Kirti Kulhari has won critics with her portrayal of feisty yet vulnerable Falak in Pink, and while the actress considers the film a milestone in her career, she says she will always remember it for teaching her to be unapologetic about being a woman.
The Shoojit Sircar-produced court room thriller has been hailed for highlighting the importance of consent and a woman's right to her own body, through the story of three working women in Delhi who are forced to prove that they are the victims of assault while coping with moral policing and slut shaming.
"Personally, it has affected me a lot. I've stopped blaming myself for being a woman. I've stopped being apologetic about my sexuality and become comfortable with myself.
"I've stopped caring how others are going to perceive me if I wear something that they don't like. I have realised it is easy to point fingers at others but the moment you start questioning yourself, you become a better person," Kirti said.
The 31-year-old actress says the message of Pink was something that was waiting to be told and she is happy that they were able to do justice to a delicate issue that could have easily gone wrong.
Such was the faith of the cast in the story, that it stopped being just a film for them after a point.
"It crossed the line of being just a film and became something that was personal. Everyone who was involved, no matter what role he or she had to play in its making, was moved by what we were trying to do. It was something that we all have experienced, it was a story that was waiting to be told," she says.
For Kirti, the movie has also given her a chance to showcase her talent.
"It is amazing how everyone has reacted to the film and my role. People in the industry came up to me and said, 'We never knew you had it in you' but I always knew that. It is just that 'Pink' has put me out there in a way that no other film could have done," she says.
Kirti made her debut with Khichadi The Movie and later went on to star in Shaitan, but recognition eluded her till Pink, which has been directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, came her way.
"Post 'Shaitan', I felt frustrated as I was not getting the kind of work that I wanted to do. But that weight has slid off, all the struggle now seems worth it. It is a very satisfying feeling as an artiste and as an actor. Hopefully, I get many more opportunities like this. "
Talking about the low phase in her career, Kirti says while disheartened by the dearth of good roles, she continued to polish her craft as an actor by doing theatre.
"With 'Shaitan', I got noticed but may be the choices that I made after or did not make, I fell short on that. But I was not sitting at home. I did not let that happen to me.
"I know that my strength in my craft and I have to keep working on it. I don't think you can take it for granted.
After 'Pink', I am thankful for what I have today."
Now, there is a sense of relief mixed with apprehension as Kirti does not want success to affect her.
"There is a part of me which is scared about everything that is coming. I am more scared now that the film is successful. It can easily go to your head. You can lose objectivity of where you are, what you are and where you are headed.
"I pray that I am able to treat this is as just another passing experience that has helped me grow and become a better person and actor. I am very cautious about it not letting it go to my head."
She is aware that a film like "Pink" comes rarely in an actor's career so while being optimistic about the future, Kirti wishes there were more content-driven stories for actors like her to sink their teeth into.
"People expect that your next should be better but it is rare to get a producer like Shoojit or a script like that.
This is also a call to filmmakers 'please raise your bar content-wise, create such roles for actors and that's when you will make a difference'.
"On my part, I will select the best that comes my way but I will do my best to stay away from mediocrity whatever my options are. I will try and choose characters that move me."