The interview takes place on a breezy Thursday as I sit down with umpteen questions that run through my mind. Our latest issue’s cover star needs no introduction. Bhumi Pednekar has managed to win the hearts of cinephiles as well as those who aren’t ardent cinemagoers (like me) alike. Unlike many who have a cinematic legacy to bank on, Pednekar had to climb her way up, charting a rather unconventional (she played an overweight small-town girl in her debut and will portray a 65-year-old in her latest film, ‘Saand Ki Aankh’) but promising path for herself. She doesn’t shy away from sharing her journey and is pretty upfront about the years prior to her debut. Her energy is palpable as we discuss our current reads (she almost squeals in delight as I mention that I am reading ‘Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix’).
Wedding Affair (WA) gets into a candid and refreshing conversation with one of the most intelligent and talented artistes of our Indian film industry — Bhumi Pednekar (BP).
WA: Your journey really intrigues me. Starting off as an assistant casting director and ending up as an actor. Tell us more about the same.
BP: I started my career as an assistant casting director at Yash Raj Films (YRF) with Abhimanyu Ray. After working with him, I joined Shanoo Sharma and was responsible for the secondary casting. In the gap between these two casting jobs, I did all kinds of odd jobs at YRF. Though I never really shared it with anyone, but I always wanted to be an actress. The one thing I am really proud of is that ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ didn’t happen because I was at the right place at the right time. I had personally auditioned 200-250 girls for the character of Sandhya (she was helping out in the casting process of her debut before being chosen to play the lead). I got it purely on the basis of merit. My audition process was a lot tougher because Sharat Kataria (director of her debut) was sceptical regarding my casting. Being born and bred in Mumbai, how will I do justice to the character of a small-town girl? But then I started gaining weight, underwent training and finally ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ happened.
WA: Why ‘Dum Laga ke Haisha’? Yes, people are more accepting towards films that are off the beaten track but still choosing such an unconventional character as a debut could have gone both ways.
BP: I will be very honest with you. I don’t think I chose ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ (smiles), the project chose me. Being from a non-film background, you don’t get to choose the debut that you want. I am very fortunate that my debut happened with an interesting project like ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’. I wanted to break the norm, I wanted to shatter the stereotypes revolving around a leading heroine. I feel this is the exact reason why I am where I am today.
WA: While it must have been really difficult to literally get into the skin of Sandhya, your physical transformation post your debut was nothing less than spectacular. The best part about it was that you were pretty comfortable about it, sharing your weight loss journey on various social media platforms, which many working in the film industry aren’t. What motivated you to share the same?
BP: I had played a character who was a very confident girl. Despite the society putting so much pressure on her because of her physicality, she broke through it. If Sandhya can, anyone can. I wanted to address the stigma attached to weight. I just wanted to be real about it. If anyone wants to shift to a healthier lifestyle, it’s not impossible. The idea was to share that I have done exactly what anyone can do at their home. I didn’t resort to fancy measures or hire 10 nutritionists to take care of my diet. It was just my mother and I trying to bring about a change in my lifestyle, trying to get me back to being the Bhumi I was before the film — fit and healthy.
WA: After your debut, you made it a point to take up challenging projects with a quirky yet relatable storyline. What draws you towards such films?
BP: I think when you read a script you should feel an instant connection and that is what happens with me. I realise that these are women that I would want to portray. These are characters that will be remembered. I love pushing my boundaries and once you start to experiment, it is difficult to do run-of-the-mill stuff. My main motive is to keep reinventing myself. Everything that I am doing this year and next year is unique. I started 2019 with ‘Sonchiriya’. I will be seen as a 65-year-old in ‘Saand Ki Aankh’, whereas in ‘Bala’ I will be portraying a deep-complexioned girl. Then there is ‘Pati Patni Aur Woh’ which is an out-and-out family comedy. I will also be dabbling with the horror genre with ‘Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship’. ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare’, helmed by Alankrita Shrivastava, is again a fascinating project which celebrates womanhood.
WA: Even when artistes are looking forward to work in larger-than-life projects, you didn’t shy away from stepping into the digital domain. Out of the two formats, which is more liberating?
BP: I find both of them to be extremely creative. ‘Lust Stories’ was a 20 minutes short film, which I really enjoyed working on. Also, I feel that it’s not the format that matters, but the kind of people you are working with and the story that does. I am extremely lucky that the kind of projects I choose are very liberating. I get to learn a lot through my characters.
WA: After seeing the pictures from your cover shoot, it’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that you portrayed Sudha with such ease and perfection. How challenging was it to play her character in ‘Lust Stories’?
BP: (Laughs) I guess that’s the beauty of being an actress, you can transform yourself into totally different individuals and breathe life into them. For Sudha, I had to completely change the way I think. There was a lot of work that went into ‘Lust Stories’. It touched the issue of female sexuality and desires which hasn’t been talked about that frequently on celluloid. It was fun working on it. Also, I was able to team up with Zoya Akhtar which again was a dream come true.
WA: In 2018, you made a place for yourself in the coveted Forbes 30 Under 30. How does it feel to be a young achiever? Do you feel pressured or do such milestones encourage you to give your best?
BP: They definitely encourage me. Every time your work is appreciated, it’s very motivating. Of course, it is a big personal achievement. It is very gratifying to see the kind of impact my cinema has on the society. Such milestones motivate me to work harder and break stereotypes with aplomb.
WA: Today people do take success seriously, but they take their failures way more seriously. Detaching from failures isn’t easy.
BP: (Pauses) It isn’t but it’s a part and parcel of life. Failures are meant to make you stronger. If you fail at something, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t the right thing to do. It just means that you need to work harder, give it another chance and things will fall into place. I have learned a lot from my failures and they motivate me to work harder. You can’t hold onto failures, you have to move on.
WA: Coming on hard work and learning from mistakes, your film ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ is making quite a lot of buzz. Tell us more about this interesting project.
BP: Yayyyyyy! Oh my God! Where do I start from? The film is a biopic on real life women who at the age of 65 became sharpshooters. These women are legendary. They belong to a small village in Haryana and have lived in an extremely patriarchal society their entire life. They come from a family where women are by and far neglected. They picked up the gun so that their daughters and granddaughters are not shackled the way they were. What they did was really brave. You need to have the courage and vision to do anything in life and these women stand for the same.
WA: You are quite vocal about your views when it comes to environmental issues. Our readers would love to learn more about the same.
BP: We have damaged our planet to a point of no return. There’s a lack of clean drinking water, our fresh water sources are drying, we are polluting our rivers and deforesting at an extremely dangerous rate. We are the users of these resources and we need to use them judiciously. That’s the only way we can move forward. I strongly feel about water conservation and have actively voiced my concern about it. The way we are taking care of our water resources, the day isn’t far when we will hit ground zero. Small things like turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, taking public transport, avoiding the use of shower in the bathroom and the like, will go a long way in the betterment of our planet. We can bring about a change if we want to. The future completely depends on what we do today.
Qualities You Would Look For In Your Partner: He should respect my ambitions and vision. He should be empathetic, intelligent and accepting.
Describe Yourself In Three Words: Sensitive, intelligent and ambitious
Your Favourite Quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Currently Watching: ‘The Spy’
Currently Reading: ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Professor Yuval Noah Harari
Favourite Actress: Meryl Streep
Timeless Style Icon: Rekha ma’am
Favourite Films: ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’