionally.

True, it does. That’s why I salute the women who came out with their #MeToo stories and bravely named their abuser because I know the emotional trauma they must have went through. I survived that. I was cross-questioned in court, where me, the victim, had to literally struggle to prove her truth. I was character assassinated by the opposition’s lawyer. And that battle has taught me, that when it becomes too hard to carry on, one may or may not have people around who will help them but they do have themselves, their spirit that only they can heal. I learned to be my own support, I learned to not only survive but live life.

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