BY MIHIKA AGARWALConfined at home, bickering with those you live with and with your mental health on edge, is Suttabaazi in a nutshell—a short film highlighting an average family’s lockdown experience, that is so relatable it hardly seems fictional. The 15-minute slice-of-life family drama also marks the acting debut of Sushmita Sen’s 21-year-old daughter, Renee Sen. Directed by the young filmmaker Kabeer Khurana (known in festival circles for his award-winning shorts), the youth-powered film sees Renee portraying a rebellious young adult as she navigates being stuck at home with her conservative family, played by Rahul Vohra and Komal Chhabria.
Renee’s character Diya, a gen-Z social media influencer, is done to death with online schooling, struggles to overcome a massive generational gap with her boomer parents, and is a stressed out chain-smoker. Diya’s mum is always inundated with household chores and perpetually appalled at the domestic incompetence of her daughter and husband, while her dad—a likely member of WhatsApp University—believes that COVID-19 is a conspiracy theory. The film serves up a dose of reality layered in humorous exchanges between the nuclear family.
“It’s a very simple and relatable story of every family that revolves around the pandemic. It gives a very important message which is to not seek validation from others—that’s what drew me to it, the simplicity of the story,” Renee relays over a Zoom interview. But what made this the perfect film for her acting debut? The actor confesses that she found herself relating to Diya “minus the smoking part”. Growing up, she too identified as a rebel and even mirrored her character’s frustration at wanting to step out of the house during the pandemic. “It’s the little things that were a lot like me which made it more relatable and real for me to be and do,” she adds.
On being a star child
Unlike the usual ‘star kid launch’ that comes with its share of fanfare and glamour, Renee has chosen a short film that premiers on YouTube. But the young actor was sure that she wanted her first project to be pursued independently, and in fact landed the role all on her own. Incidentally, in true gen-Z manner through an Instagram conversation with Khurana, who happens to be her friend. “I am going to make my own shoes and fill them. I am not my mother’s clone so I don’t want to be another her. We are all individuals and she always encourages us to be our own person—have our own opinions and share our opinions respectfully without hurting anyone’s sentiments,” she asserts.
In fact, Sushmita too was keen on Renee’s debut project being done autonomously. And what was her reaction to her daughter’s first film? “She was emotional, happy, but mostly proud that I did it on my own,” Renee exclaims. Asked if she ever feels the pressure of following in her mother’s footsteps, she quips, “The truth is her shoes are too big to fill so I am not even going to try!”
On crafting her own path
“It’s not a conscious choice to do unconventional things—if it happens, it happens. Or if I become the quintessential Bollywood heroine in a film, that’s fine too,” the self-assured actor shares. Renee is hyper-aware of the scope of her nascent career’s possibilities and wants to try everything from an action to a rom-com and a thriller. “I want the roles I play to be very different from one another so that I see my caliber of performance while I entertain the audience,” she relays.
On going beyond acting
In a 2015 interview, Sushmita had shared that she didn’t want her daughter’s career options to be limited to acting. And Renee seems to have taken her mother’s advice to heart. The multi-hyphenate is a Kathak dancer, a trained classical singer and a double major in psychology and sociology. “I think I want to do everything in life from flying a plane to acting and being a psychologist,” an enthused Renee says. But the final-year-student feels particularly strongly about the discipline of psychology which helps her understand herself better and be more empathetic.
On social media and her newfound fame
As she promotes her upcoming film, there has been a resounding consensus of ‘she’s a natural on screen’ headlining her interviews, but this is also her first brush with being in the limelight. And with that comes the trolls, Renee recently had her Instagram account hacked in an unfortunate incident. But unlike her on-screen persona, that shows an afflicted Diya spiralling when her father’s demand for a more suitable Instagram live outfit costs her 200 followers, Renee doesn’t attach too much value to social media. “I wanted to become an actor to act and Instagram followers are just a by-product of what I’m doing. I didn’t get into acting for that,” she says.
Scroll through the actor’s feed, and her words come alive as you spot unfiltered pictures with friends and family with candid, heartfelt captions. There’s a sincerity and authenticity to Renee both on and off-screen, setting her apart from her peers. While she may be just one short film old in the industry, she’s definitely the one to watch.