Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - Text by Ja­mal Shaikh Pho­tos shot ex­clu­sively for HTBrunch by Ab­heet Gid­wani Styling by Mo­hit Rai


In the open­ing scene of Bhumi Ped­nekar’s last film, Lust Sto­ries (2018), you don’t see her face, you just hear her moan. Her feet are up in the air, a man is on top of her and there is enough sex­ual en­ergy in the scene to make the best of Bol­ly­wood view­ers do a dou­ble take.

For those scratch­ing their heads, or reach­ing out for Google search, Bhumi Ped­nekar is the “fat girl” from the 2015 Yashraj film Dum Laga Ke

Haisha, where she stood up against the stigma over­weight women face in the mar­riage mar­ket and in life.

In her next re­lease, she played the re­bel­lious daugh­terin-law who fought to have a toi­let at home in a part of ru­ral In­dia where they are con­sid­ered “ap­sh­a­gun” (un­san­i­tary) in a res­i­dence that also houses a tem­ple.

Her third was a movie called Shub­hMan­galSaavd

han (2017) that ad­dressed erec­tile dys­func­tion: bold in con­tent, hi­lar­i­ous and ad­e­quately sen­si­tive in ap­proach.

LustS­to­ries was her fourth re­lease, where this Mum­bai­born and bred girl from Juhu played an­other char­ac­ter that was to­tally un­like her in real life: a maid.

“Sure,” she agrees with a laugh, “that open­ing scene was full throt­tle! It had a re­ally strong vibe! I first saw Lust Sto­ries in a theatre seated next to my mother, and as soon as the moan­ing and grind­ing started, I slid deeper into my seat. Now, my mum had read the script – she al­ways helps my de­ci­sion­mak­ing – but as we watched the movie that day, we avoided each other’s gaze, and didn’t talk about it later.”

“SHubH maN­gaL SHOwEd HOw EREC­TiLE dyS­fuNC­TiON waS NOT juST a maN’S pROb­LEm; iN iN­dia, iT’S a fam­iLy iS­SuE!”

madE fOR gOOd CiN­Ema REaL ON REEL

ja­[email protected]­dus­tan­ Fol­low @Ja­malShaikh on Twit­ter I’m still at it. For­tu­nately, my phys­i­cal­ity hasn’t stopped me from get­ting work.”

What’s with the so­cial causes her movies tend to take up, we ask. “If Sal­man Khan changes his hair­style, the en­tire na­tion fol­lows. So we must ac­cept that our movies are a mir­ror to so­ci­ety,” she says. “As a coun­try, we are on the brink of a ma­jor change. In­tel­lect has gone up, ex­po­sure is im­mense. I am aware of my so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity as an ac­tor. But I’m not say­ing every film must carry a so­cial mes­sage. A seem­ingly sense­less com­edy can also make a change for the bet­ter.”

Was Shubh Man­gal Saavd­han one of those? No, says Bhumi. “SMS was a film that showed how erec­tile dys­func­tion was not just a man’s prob­lem. In In­dia, it is a fam­ily is­sue!”

Per­son­ally, Bhumi seems com­mit­ted to the cause of san­i­ta­tion. “As a Bom­bay girl, I never knew the stigma at­tached to hav­ing a toi­let at home. I was shocked that women have to hold their urges, even eat and drink less, so they can ‘go’ only pre-dawn in the open fields. To pre­pare for the role, I con­trolled my blad­der a few times, and gosh, was it tough!”

Bold movies (and moves) aside, does she re­alise she will al­ways be re­mem­bered for her first role as a fat girl? What’s her take on body pos­i­tiv­ity?

“It’s the home and your sup­port sys­tem that mat­ters the most,” she says. “My sis­ter and I have al­ways been made to feel we are the pret­ti­est. In real life, I am aware of my im­per­fec­tions, but not so bur­dened with them. My mes­sage: Flaunt your flaws. Your body size is not go­ing to de­ter­mine how happy you are in life!” SEX ON THE SCREEN The Zoya Akhtar-di­rected short film may have started “full throt­tle”, but went on to show­case the nu­anced emo­tions of a maid in an af­fair with her young, sin­gle em­ployer, and how odd her sit­u­a­tion was when she had to serve tea to his prospec­tive bride.

