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Being Bhumi

I only do the films I believe in — Bhumi Pednekar is on a roll

Three years ago, she made a splash on debut, as an overweight young bride who has to deal with her husband’s insecurities. In 2017, Bhumi Pednekar carried forward her knack for playing strong, feisty women in two films. While Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, co-starring Akshay Kumar, scored big at the box office with Bhumi being singled out for praise, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan pleased both critics and cinegoers with her Sugandha — a woman of today who supports her fiance (Ayushmann Khurrana’s Mudit) through erectile dysfunction — winning her many more fans. 

t2 chatted with Bhumi, who’s now prepping  for Udta Punjab director Abhishek Chaubey’s Sone Chidiya, co-starring Sushant Singh Rajput, that is set in the ’70s and will be shot in the Chambal Valley...

You had two films in 2017, both of which were box-office earners and also won critical praise. It must be such a high… 

Yes! I had hoped it would play out this way (smiles). Every time you sign a film, you hope it gets what it deserves and I’m very happy both my films in 2017 have done well. I’ve worked my entire life to see this happen and I feel extremely fortunate that the kind of roles I have done have been so phenomenal. These films have had an impact on people and will go down in history in a way. I feel extremely proud… I’m a lucky girl (smiles).  

Dum Laga Ke Haisha

Right from your first film Dum Laga Ke Haisha, you have shown the knack for picking unconventional scripts that work. What’s the trick?

Honestly, these scripts have chosen me. I am fortunate to have got a choice… most of the time, actors don’t even have that. I was lucky that Dum Laga Ke Haisha came to me, but any other actress would have also jumped at it. Yes, it was an extremely risky role, but if you have the passion to be a part of this beautiful industry, then you do what it needs. My first film set the tone for my career… I earned some credibility as an actor and filmmakers knew that I would always look for parts that are different and challenging. 

Then, when Toilet (Ek Prem Katha) came my way, it was a no-brainer that I would do it. At that point, I had no idea that Akshay Sir (Kumar) was going to do the film. I okayed the film purely on the basis of its writing and the script and what my character (Jaya) was all about.  

With Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Aanand Sir (L. Rai, the producer) called me to his office and said, ‘I want you to hear this’. I went and until the biscuit-dropping scene (a scene in which a soggy biscuit dropping into a cup of tea was used as an analogy for erectile dysfunction), I had no idea what the film was about. And then the penny dropped. Now when I look back and think about it, I feel I have to give myself some credit that I didn’t succumb to pressure... I only do the films I believe in.   

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha 

Is there a bit of Jaya from Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Sugandha from Shubh Mangal Saavdhan in you?

At some level, yes. Both Jaya and Sugandha are girls of today’s times… the biggest thing that binds me to these characters is confidence and self-respect. Most women today are aware of what’s wrong and what’s right and how things should be. Jaya is fiery, she’s a bit of a revolutionary and I see a lot of myself in her. With Sugandha, I have a bit of a disconnect because she’s extremely nice (laughs)… she’s had quite a sheltered existence and brought up with a lot of tender, loving care. I started working at a very young age and went out into the world far earlier than Sugandha does. So apart from being pampered at home and the relationship she shares with her parents, I don’t identify with Sugandha that much. But Jaya is definitely all me. 

You know, people think I am so much like Jaya or Sandhya (her character in Dum Laga Ke Haisha) that they get amazed when they come up to me and realise that I can actually speak in English! (Laughs out loud) I take that as a very big compliment. I’ve never really lived anywhere but Bombay and I have a complete disconnect from any of the lives my characters have lived. If people are convinced that I’m actually a village or a small-town girl, then that makes you think, ‘Okay, all the hard work has paid off’.  

This has been the year of feisty women on the Bolly screen, with actresses front-lining films. How much would you credit yourself for this change?

There’s definitely been a shift in power. There was an entire phase where the actor decided the fate of the film… now it’s the story, the writing, the direction that decides the fate of the film. It’s because of this automatically that there are newer stories, newer ideas… writers are now experimenting and because of that we are now seeing a bouquet of such amazing roles. Women are now at the forefront of our films and I’m so happy that a Tumhari Sulu or a Naam Shabana are being written. At the same time, we’ve had a Newton and so amazing roles are being written for men as well. Now, filmmakers are looking at characters and then deciding which actor fits which character. I think that’s how it should be. 

?Shubh Mangal Saavdhan

Your screen persona permeates to real life as well and you have always spoken your mind, from pay parity to the Harvey Weinstein scandal that rocked Hollywood last year…

My immediate reaction to the Weinstein scandal was, ‘Finally!’ Finally, women are speaking up and that’s been a long time coming. Even in our industry now, there’s a growing sense of community. I’m very new to the mix, but it’s comforting to me just to know that there is an entire fraternity of female actors who are looking out for each other and we have each other’s backs, so to speak. 

Women across the world need to stand up together and actors have a great impact on people. We must use our power for the benefit of society. We can’t really have an ostrich mentality and ignore what’s happening around us just because our ecosystem is working fine. If that’s the attitude, we will not survive in the long run. I salute all those women who’ve spoken against sexual abuse and have had the courage to take a stand. And for all those women who have suffered and not been able to speak up, it’s perfectly okay and I want to say that we understand their predicament. As long as you know that it’s the perpetrator who is at fault and don’t blame yourself for it, it’s okay.

As far as pay parity is concerned, it’s something women have been dealing with in various fields… I don’t think it’s only limited to Bollywood. I’m really new so I don’t think I am in a position to really feel the pinch, but over time, when I’d expect a higher pay and if I don’t get it, then I will definitely be heartbroken. Even at this stage of my career, I have been offered a fee that is just four or five per cent of what my male counterpart is getting. And it’s not even about seniority. I’m speaking of actors that are as experienced as I am in the fraternity, or slightly older. And it does feel insulting and it’s just heartbreaking.    

On a lighter note, red carpet to awards stage, you’ve made a mark with your style choices. Is fashion something that you enjoy?

I love it! I’ve enjoyed fashion since I was a child. As a teen, I would save money and invest most of it in clothes and make-up. I’ve always been someone who’s been fashionable… I think people are just noticing it now! (Laughs) 
I have an amazing team, but I also put in a lot of thought into what I wear. I’m not very conservative about my body… in fact, I’m proud of it… and I dress as I please and as I feel comfortable.  

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