BHUMI PEDNEKAR’S RISE IN BOLLYWOOD COMES ON THE BACK OF TALENT, HARD WORK AND A DASH OF LUCK
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.
“Just because I am an opinionated and strong girl doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in vanity”