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Bhumi Pednekar: Becoming a part of the change in Hindi cinema

By Armin Sethi Wednesday, Sep 13, 2017 12:58: PM

She is easy to talk to and easy to understand because somewhere she seems like she is one of us. And maybe that’s why her films are working, be it Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, or her most recent outing, Shubh Mangal Savdhan. Take a step back and think of the films and her roles: an overweight (“non-conventional”) wife overcoming stereotypes about marriage and attraction; a film tackling open defecation; and then a film about erectile dysfunction respectively. She is part of the change and what a huge pleasure it is to speak to Bhumi Pednekar, who speaks to me on the phone whilst being stuck in a massive rainstorm in Mumbai.

I’m very excited because you had such a huge success with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and then you’ve had a great response so far to Shubh Mangal Saavdhanwhat has the last couple of months been like for you?

(Chuckles) Yeah. Well, it’s been honestly very overwhelming. Toilet was only my second film so the kind of response it has gotten is phenomenal. It is all because it has all happened so fast that I have not really had the time to sit back and really take in all that is happening. Right away, we got into promoting Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. It’s really good to see your hard work pay off. It is very creatively satisfying when your film has worked and your faith in the project has come through. My life has changed.

You started off in the most unconventional way and I spoke to your director, Mr. Prasanna, and he said about you and Ayushmann – one of the reasons he was drawn to both of you as actors is the unconventional way in which you started your career. Where did that courage come from? From casting to an actor – where did the courage from?

I’ll tell you what – you know, I always wanted to be an actor. I told my mom that this is what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know when it would happen or how it would happen. I worked at Yash Raj because I wanted to work in films. I was very young when I started. I told them I would go to film school and then I worked at Yash Raj because I knew I wanted to work before becoming an actor – I had a plan. I had a path. Mine was supposed to happen this way. I was supposed to work, gain experience, and enrich my craft. Then, there was the film that broke a lot of stereotypes for a lot of people with Dum Laga Ke Haisha. I think it was meant to be different for me and I was meant to break stereotypes.

You did your first film with Ayushmann but it was a very dynamic film. This is a film that is different than that but both films combat stereotypes in different ways. What is it that draws you to films like these?

I’ll tell you what. It’s a combination of different things. I’ve grown up watching important films that matter to me. When I first read a script, the first thing I think is: do I want to watch this film? If that happens, then already a very big question is answered. Also, I think today, the commercial scene has changed a lot. People want to see films that are different, path-breaking cinema, with different characters. That’s what I want as well. After Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I’m spoiled as well. The kind of film it was, and the kind of credibility it gave to us as actors, we were lucky that we got films like this. I can only go with my gut or my instinct because I don’t have a long list of films right now. There are also great filmmakers attached to our films so we already know the film will receieve the kind of lifting it needs. So it is a combination of different things.

Somewhere you have to be very secure in yourself.

Absolutely, I think for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I gained 27 kilograms for the film. I had no apprehensions. In my mind, I am very beautiful so I could do that. I have grown up in an environment that we always celebrate our differences. There were people who always tried bogging us down but the environment I grew up in was great. In my head, I was pretty then, and I am pretty now. I dressed the way I want, I get the same amount of attention from the opposite sex. Having said that, I think both Ayushmann and I are very secure people to take on the type of roles we take up.

You’ve said that about Ayushmann. He is secure enough to take on a subject like erectile dysfunction.

Absolutely! I think Ayushmann is a very secure man in his personal life and his professional life for him to take up a character like this. I don’t know how he does that. I don’t know many men who would want to do a role where their performance in bed is bad. You know, unfortunately, men attach too much ego and pride to their genitals. That’s just the way it is. There are so many connotations that are attached to manhood that are just so redundant and ridiculous – that men don’t get hurt, they are not weak. This is what the film celebrated – how evolved we have become and how liberated we have become. What makes you a great man or a great woman is the way you treat your family, the way you treat your husband or wife, or the people around you. That’s why my character sticks by him because she knows there is a lot more to him than his performance in bed. She sees all the qualities that she wants in her husband or in her man. She knows that he will take a stance for her. At the same time, she does not say that she is okay with not having sex with him. She knows we need to overcome this – there is an emotional and physical attachment right – in any relationship.

In terms of the kinds of films that are doing well this year, it is not the commercial blockbusters we have expected.  Lipstick, Toilet – is there a newfound appetite for only content?

I’ve always been a creative person so I don’t know what formulas work and what don’t. I love every kind of film – I love commercial films also. But I think, today, you can bring in the same amount of dance, music, fun, comedy with a sensible storyline. People still want to see some commercial, masala films. They just want some sensibility attached to it. The last two-three years, we have seen that with Kapoor & Sons, Dangal, Dum Laga Ke Haisha – these are the kind of films that have changed Hindi cinema and I’m really proud that I have been a part of that change with those films. We really have to credit our audiences because they have grown so much.


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