“It just can’t be physical appearance as to why a person is taken in a film,” says Bhumi Pednekar

The actress downplays ageism debate over Saand Ki Ankh (2019) and the criticism over her exaggerated dark make-up in Bala (2019)  

By Mayur Lookhar

Bhumi Pedenekar in Bala (2019)

For a large part of its history, Hindi cinema has bracketed its female protagonists with a certain identity. The ideal heroine ought to have been this saree-clad beautiful woman whose job was to love her man, his family, and never cross set cultural lines.  The Parveen Babis, the Zeenat Amans broke these shackles to emerge as free spirited souls.  While these women broke physical stereotypes, but they didn’t really break social barriers.  Parallel cinema threw up strong feminist stories, but it never could create the same impact as that of a mainstream film.

It’s only in the new millennial that female characters have truly found their voice. Remarkably, the pioneer in breaking stereotypes in the modern era is a woman who has largely donned traditional clothing.  Mumbai-born Bhumi Pednekar (30) has made a career out of playing earthy roles.  The physical attire is redundant,  Pednekar has tackled the patriarchy and regressive thinking through her quirky yet strong characters.  And perhaps that’s what sets her apart form her contemporaries. Pednekar’s women empowerment tales have often been told in quirky manner which have made those social dramas equally acceptable to masses and classes alike.

Pednekar’s coming on the back of her critically acclaimed performance in Saand Ki Aankh (2019) where she played a 60 plus woman. She will next be been in Maddock Films’ Bala (2019) where she plays a bright, jovial lawyer, who still is mocked over the colour of her skin. She’s drawn criticism over her exaggerated dark make-up.

She’s been on the go in the last 30 hours, barely having any sleep. There’s no drop in her energy though. In this group interaction, Pednekar cites her reasons for picking Bala, is thrilled with the love that’s coming Saand Ki Aankh’s way, breaking stereotypes and more. 

Excerpts.

What is it about Bala that attracted you?

What really attracted me about Bala was that when I read the script, this character Latika, I completely resonated with her. She is this complete girl. She is beautiful, strong, independent, intelligent and sensitive. She is a great daughter. She’s a lawyer, a career-oriented woman. She is quite complete, but the society feels she isn’t because of her colour.  Through the film she is trying to break this mould, this standard of beauty.  I am trying to do something similar with my work.  I am trying to break these stereotypes.  When we are born, there id no discrimination. The society does it. That is what we are trying to break through this film.

Apart from that it was obviously the fact Amar Kaushik was directing it. He is a fantastic director. I have watched Stree (2018) and I loved it. I had a chance to collaborate with Ayushmann Khurrana [again]. It’s our third film together.  What excited me a lot was our relationship in the film is very different. We usually do rom coms, love stories with a twist. This time it was different. I think both of us were looking for that.  I thought we can’t be doing another love story where there is a problem. Here we are playing childhood friends. It’s like a Tom and Jerry relationship.

This is your second successive film where your [character] look has evoked a debate.  Do you feel may be at times, we Indians tend to take the physical aspect too seriously and don’t look at the soul of the character?

I don’t think it has to do anything with us as being Indians. It is just human nature.  I have realised where there is appreciation, there will be criticism. Everybody should have an opinion. Social media is a platform to put your opinions. I respect a lot of them. I take some into consideration. Some get me thinking that may be what this person is saying is right.  But a lot of them is also crap. So, I just flush out the unwanted opinions down the toilet.

Be it the issue of ageism, or the color aspect of it. I am an actor it is my job to be able to do different kind of parts.  If one went by logic, then I shouldn’t have done Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) where I gained 30 kilograms for the film. I shouldn’t have done most of the films that I have done. I’ve always said you should watch the film. If you have a problem with it then please comment on my work, but please don’t comment on my choice. I am going to continue doing this.     

I feel why a filmmaker has taken me in a film is their choice. I am sure the director has taken me because I add some value to the film.  I’m a half decent actor. It just can’t be physical appearance as to why a person is taken in a film.  There is lot more that an actor has to do in the movie. We need to look at the creative process more holistically.   

Do you think it is a good time for female actors to do variety of roles?

100 per cent. If I see my career graph, in the last one year, I started shooting last September for Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. It has got international appreciation. It will release in India early next year. I am playing a 20-year-old girl over there. Then I played a 70-year-old woman in another film (Saand Ki Aankh). This year, I have done five-six strong characters. It says a lot about how times are changing. If l look at my colleagues Alia Bhatt, Taapsee Pannu, I think we all are doing films that is really empowering to my gender.  We are doing films where women are celebrated.   Right from the beginning, I have been only part of movies where the girl has a lot to do.  It’s not a common thing, but the change is happening slowly.

Conventional wisdom would be to avoid monotony.  But you have regularly played these earthy characters. How do you reinvent yourself with each character?

Firstly, I always say I am the queen of (Hindi) heartland India.  I love it I own it. I am a desi girl and I am going to celebrate it.  Why? Because in real life I am not that person.  I’m a Bombay girl. Playing these characters is actually very difficult for me. Playing a regular Bombay [now Mumbai] would be very easy. These [earthy] characters require a lot of work. I am very proud of the fact that I can transform myself into these people. When it comes to monotony, I don’t think any of my characters are similar. They all belong to a certain socio-economic background but none of them are similar. I have a played a 70-year-old in a village, or what I did in Sonchiriya (2019) where I played a 28-year-old with a 15-year-old child.   I hope that till now, I haven’t made my audience feel that she’s doing the same stuff.  The day that happens then I will need to [change]. Also, I am constantly looking for characters. I am not looking for projects.  

Could Saand Ki Aankh have fared better had it released during another weekend. Your thoughts?

I am not a trade analyst. I’m not a producer.  So, I cannot tell what could have transpired has this happened.  I am pleased with the love that Saand Ki Aankh is getting. I think the film has become an example of. (pauses) what the two Dadis (Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar) stand for in real life.  The film had a rocky start but slowly and steadily it is only getting better.  It has surpassed the second weekend and is getting stronger.  It is encouraging and motivating for me.  The kind of love that I have got from Saand Ki Aankh, it has never happened before.  I have done some good films, but I haven’t got such a response. It is just so flattering.

What are the learnings that you have taken from each film?

Let me start with Bala. I think in Bala, the idea of self-acceptance. We all have complexes.  The thought of if you don’t love yourself, then the world will not love you.  That is what I learnt in Bala.  You have to respect everybody.  No one is perfect. We ought to celebrate our imperfections. 

With every film experience of mine, I have just become a humbler person. I have become less selfish.  I come from a sheltered family. I live with my family. I never had any struggles per se. I have worked my entire life. I started working when I was 17.  I still had certain comforts. Every film has changed me.   I think I have done 8 films so far. Every character has just left so much behind with me.

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