FER­TILE GROUND

BHUMI PED­NEKAR’S RISE IN BOL­LY­WOOD COMES ON THE BACK OF TAL­ENT, HARD WORK AND A DASH OF LUCK

India Today - - LEISURE -

INthe first four years of Bhumi Ped­nekar’s cine­matic ca­reer, ev­ery as­pir­ing ac­tor wanted to im­press her. She was, af­ter all, an as­sis­tant to Yash Raj Films’ cast­ing di­rec­tor, Shanoo Sharma. Back then di­rect­ing, and not act­ing, was on Ped­nekar’s mind. It all changed when Sharma walked in on an au­di­tion and saw that her as­sis­tant had act­ing chops too. “You’re not sup­posed to di­rect, is what I told her,” says Sharma. “You need to start los­ing weight and work on your­self. Then I asked her to stop los­ing weight.” Hav­ing se­lected over 800 ac­tors for roles, you’d think Ped­nekar would have aced her first au­di­tion. “You are so ner­vous that you overdo every­thing,” she ad­mits. “I only un­der­stood what be­ing an ac­tor is when I my­self au­di­tioned.”

When film­maker Sharat Katariya was look­ing for an ac­tor to play Sand­hya, the over­weight, as­sertive lead­ing lady of Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), he chose Ped­nekar four months af­ter she tested for the role. Her as­sured per­for­mance and her com­mit­ment to her art—she put on 20 ki­los for the role—in the Na­tional Award-win­ning film was proof of her tal­ent. It’s no sur­prise then that she was of­fered roles (with­out au­di­tion­ing) in Toi­let: Ek Prem Katha (re­leas­ing Au­gust 11) and Shubh Man­gal Saavd­han (Septem­ber 1).

But be­fore Ped­nekar could be­gin shoot­ing her next, Man­marziyaan, she had a hur­dle to clear—at least, ac­cord­ing to the me­dia. Asked in­ces­santly about be­ing ‘type­cast as a heav­ier ac­tress’, Ped­nekar ad­mits she did be­come “para­noid” about the like­li­hood. She was well aware that Bol­ly­wood is not like Hol­ly­wood, where ac­tresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wil­son can still find work. But to her sur­prise none of the roles coming her way required her to be over­weight or knock off oo­dles of weight. “I was sur­prised at how evolved the fra­ter­nity was,” she says.

Ped­nekar says she al­ways in­tended to shed the ki­los af­ter Dum Laga Ke.... But dur­ing pro­mo­tions for the film, she was ac­cused of los­ing weight to fit into the in­dus­try. “I stand for body con­fi­dence and against fat sham­ing, but I will not sup­port peo­ple who live on bad choles­terol,” she says. “You need to be a size where you feel good and healthy.” Ped­nekar came down from 90 to 55 ki­los. As some­one who has stood be­hind the cam­eras ob­serv­ing others, Ped­nekar is aware that the show busi­ness works on both ap­pear­ance and tal­ent. The ‘air­port look’ is a phrase she is now fa­mil­iar with. She is happy to play the game but isn’t chang­ing her ways too much. “I take two hours to get ready. I be­lieve in the power of make-up. I love wear­ing heels,” she says. “Just be­cause I am an opin­ion­ated and strong girl doesn’t mean that I don’t be­lieve in van­ity.”

Ped­nekar’s strong, opin­ion­ated side is seen in Toi­let: Ek Prem Katha’s Jaya, a wife who leaves her hus­band (Ak­shay Ku­mar) un­til he meets her de­mand of hav­ing an in­house toi­let. Di­rected by Shree Narayan Singh, edi­tor of films like Spe­cial 26 and Baby, and writ­ten by Sid­dharth-Garima (Goliyon Ki Ra as leela ... Ram leela ), the film is in­spired by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan. “I saw a lot of strength in [Jaya],” says Ped­nekar. “Her per­son­al­ity is close to mine, be­cause I am also a don’t-take-shit­from-any­body sort of girl.” Jaya’s ex­act cir­cum­stances may not have been fa­mil­iar to Ped­nekar, who grew up in a Mum­bai house­hold, but the script and the ex­pe­ri­ence gave her an in­sight into the dif­fi­cul­ties ru­ral women face. The film, Ped­nekar says, high­lights the gen­der di­vide in In­dia and the threat women face on a daily ba­sis. “If a man is pee­ing in pub­lic, no­body is go­ing to sex­u­alise it,” she says. “But a woman has to do it in the dark and so can only go be­fore the sun rises and af­ter it sets. She has no ac­cess to a toi­let for 12-14 hours. She might have to walk 3-4 km away to go into the fields. There is dan­ger of her be­ing raped or mo­lested or recorded or pho­tographed.” Ped­nekar de­scribes the scene which required her to ac­com­pany women out in the fields to relieve them­selves as the most chal­leng­ing. “I could not get my­self to put the ghoong­hat on my face, pick up my sari and squat,” she said. “I felt so vi­o­lated. The crew un­der­stood my prob­lem and my en­tire eye­line was cleared. Imag­ine what it’s like for women dur­ing their pe­ri­ods, preg­nancy and when they are sick.”

In Shubh Man­gal Saavd­han, Ped­nekar teams up with her Dum Lage Ke... co-star Ayush­mann Khur­rana. A re­make of the Tamil movie Kalyana Sa­mayal Saad­ham, the ro­man­tic com­edy fo­cuses on a young cou­ple deal­ing with erectile dys­func­tion. Also wrapped is the Zoya Akhtar short for Bom­bay Talkies 2, which looks at love and lust in the max­i­mum city. Nepo­tism may rock but Ped­nekar’s story makes the case that it’s tal­ent that takes you far.

—Suhani Singh

“Just be­cause I am an opin­ion­ated and strong girl doesn’t mean that I don’t be­lieve in van­ity”

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