COVER STORY: 'I'm a proud product of hard work,' says Bollywood actress Bhumi Pednekar
When in 2015 she made her debut as the 22-year-old Sandhya Verma, weighing no less than 85 kilos, in the film Dum Laga Ke Haisha, who would have thought the same girl will, in 2020, treat Instagrammers to images of her in a bikini. Flaunting a svelte figure in an emerald green bikini, wading through the waves, Bhumi Pednekar gave her fans a pinup picture for the decade ahead. She captioned the picture, “My Mood for the next decade #HappyGirl #HappyNewYear #2020 #mood (sic).”
With this attitude, grit and determination, Bhumi made the last decade memorable not only for herself, but also for her fans with films such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Shubh Mangal Saavadhan, Sonchiriya, Saand Ki Aankh, Bala and Pati Patni Aur Woh. Although she started out with a rather unconventional role that was also a tricky one, Bhumi quickly broke the stereotype of a debutante. Unlike most newcomers, she chose to play Sandhya, an overweight teacher, in a small town of India — this was reason enough for her first film to stand out from the rest. It put her in the league of actresses who not only defy the norms, but also redefine stereotypical characters in Indian cinema.
Since then, the actress hasn’t looked back. From playing a fiercely independent wife who demands toilets in rural India (in Toilet Ek Prem Katha), an urban woman who is unashamed to express her sexual desires (in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan) to portraying the role of Chandro Tomar, an octogenarian sharpshooter from a village in UP (in Saandh Ki Aankh) and playing the dark-skinned Latika who questions prejudice against skin colour (in Bala) — Bhumi has set the bar high with her versatile performances.
In fact, her role in Lust Stories is also counted as a significant one. Bhumi played Sudha, a domestic help who has an affair with her employer, but is in for a rude shock when his parents come to visit him. The actress didn’t have too many dialogues, but she conveyed Sudha’s emotional conflict effortlessly through her acting. “I feel very fortunate that my films contributed to the changing face of cinema, and the way people look at mainstream cinema. The arts will only flourish if our thoughts are constantly changing, so one should keep challenging oneself and deconstruct everything around,” says Bhumi, who has a line-up of over six films in 2020, beginning with Bhoot Part 1: The Haunted Ship, opposite Vicky Kaushal.
In an interview with Indulge, she throws more light on her choice of films, upcoming projects, and her secret to fitness.
In 2019, four films of yours released with a hattrick of box office hits. With no godfather or guide, how has the journey been, so far?
I honestly feel I am a proud product of hard work, and no one can take that away from me. I don’t shy away from saying that these are attributes I always had, but I also feel very lucky that things happened the way they happened. I am fortunate enough that I could prove it from my first film. I also thank the audience for accepting me in any character. Be it a 70-year-old grandmother or an overweight bride, I have done every colour of the rainbow and my acting spectrum is wider than many. So, I am grateful for these opportunities that have come along my way.
You won the Face of Asia Award at the 24th edition of the prestigious Busan International Film Festival in 2019 for Alankrita Srivastava’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktey Sitarey. That’s quite an achievement...
Yes, in fact, it felt great to get so much international recognition in the last few months including Busan and Macau, and it felt great to get recognised on a platform where you are competing with so many talented and accomplished actors across the globe. It’s very motivating for me as an actor. Huge credit goes to Alankrita for making me a part of this amazing film.
You have always chosen assertive characters. What’s your role in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktey Sitarey like?
Basically, the story is about the celebration of womanhood and sisterhood. It’s about girls coming of age. It’s about any young girl who has dreams and aspirations, and keeps chasing them and no matter what happens, she is unfazed. The film celebrates having desires. Even Lust Stories, of which I was a part, showed females celebrating the feeling of desire. We, as a society, try to whitewash women in our country. Women do have desires, and that doesn’t mean that they are characterless.
Sonchiriya, Saan Ki Aankh, Bala and Pati Patni Aur Woh, the four 2019 releases saw you in four very distinct roles. What are your parameters for choosing films?
It’s actually very simple. I read the scripts a lot and then depend to a great extent on my hunch and intuition. I ask myself whether I want to be a part of this narrative or story, and how much the character draws me. But I never really look at what the audience might want. It doesn’t work for me that way. Also, in all my movies, there has to be a subtle message — one should leave the audience with an afterthought. This is a social responsibility that we have as actors.
You chose to remain quiet over the brouhaha that took place around casting young actors like you and Tapsee Pannu for the roles of older women in Saand Ki Aankh. Were you concerned?
