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Chhaya Kadam on her journey from Laapataa Ladies to Cannes: 'This is a beautiful moment in my life'

The actress is looking forward to attending the 77th Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of Payal Kapadia's All We Imagine As Light

PTI New Delhi Published 16.05.24, 10:38 AM
Chhaya Kadam in Laapataa Ladies

Chhaya Kadam in Laapataa Ladies IMDb

Growing up, she wanted to be a Kabbadi player and then the dream shifted to opening a gym. Chhaya Kadam, who is winning hearts with her stellar performances as Manju Mai in "Laapataa Ladies" and gangster Kanchan Kombdi in "Madgaon Express", says she came to acting late and by chance.

Kadam is now looking forward to attending the 77th Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of Payal Kapadia's "All We Imagine As Light", which is part of the main competition. She is also excited about "Sister Midnight", a film to be screened in the film gala's sidebar section Director's Fortnight.


"I am very happy. This is a beautiful moment in my life and I am enjoying it without thinking too much about what's next," she said about the audience appreciation for "Laapataa Ladies" and "Madgaon Express" as well as the Cannes selection of her two movies.

Kadam said she grew up in a Mumbai suburb called Kalina in a housing board colony and had different dreams at different points of time.

"I was a state-level Kabbadi player, so I thought about going in that direction. After some time, it shifted to owning a gym or joining the police force because I had the physique... People start their journeys in schools and college by doing theatre, but I entered the profession quite late," Kadam told PTI in an interview.

The actor credits a workshop she did with theatre veteran and former National School of Drama director Waman Kendre in 2001 for changing the course of her life.

"I started enjoying the process while doing the workshop. That was the beginning for me. People think it is easy to break into acting but it took me six years to do my first play. It wasn't easy even after that but whatever came my way, I worked on it with complete honesty." After becoming an actor, Kadam said she dreamed about getting a National Film Award and featuring in a variety of roles but a festival like Cannes was not even on her wish list.

Manju Mai, a fiercely independent teaseller with a soft corner for one of the two heroines who gets lost in Kiran Rao's "Laapataa Ladies", has become something of a social media sensation with viewers sharing screenshots and dialogues on X and in reels on Instagram.

Kadam said she is surprised the character has resonated with not just the youth but also women of different age groups.

"I recently spoke to Sneha Desai, the writer of 'Laapataa Ladies', when the film released on OTT. She asked me, 'Kaisa lag raha hai? (how do you feel?)' I told her that whenever I receive any praise, she comes to my mind because Manju Mai's thoughts were shaped by her and Kiran," she added.

Rao had seen Kadam in Nagraj Manjule's 2013 film "Fandry" and the director remembered her during 'Laapataa Ladies'. Similarly, "Madgaon Express" director Kunal Kemmu spotted Kadam in a role in the 2022 Marathi film "Kaun Pravin Tambe?" starring Shreyas Talpade.

"Kiran really liked 'Fandry' and wanted to work with me. Kunal told me that when he saw me in 'Pravin Tambe', he felt he had found his Kanchan Kombdi. He reached out to Shreyas Talpade to ask about me. I am grateful to both the directors because people are connecting to these roles." While Manju Mai was a well-formed character, Kadam said Rao left it on her actors to improvise and bring something of their own to the characters. Kadam said she picked up one of the character traits of Manju Mai from a Uttar Pradesh woman who lived next door.

"Characters come ready-made to an actor. You have a sense of costume, status and nature by the script but you have to find its soul. It is easy but also difficult because you have to put yourself in their shoes and at the same time, make it truthful to the audience," said the actor, who has also featured in films such as "Andhadhun" and "Gangubai Kathiawadi".

Manju Mai from "Laapataa Ladies" and her first major role in "Fandry", a film on caste discrimination, are characters that left a mark on her, said Kadam.

"Sometimes, I feel Manju Mai was written for me. I have that woman inside me. I didn't marry, somehow never got around to it and now I am enjoying living on my own. I felt Manju Mai was also teaching me. I receive so many calls from women who were confused but now feel inspired by Manju Mai.

"Similarly, 'Fandry' was a film that shook me from inside and gave me a sense of what's right and wrong," she said.

Kanchan Kombdi, a scorned wife who one-ups her gangster husband by running a bigger, all-women smuggling cartel in Goa, was, however, the other end of the spectrum and fun to play, she said.

"Generally, I get to play women who have suffered a lot in life or had abusive/drunkard husbands. They are essentially the victims but Kanchan Komdi gave me a chance to play a 'dabang' character." After "Fandry", Kadam has featured in most of Manjule's films, including "Sairat" and "Jhund". And it is a friendship that she cherishes.

She revealed initially there was another actor who was supposed to star in "Fandry" but Manjule always wanted Kadam to do the role. When the other actor pulled out, Manjule cast her.

"Some things are destined for you and 'Fandry' was that role for me.... When the other actor pulled out, Nagraj called me and introduced himself. I was busy with a play but he insisted that we meet. 'Fandry' changed everything for me." After she comes back from Cannes, Kadam plans to take a small break and spend time in her village in Dhamapur in the Konkan region of Maharashtra.

"I am still hungry (for work) but when I will spend time there, I will empty out all the praise that has come to me and start from scratch. I don't want to forget my initial hunger as an actor. People in my village are simple. For them, I am not Chhaya Kadam, the actor, but their 'Chhaya'," she said.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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