She’s been on a hot streak this year. Three feature films — Pad Man, Andhadhun and Baazaar — and the status of Netflix darling with three back-to-back originals — Lust Stories, Sacred Games and the mini-series Ghoul. Her constant presence on Netflix’s Indian content even inspired a spoof video featuring her and Sacred Games showrunner Vikramaditya Motwane, titled Omnipresent; it had Radhika playing every role. The video ended with Netflix rechristening itself as ‘Radflix’.
Radhika Apte, though, doesn’t understand why people think they’ve seen too much of her this year. “People started saying this only in the last couple of months and I was wondering why. That’s when I realised that the box office means so much. Had these projects come and gone, nobody would have noticed but they’re all successful and that’s what brought this on. It has been a good year,” she says with a smile that lights up her face.
After months of pursuing, we finally meet Radhika at the end of what has been a very frantic day for her. The interview is scheduled in the offices of her management company Kwan in Andheri, Mumbai. But she also has a meeting at the hip Soho House, in Juhu, that she’s running late for. “Okay if we talk in the car?” she asks and, of course, it is. Off we go in her white VW Passat.
Once she’s done replying to the messages that have piled up in her inbox and returned a few urgent calls, she slumps back in her seat almost as if to decompress for a few seconds. To say that 2018 has been a busy year for Radhika would be an understatement. She takes off the multitude of pins holding her carefully-styled hair and ties it all up in a loose bun before turning to me with, “Let’s do this.”
Give us a sense of exactly how insane your life has been this year...
Like one off-day every two months. I’ve been working every day, round-the-clock. There was a matter of two weeks when I was in America, South Africa, Budapest, London, Bangkok and, of course, India. I was juggling six countries in two weeks and it was absolutely insane. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. I didn’t know what was day and night. I was crying for sleep but I’m happy; it’s not such a terrible situation to be in.
How do you find time for a breather and let go?
I normally don’t do multiple projects at the same time. I like to give each project its own time and don’t like mixing it up; it’s very hard. Whenever they’ve overlapped, it’s because one of the projects has not finished on time. If you’re doing a few days of overlap, it’s okay but I’d never start off two projects simultaneously.
Is there one from this year that you’re particularly proud of?
Andhadhun. I’m so happy about the film because it’s one of the best films of the last few years. I like everything about it and how it turned out, and I am very glad I’m a part of it, though in a small way.
Is it a conscious effort to not do roles similar to the ones you’ve done before?
I’d just get bored if I was doing the same roles. After Pad Man, if I get another part of a woman who’s stuck in her home in a village in a similar way, I may think I don’t want to do this right now. Or if the role of an ambitious woman with shades of grey, like it was in Baazaar, I probably may not jump at it unless the role is big and strong.
When people see you in something and like it, they tend to give you similar kinds of roles and that still is a struggle. (Producer) Nikkhil Advani had cast me in Baazaar but nobody else would have dared to because they thought I wouldn’t suit the part at all. We have to see how much more I get and what I get. Who knows, I might not get anything.
Is there a kind of role that comes to you so often that you straightaway refuse?
Yeah. I get messages saying, “I want you to do this film because its central theme is feminist” or something like “Ma’am, this is a National Award-winning role.” (Laughs) These two, I get quite a lot and never entertain them. It’s not that it’s good or bad, or right or wrong; I just can’t work with people who have this approach.
Anurag (Kashyap) has said that Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and you are the two actors he would blindly sign.
Ask him when! (Laughs) I’m yet to do a feature film with him. I always make this joke with him; people think we work with each other so much but all we’ve done are three short films. But yes, I’d blindly work with him too. Everything I’ve done with Anurag has been like that.
That Day After Everyday was the first short film we did together, and at that time he shared the script with me. Then Madly happened. I had a party at my house and was cooking with Benedict (Taylor, her husband), and Anurag called me and said there’s “this film but there’s nudity”, and I asked him, “What is the film?” He explained it to me in five minutes and I said I’d do it. Even with Lust Stories, I didn’t have the script till the day I went on set. I trust him and he knows that if he just calls me, I would go.
For me, there are a few people like that — Sriram (Raghavan), Anurag Kashyap, Harshavardhan Kulkarni — if they call me, I’ll just go. There’s also Dinesh Vijan, I really like his vision as a producer, he knows what he wants to do, and the way we think matches. I trust these people 100 per cent because I know that when I’m on set, I’ll have the best time. Even when it’s a small montage with Sriram, I know that he’ll do it with complete dedication and we’re trying to find something in the smallest possible moments.
You did theatre for a few years before Shor in the City put you on the map. The film did really well, you got a lot of appreciation and then you disappeared!
Actually, I had shot the film and left, but came back in between for the film’s promotions. I was away for two years, studying contemporary dance. The thing is I hadn’t started working in films consciously at that time, and I was still trying out different things and figuring out what I wanted to do. I was doing a play here, and I got Shor in the City and Rakta Charitra because of that and I did it.
For Shor in the City, I literally shot for three days or something, and then I went to London. Then they called me back saying they needed to shoot some more because they’d added some stuff and a song. So I came back during my Christmas holidays and shot for three more days. That was it, six days of shoot. I didn’t even expect it to be like that. I had my exams when they were promoting it, I remember.
At what point did you think acting is what you wanted to do?