“The scene was im­por­tant to the movie; I had Zoya [as my direc­tor], and it was im­por­tant to her. I would have been wor­ried other­wise,” says Bhumi mat­ter-of-factly. “I don’t have an is­sue with show­ing skin. I have an is­sue with vul­gar­ity, ob­jec­ti­fy­ing my body parts and char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion. If you are in the hands of a direc­tor of a cer­tain school, you let your­self be.”

What Bhumi was more ner­vous about was the re­ac­tions it’d evoke from the au­di­ences. “I was pleas­antly sur­prised that once the film was out, no­body talked about it [the sex scene]. I was scared that some peo­ple would get cheap thrills and put clips of the scene on the In­ter­net. Noth­ing hap­pened. Maybe it’s the plat­form [the film re­leased on Net­flix], but it also shows how ma­ture our au­di­ences now are.”

How­ever broad­minded we are, watch­ing a sex scene with fam­ily mem­bers is an em­bar­rass­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s awk­ward,” she says. “My cousin broth­ers don’t want to see their sis­ter hav­ing sex. So I tell them, ‘skip the first minute of the film and then watch it.’ I re­mem­ber show­ing DumLaga

KeHaisha to my Nanaji (ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther) in Jaipur when the DVD came out—he is too old to go to the movie theatre. When the love­mak­ing scene came on, two of my cousins went and stood in front of the TV screen, then moved away when it was over!”

Just as with her per­for­mances, Bhumi’s earnest­ness draws you in.

She’d al­ways wanted to be an ac­tress, so at 17, when she faced the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing sent to Manch­ester to do a bach­e­lors in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion, she took a job at Yashraj Films (YRF) as a cast­ing as­sis­tant. “I didn’t know what cast­ing was, and I didn’t re­alise the power of YRF and the scale,” she says.

Cast­ing direc­tor Ab­hi­manyu Ray took Bhumi un­der his wing. “He ex­posed me to good writ­ing and bril­liant minds, and moulded my think­ing. This was the time we were cast­ing for movies like Ishaqza­ade, Rocket Singh, Band

Baa­jaBaaraat. I en­joyed my work and no­body knew of my am­bi­tions of be­com­ing an ac­tress.

“When Shanoo Sharma, who re­placed Ab­hi­manyu Sir, saw me read some lines while tak­ing an au­di­tion three-and-a-half years later, she came up to me and said, ‘Stop bull­shit­ting me by say­ing you want to be a direc­tor, you want to be an ac­tor, don’t you?’”

De­spite direc­tor Sharat Kataria feel­ing she was too ur­ban, Bhumi got the part, put on 30 ki­los, and be­came the fe­male coun­ter­part to Ran­veer Singh in YRF: the city girl con­vinc­ingly play­ing a rough-at-the-edges char­ac­ter from small-town In­dia.

Willy-nilly, she also be­came part of Adi Cho­pra’s de­vi­ous lit­tle plan: that of con­vert­ing his film com­pany once known for show­cas­ing Switzer­land and as­pi­ra­tions of the high life, to one that told sto­ries of mid­dle-In­dia, colour­ful, rich in cul­ture and tra­di­tion, thirsty with am­bi­tion and full of heart. Bhumi Ped­nekar ad­mits she is for­tu­nate to have grown up watch­ing qual­ity cin­ema. “My mom had great taste in movies, so as chil­dren we watched and en­joyed movies like Mandi (1983) and

Khatta Meetha (1978) and Hol­ly­wood clas­sics like Casa

blanca (1962). The films were al­ways high on con­tent, and I was ex­tremely lucky to have been ex­posed to them at a young age.” One film old, Bhumi took a year off to shed the weight she had gained. “I didn’t want to look like the over­weight girl who had lost weight. I had taken a year to put on the ex­tra ki­los, I couldn’t lose them in two months,” she says. “Two and a half years later,

“I don’t have an is­sue with show­ing skin. I have an is­sue with vul­gar­ity, ob­jec­ti­fy­ing my body parts and char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion.”

Dress, Self-Por­trait (via Mytheresa); ear­rings, Vinitha Michael; ring, Varnika Arora; shoes, Lulu & Sky

Shanoo Sharma, who gave Bhumi the first push of her ca­reer, ap­peared on the cover of HT Brunch in Septem­ber 2016

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