In this freewheeling interview, Sohum Shah discusses why he thinks Maharani season 2 is fireworks, his awkwardness in doing romantic scenes, his love for the show’s creator Subhash Kapoor, and more.
One of the hallmarks of a good show is that it has something for everyone. Maharani 2, which released recently on SonyLIV to much acclaim, lives up wonderfully to this expectation. It has a lot to offer through its 10-episode marathon run — a fictional take on Bihar’s messy political milieu, the coming of age of the wife of a jailed lower-caste chief minister, and a riveting power play for the coveted chief ministerial throne.
Sohum Shah, who rose to fame with his incredible 2018 thriller Tumbbad, plays Bihar CM Bheema Bharti, whose illiterate, utterly domestic wife Rani (Huma Qureshi) throws him behind bars over a fodder scam. With the second season, Shah proves his acting prowess once again. His Bheema is one of those rare characters that is every actor’s dream. He is both the hero and the villain. It’s anything but easy to play a leader who is layered and full of agendas that are not always noble, but Shah cakewalks through this tricky terrain with remarkable finesse.
Echoing an iconic dialogue from season 1, he says Bheema may be all kinds of grey, wo swarg nahi de paye, par swar toh diye hai. In this freewheeling interview, he talks about why he thinks Season 2 is fireworks, his awkwardness in doing romantic scenes, his love for the show’s creator Subhash Kapoor, and more.
Q. What was the one major difference in working on the two seasons?
It’s easy to crack the first season. You actually get to know about any series in its second season. Maharani’s season 1 was indie-commercial for me. This season, however, is an absolute blockbuster. For me, the first season was Bheema on khatiya. He was a one-dimensional character. People would talk that Bheema would do this and that, but he doesn’t get to do much at all. But in this season, he does a whole lot.
Acting has navras. Of the nine, you’ll get to see at least six-seven ras in Bheema this season. He is the villain. But he is also the hero with a full, overwhelming personal and professional life. You will get to see a lot more of Bheema this time around. Bheema of Season 2 is very complicated. The genre will jump multiple times — just when you think the story is going in one direction, it will take a surprisingly different turn.
In this season, both Bheema and Rani have a personal life, demanding public careers, and differing ideologies. All of it makes the second season very complex and interesting, and therefore it was all the more difficult for us to get it right.
Q. How has it been working with Huma Qureshi? How has your equation evolved over the two seasons?
Working with Huma was a pleasure. When we started shooting for Season 1, I was very uptight and she would always be energetic. Toh meri aise kuch khaas jama nahi thi shuru shuru mein. But as we continued to work together, we became friends. By the time we began shooting Season 2, we started understanding each other better, and why we were doing certain scenes the way we were.
As an actor, Huma has a gift — she will keep on talking and joking around on the set but the minute the camera turns on, she would become Rani Bharti. The ease with which she does it surprises me every time. I really like this about her. Moreover, acting is all about reacting. When you have such a terrific co-actor, it rubs off you and makes your work a whole lot easier.
I’ll tell you something interesting. Our chemistry is great when we are fighting but not so much in the romantic scenes. Mujhe bohot gaaliyan padi hai. That initial scene in the first season, in which Rani is angry with Bheema and he is trying to cajole her, and she finally sends him to milk a cow, Subhash Sir didn’t like it at all. He called me separately to ask if something was wrong with me. He later announced that iss aadmi ka romance mein haath tight hai, he can’t do romantic roles. But I’ve tried to do better this season.
Q. What was the most difficult bit about shooting season 2?
The speech that you see in the trailer. It was very difficult for me. It’s easy to shoot regular scenes; someone talks and you respond. Par wo jo speech thi na, usme meri jaan nikal gayi. But Subhash Sir supported me a lot. He taught me, showed me how to do it, and stood in the audience. I would look at him when addressing the crowd and he would tell me from there what to do and what not to do. My interpretation of Bheema was that of a soft politician. But he wanted him to be aggressive. So it took me a lot of hard work to crack that speech. After we were done, I asked Subhash Sir what he thought about it. He laughed and said, “Ab aaya na ooth pahad ke neeche.”
Also, it was not easy to create Bheema’s character arc for this season since he is so complex; he changes in every scene so much so that you’ll think he’s a different man each time. It’s difficult to make a man as layered and unpredictable as him, look credible, to get his graph and his emotions right.
But as an actor, it’s my job to understand the perspective of every character I play. So for me, Bheema is not a villain. I have tried to bring my perspective to the character so that when people watch him, they are able to empathize with him.
Q. Web shows require actors to play a character for a long time. How do you ensure that you stay in character for such an extended period and maintain continuity?
Coincidentally, there was a lockdown before we started shooting both seasons. But fortunately, I had to put on weight each time. So my mother nicely fed me aloo ke paranthe to ensure I look like an incarcerated chief minister who got VIP treatment in jail. For this season, I also had to grow a beard. So I couldn’t take up any other acting project for as long as it took us to shoot Season 2.
But once you fall in love with something, everything else becomes insignificant. I fell in love with Bheema Bharti. I really like him — he’s larger than life, has immense swag, says dialogues straight from 1970s, everyone calls him saheb. Toh wo mere andar ram gaya. When I heard the narration, I’d decided that I’d give him my everything — blood, sweat, time, toil. I didn’t have to recall or remember anything for Season 2. Bheema had become a part of me. Also, there wasn’t a long gap between the shooting of the two seasons; we started after a year. So it wasn’t that difficult.
Q. Is Subhash Kapoor collaborative on set or does he have a strict vision of what he wants?
Because he is a writer-director, he has a very clear vision of what he wants. But he is also open to contributions. He is not rigid. I would go up to him with questions and suggestions. If he liked them, he’d include them, otherwise, he won’t. With Subhash Sir, every artist has the freedom to speak their mind. Despite knowing what he wants, he is always looking for something new and unexpected. He is always open to discoveries. It delights him. I really love him. He’s like a big brother to me.
As an actor, I enjoy it only when it’s collaborative and when I’m contributing to the process too. If you tell me what to do each day, I will begin to feel claustrophobic. Don’t take my ideas but I should have the freedom to say things and bring in my own personality. You choose a particular actor over everybody else because they bring a certain distinctiveness with them. It’s only when actors improvise that they make any role their own.
Maharani 2 is available for streaming on SonyLIV.
Read other pieces by Sneha Bengani here.
First Published: IST