I came back in December 2012, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to give it a try. I had done a couple of films by then, I had studied dance, and had done theatre. It all just came together and I realised that I wanted to be an actor. In life, other things also happen in parallel, and you make your choices and the inclination to do something happens because of several things.
With stardom comes expectations of red-carpet appearances, social media presence and endorsements. Do you enjoy these aspects?
I do it only where I feel I want to do it. For a red carpet, I’ll go dressed and look how I’m supposed to look but I wouldn’t dress up for the airport, or when I’m going to meet my friends or just stepping out of the house. I have my own boundaries of where I can do it and where I can’t. The red carpet is my job but going out to meet someone for coffee is not and I wouldn’t worry about my image. Social media, I use predominantly for work and sometimes I’ll put a personal picture or two. For example, I went to Maldives recently and it was an invitation by Summer Islands, so I put up pictures because it was work. I draw my lines, and I don’t love to do things necessarily but I don’t hate them either. It really depends on the amount that needs to be done.
What about fan interactions and selfies?
Oh, I don’t do selfies.
What! Like not at all?
I’ve made it a rule to not take pictures at all. I’ve been called a bitch and snob but it’s really not coming from a place of being rude. When I am travelling or outside a film set, it’s my private space; I want to look how I want to look. And people upload whatever they feel like, and there are comments on everything. I don’t want to be a part of all that.
If you allow one photo then people want different angles or everyone wants an individual selfie. I genuinely feel selfies and pictures have no end to them. I can’t be taking pictures through all my free time. If I’m at the airport for two hours, I’d end up taking pictures for those two hours. If I’m working 14-hour days and I need to catch a flight, I really want to use that free time to speak to my mom, my husband and my friends.
Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate that people like me, and I’m there because of them but I find the whole culture indulgent. It’s a rule I follow myself — I don’t ask anyone for pictures, even if it’s someone I admire or am a fan of. I just tell people: “Sorry, but I don’t take pictures as a rule.” And then I talk to them, I tell them why, I’ll ask them what they’re doing and chat with them.
There’s an incident that happened a couple of days ago. I was at the Bangalore airport getting a boarding pass for my friend because she was running late, and this girl who was standing at a distance yelled out: “Excuse me.” I was taken aback and she looked at me and started walking to me very slowly. And she expected me to stand there while she walked towards me at her own pace. So I looked at her curiously and when she finally got close, she asked me, “Were you in Badlapur?” I said yes, and because I wasn’t wearing any make-up, she asked me: “Why are you looking so simple?”
I was making a phone call, so I walked away from her and she comes up to me again and says: “Excuse me. Can you just say hi on this video call?” And I told her I was on a call, but she kept insisting that it’s just a video call. I told her that she’s disturbing me and that I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone. I finally told her: “Please go.” Of course, not everyone is like that girl. There are some wonderful people who come and say that they appreciate my work. I’d happily chat with them.
What is the hardest part of being an actor?
Staying in touch with reality and not getting carried away. In the film industry there’s no particular system; you have to find your own path. And so many opinions and so much advice is given to you. You just have to stick to your guns and try and not feel insecure, and understand that this is not the end of the world. At the end of the day, what’s important is the work.
You’re doing two really exciting international projects — Michael Winterbottom’s The Wedding Guest with Dev Patel and an untitled World War II drama. What’s that been like?
That has been absolutely amazing. They’ve been very small indie films. The World War film is so indie; the indie films here are bigger than the film that I did there. (Laughs) But it is an exciting story. It doesn’t revolve around Noor Inayat Khan (the character Radhika plays) and it’s about Virginia Hall and three others. I have a smaller part there. So it’s not like I’ve done a proper “Hollywood” film to be able to compare the two industries. And Michael has his own industry. He has his own way of working, which I loved and it’s one of the highlights of whatever I’ve done so far.
You’re off to London to take a break. Any plans?
Nothing. There is no plan. I want to wake up and not have a plan. (Laughs)
Not many know that London is also home for you because your husband Benedict, who is a fantastic musician, lives there. You’ve always been fiercely protective of your personal life.
Yes. I didn’t hide my marriage ever; it was out the minute it happened. At the same time, I don’t like talking about us too much. I just feel that my personal life is none of anybody’s business. I just don’t see the logic of speaking about my personal life. Also, personal lives are complicated, so how does one talk about it in public; what does one say?
People ask me how it is to be in a long-distance relationship. Do you think there is any answer I can offer? In film industries around the world, people are in long-distance relationships. It’s a lifestyle and it’s a choice. People go for shoots and are working away from home for at least half the year, when they’re away from their partners. And it’s the same with me, not very different at all. My films are open to interpretation, not my personal life. Nobody can ever have enough information to really understand my personal life, so why?
Now that 2018 has been such a landmark year in your career, do you feel any pressure to sustain the success?
Of course. There’s a lot of pressure, you feel insecure and it’s very hard to say no to things. I am not going to think of what I am signing next until after I return from my break. It’s important to wait and see where you want to go next. It’s not a strategy, but what exactly holds your interest is a question one needs to answer.
There’s one film I’m starting in India January-end, which I’ll announce very soon. Then there’s a British production I’m hoping to do which is very indie but is kick-ass. Then I have two films that will release, and the rest I’m going to start reading only after I come back.