Saand Ki Aankh will always remain special for me. When I watch it, I feel like giving myself a genuine pat on the back. Though I still feel our work did all the talking and proved everyone wrong, it was very disheartening, what happened. But I was confident that when the critics would watch the film, they would feel differently. I have transformed myself for the characters I play, all through my career, and I try not to do similar roles. I remain forever indebted to the audience for accepting us as dadis, and it feels great that it’s still in theatres.
You haven’t had any web projects after Lust Stories.
Right now, what I’m doing on celluloid is very creatively satisfying for me. OTT is, of course, the future and I would love exploring it, but the web requires a lot of time. If I get an offer that’s exciting enough, I will surely do it.
You are an important part of the ensemble cast in Karan Johar’s next, Takht. What’s your role?
Karan is putting his heart and soul into this project, and I am very confident and have a lot of faith in Karan. He is very fair and sticks to his words. Working with him was always on my bucket list, and the audience will see me in a very different light, as I am doing something I have never done before.
You will also be working with Vicky Kaushal for the first time in Bhoot Part 1?
Vicky is someone I know from the start of my career, with both of us debuting in the same year, and this movie is being directed by my oldest and dearest friend, Bhanu Pratap Singh. It’s a genre-breaking horror film, and it will be an audio-visual treat for the audience.
Tell us about Durgavati, your first solo film?
I am extremely excited about this one since it’s a genre I have never tried before. I am fortunate to be supported by Akshay Kumar and Bhushan Kumar. It’s a rather complicated role, and an out-and-out commercial, scary thriller, which is inspiring at the same time.
Are you a director’s actor?
I am receptive to things that happen around me, and I constantly feel the need to excel. I submit myself completely to the director, but also improvise a lot. I am an instinctive actor too.
Which director have you enjoyed working with the most?
Tushar Hiranandani, because I was completely uninhibited while shooting for him. I also like Abhishek Chaubey because working with him changed my thoughts towards my craft to a great extent.
Fashion: ‘I am very moody when it comes to fashion, and I dress up whenever it fancies me. I’m a complete fan of athleisure wear and I love keeping things casual, with jeans and tees being my favourite attires. My favourite colour is white. I now wear a lot of saris and I love them, and earrings are my favourite accessories.’
Food: ‘My diet keeps changing from film to film, and so I try to stay away from carbs, and I have healthy substitutes to everything processed. I keep myself hydrated, and try to get some kind of physical activity every day.’
Fitness: ‘I love going to the gym, and I do all kinds of training to keep myself fit. I love having home-cooked meals, that’s my comfort food.’
Call of the ramp
Bhumi walked the ramp in 2019 for some of the top fashion designers at various events. Here are her top three looks:
• Lakme Fashion Week 2019: The actress was one of the celebrities who walked for designer Shehla Khan. She was dressed in a black lehenga and pink sequinned choli with a frilled floor-length cape.
• Diacolor Savera Charity Ball 2019: Bhumi participated in this glitzy charity ball along with yesteryear actress Sharmila Tagore. She wore a pastel blue and pink embroidered lehenga by Ambika Jain and Divya Bindra Kapoor.
• Launch of Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s bridal collection Asal: The actress and her co-stars from Pati Patni Aur Woh turned showstoppers for the ace designers. Bhumi took to the ramp twice, in two different looks. She wore a traditional purple and pink lehenga for her first appearance. The actress was back again in a peach lehenga paired with a dupatta.
The Climate Warrior
Bhumi Pednekar introduced herself as a Climate Warrior in September 2019. She tweeted, ‘Climate Warrior is my attempt to start a dialogue with people who work tirelessly to save the environment and highlight the crisis that we find ourselves in due to climate change.’
The Bala actress bid adieu to 2019 by posting a video that recapped her journey as a Climate Warrior. She captioned it saying, ‘We need change today and the change starts with me :) Thanking all the #ClimateWarriors who have worked so hard towards preserving our home. Here’s to loving and co-existing with our planet, our home. Lets all become climate warriors. #Happy2020 #ClimateWarrior (sic)’
Bhumi also began the year by joining activist Afroz Shah to clean up Mumbai’s Versova beach. “It’s our mess to clean #happynewyear India generates 25940 tonnes of plastic waste every day, 10376 tonnes is uncollected plastic. Start segregating your garbage at home. Make sure you recycle plastic. We have to co-exist with nature #circulareconomy #climatechange #plasticpollution #garbagesegregation (sic),’ posted the actress on Instagram.