There was a time when I struggled with the need to get married: Kubbra Sait
In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World, Adam Grant details a startling fact. Contrary to what one might think, child prodigies do not end up changing the world. The gifted learn to play magnificent melodies by Mozart and beautiful symphonies by Beethoven, but almost never compose original scores. “[Child prodigies] conform to the codified rules of established games, rather than inventing their own rules or games,” he writes. In other words, they lack creativity.
Kubbra Sait was the complete opposite of a child prodigy. She was shy, introverted and a poor performer, being bullied by her classmates. “Not a day went by that I didn’t have to kneel in the corner of the classroom, eat lunch alone, or be teased by my classmates,” she writes in a new book, Open Book: Not Quite a Memoir. Maybe that’s why Grant would have been so pleased with her. He could have seen the spark in the child simmering under bullying and the perennial red marks on his school paper.
The spark quickly turned to fire, until it made its way to Bollywood. She recounts an incident, during her stint as emcee, when she was asked to host a client’s sangeet in Male. Once the party got going, things started to get weirdly weird. The dancers left their blouses stuffed with silver. The festivities had turned into an adult striptease and Sait badly wished she was back in her room. Suddenly, she felt a cool splash of sparkling wine on her back. An old man had thought it a sexy gesture to throw her a glass of champagne to get her attention. Sait deliberately approached him, snatched the glass from his hand, and said, “Next time you try a trick like this, I’ll smash that glass and stick it up your ass.” The night was officially over, literally and metaphorically.
The book is written with an irreverent humor that is characteristic of Who’s Sait. Sometimes the humor is observational. “An undergraduate education is like a marriage contract,” she writes. “You risk losing everything when you separate yourself from the subject.” At other times, the humor is self-deprecating. She laments how unfortunate it is that “all my plans so far have killed me in the first season.” She is, of course, referring to her most famous roles as the transgender character, Cuckoo, in Sacred Games and Phara Keaen in the international Foundation production, based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books.
She describes how she landed the role of Coucou. When director Anurag Kashyap told her about the scene, describing the pain of a transgender person over her inability to carry the child of the man she loves, she was deeply shaken. Sait, 39, sat in front of the mirror, looked and looked until she felt she was ready, then walked out. Every time she was done with the lines, she fell to the ground in tears. The words were so powerful they weighed him down. She did this over and over until finally, at the end of take seven, she collapsed, exhausted and crying uncontrollably. Vaguely, she heard “Cut”. That night, in her bedroom, she texted Kashyap. “Am I still working on the show? ” she asked. “Of course you are,” he replied. “You gave us gold.”
Sait’s website describes her as follows: “Kubbra Sait has several characters under her sleeve, all waiting to be released. Just say the word “Action”. Many filmmakers have done this, starting with Anees Bazmee in her first film, Ready (2011). This was followed by a series of small roles in films like I Love NY (2015) and Sultan (2016). And then came Sacred Games, which propelled her to overnight stardom. She says she is sometimes annoyed at being constantly labeled as a peekaboo, despite other roles she’s played since, which include the characters of Scarlett in Gully Boy (2019) and Shazia in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (2020 ). “When I die, people will say the actor who played Cuckoo is dead,” she says, admitting that now she takes him in her stride. Then, laughing, she aims for the farewell shot herself. “Again, how many actors can say they’re on Netflix and Pornhub at the same time?” she asks, referring to her nude scene in Sacred Games.
His disarming honesty is sometimes disturbing. But above all, it’s refreshing, like listening to Madonna after a series of Mozart symphonies. Whether it’s her childhood sexual abuse by a family friend, an abortion that left her broken, or her “daddy issues,” she holds nothing back. “What I want people to remember is that sexual abuse was just a chapter in the book. It wasn’t the book itself. If we don’t define the chapters in our lives as our story itself, we will be better off,” she says.
Perhaps it was her fierce independence and refusal to bow to social pressure that led to a string of failed relationships. “There was a time when I struggled deeply with the need to get married to belong,” she says. “Then I realized that we didn’t have to conform to society’s standards. At 26, I was working at Microsoft (she started her career as an account manager at Microsoft in Dubai.) At 27, I left it and started my life over in Mumbai, when in fact, at 27 years, I should have been married or had my first child. When it didn’t happen, I stopped chasing the idea of what didn’t happen. I started chasing the possibilities of what might happen.
She may be single, but she’s singularly cool. You get an idea of how she describes herself on Instagram: “Babe on Bonfire; High Huntress of Anacreon; Author—Open book. And she may not have been a child prodigy, but she has something most prodigies don’t have: street smarts. Nobody jokes with Kubbra Sait. If you do, you might just get a glass of champagne shoved up your ass!
OPEN BOOK: NOT QUITE A MEMORY
By kubbra knows
published by HarperCollins
Price Rs399; pages 205