For a glamorous chic Mumbai girl looking to make it big in Bollywood, making a debut as an obese, deglammed, married woman sporting choti is unconventional to say the least. And to gain around 12 kgs for the same? That takes guts and immense self-confidence. The next film saw her (of course lose all those extra weight and) play a married woman in a rural village fighting to get a toilet made inside the house. The film highlighted the poor sanitation facilities in rural India. Next, she picked up a film that was a satire on erectile dysfunction, another taboo topic. She followed it up with another role that not many actresses would have the courage to dive into. With hardly any dialogues, the short saw her play a house help. The film begins with her having sex with her employer and it is a no-holds-barred scene rarely seen in Hindi cinema. And then she played a sexagenarian sharpshooter. That is Bhumi Pednekar for you — unconventional, raw, and supremely talented. However, the ‘out-of-the-box’ often eventually becomes a new box. With small-town stories making big money, the characters inhabiting that world are also trembling on the brink of becoming stereotypes. And Bhumi, who had been mostly seen playing a variation of a woman living in a tier-II city, ran the risk of becoming the poster girl for such roles. Maybe that is the reason, in her next Bhumi has chosen to play something totally different.
“It is the most challenging and special film for me as it is for the first time the responsibility of the entire film will be on my shoulders. Durgamati is something I’m most pressured and excited about,” says the actor of her next outing Durgamati, which is a remake of the 2018 Telugu hit Bhaagamaathie.
The horror story
“I am not up for doing remakes usually because the expectation is high and remake has to be done well otherwise we have seen remakes go horribly wrong,” she admits before adding that Durgamati is a dream role for any actress. “This is a role of a lifetime, because such roles aren’t really written for women. You’ll never see a woman helm a film which has action, drama, emotion, romance, suspense — there’s a larger-than-life, mass appeal to the film. You barely see any woman-led film with the kind of canvas that Durgamati gave me,” says Bhumi.
This is her first attempt at horror and the actor admits that it isn’t easy. “Horror is one of the most difficult genres for an actor. Here you make the audience believe in something that they know is not real. The entire film rests on the performance and a different atmosphere is created for the audience on the basis of the performance itself. I wanted to experience this genre,” she says.
The remake will see Bhumi reprising the role of IAS Chanchala, a character already played to perfection by Anushka Shetty. And Bhumi faces obvious comparisons. “It is very natural for comparisons to happen and I’m absolutely okay. When I had watched the original, I was amazed and was in awe of what Anushka had done. In fact, it was her performance that got me excited to take on the film. The idea is never to compete with someone who has done the film before. This is my take. The scenes may be the same; still every actor tries to bring in something different to the role. I have tried the same,” she says.
The actor has made it a point that Durgamati sees her version of IAS Chanchala and not a rehashed version of the original. “But, having said that, Durgamati is a first for me… it was the first film where I didn’t have a plan. Usually for every characterisation of mine, I had a set of plans. I have to work on my language as well as the body language. Because usually I play characters from the heartland of India and they are very away from me. But this girl, Chanchal Chauhan, is somebody I could identify with. She is an IAS officer, who was in jail for murder. My preparation was more about the mindset. It wasn’t the body language or the dialect but about how to think like a person who has spent time behind bars. And because she is an IAS she takes immense pride in her job. In a strange way there were a lot of things where I connected with her. But literally this is the first time that I didn’t have a plan of action,” she reveals.
From minimalism to high drama
And that is because the actor points out that the conspiracy horror-thriller genre is very driven by the plot points, the audio cues, and the visual elements that add on to the film, and hence it needed to be a one-person’s vision. “I completely succumbed to the vision that my director had because it’s a genre that I can’t really imagine. It is not something that I have ever done and I did not want to put in my own two bits.”
But Bhumi is known for her natural and minimalist acting. What made her say yes to such a loud and over-the-top role? “As an actor, I don’t want to be limited to doing a particular kind of work. I want to do work that I believe in and work that is credible. And I found both these things in Durgamati. The narrative is different, and the scale is larger than life, sure. You usually see male characters do these parts. There is a lot of machismo and heroism attached to such parts. And that’s precisely the reason why I did it. So these qualities attached to both the genders now need to merge. Those lines need to be blurred. So Durgamati is definitely a genre-breaker,” she explains.
Talking about the gender stereotypes in Hindi movies, she adds: “I think we need to change the depiction of genders. We need to change how we show women and men. Women are not supposed to be whitewashed — we have desires, we have ambition, and we have physical needs. I think we need to see a lot more of that in our cinema. Similarly, we must alter the way men are shown in films. We put so much pressure on the male gender, telling them that they are supposed to be strong, that they can’t cry, can’t show emotion. This narrative, ‘mard ko dard nahi hota’ needs to change.”
For the actor, how she represent women on screen is very important. “Cinema has the power to influence people and I do feel that through our portrayal of women, we can push the messaging of equality, of independence. I think my films should entertain people but at the same time, it does seek to leave the audience with a thought that will hopefully change them for the better,” the actor is categorical.