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Cover Story
January 15, 2018

Bhumi Pednekar On What Fuels Her Fire

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographed by Taras Taraporvala. Styling by Divyak D’souza. Assisted by Gareema Banthia and Keyuri Sangoi. Make-up and hair by Elton Fernandez, Inega Model Management

Unafraid and confident in real life, the actor speaks to us about how her unusual choices have enabled her to blaze her trail to success, capturing the audience’s imagination — and critical acclaim — along the way

First appearances are normally lasting ones, and folks — especially those in the world of glitz and glam — are usually quite concerned about theirs. So, it can be said with a degree of veracity, that this debutante took a huge — literally speaking — risk when she threw her hat into the ring to play Sandhya, a heavyweight character in Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH). But the gamble paid off and got the actor awards for her maiden performance. And, two years and two more films (Toilet — Ek Prem Katha and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan) later, Bhumi Pednekar has proved to all and sundry that her first movie was no mere flash in the pan — she is here to stay. With plum projects opposite popular heroes — after Ayushmann Khurrana and Akshay Kumar, she has landed a role in Abhishek Chaubey’s next co-starring Sushant Singh Rajput — Bhumi is sitting pretty with an enviable kitty of films.

We catch up with her in a studio in central Mumbai, and as the business of the shoot gets underway, it is amply evident that the 28-year-old, who hails from a non-filmi family, has slipped easily into the world of entertainment and shows no visible signs of cold feet — no matter what the camera asks her to do. In fact, as I converse with her later, I learn that confidence could almost be her middle name. I listen with due interest as she talks about taking an unusual route to fulfil her long-cherished ambition — and narrates with pride how she has made it come true. Her life is unfolding almost like a fairy tale and I wonder if she occasionally pinches herself to ensure that it is not just a dream.

Excerpts from our conversation….

“I knew that acting was my calling.”
Since I was a child, I always wanted to be an actor. I was enamoured by films and the way actresses would look. I have always admired women who have excelled on screen. I was a diehard Karisma Kapoor fan; and also loved Rani Mukerji and Kajol.

I watched a lot of cinema, both commercial and content-driven. I began to like the idea of living so many different lives at one time. I loved films like Mandi (1983), Khatta Meetha (1978) and Mirch Masala (1987). But the one that had the most impact on me was Rang De Basanti (2006) — after seeing it, there was nothing else I wanted to do except be part of the industry.

“I did not think of the consequences of playing a fat girl in my first movie.”
I don’t come from a filmi family and had no previous connections with the industry at all. But, I was sure that I was here to make it. I had started as an assistant casting director with Yash Raj Films (YRF), but I did not pursue that with the intention of landing a role.

I always had the faith that somehow I would become an actor. When DLKH came my way, what was important to me was that I was getting to do a film as the lead. It was a YRF film, so taking it on was a no-brainer. I did not think of the consequences of playing Sandhya — I didn’t wonder how I would knock off all that weight! I discussed it with my family and friends, and everyone was encouraging about it.

For DLKH, I went from being a medium-sized girl to a big-sized one. I did not realise how much weight I had gained till I actually saw myself on celluloid. Right through the making, I went partying, and got a lot of attention from the opposite sex. So, there was nothing in my life that made me go, “Oh my god, I have put on so much weight!”

“All three characters I’ve played had their individual personalities.”
I know that I started off with an out-of-the box role and followed it up playing two girls from small towns. But, none of them were similar. They had their own sets of ambitions and experiences.

It was important for me to really understand the nuances of each girl to play them right. In DLKH, Sandhya is timid. Jaya in TEPK is a feminist who will not tolerate any nonsense, while Sugandha in SMS is a dedicated girl, who stands by the man she loves even though he has a ‘gents’ problem’. I had to ensure that there were no repetitions in the way I portrayed them.

I have learned a lot from each of the three girls. For example, if I had not played Sugandha, and in real life I was with a man who was grappling with that issue, I might have walked off. But after SMS, I have realised that a relationship is much more than just sex. The beauty of acting is that with every role, you pick up so many values and thoughts that were not a part of your life earlier.

I have this huge fear in my mind that someday I will watch my work and think that I have done a mediocre job. But then I feel that if I have given my 100 per cent to the role, even if it is a miss, it is okay.

“I follow my instincts.”
My mother is my go-to person — she is intelligent and enterprising, and often our choices are similar. I have been lucky to have started with YRF, for it has so many brains that I can pick — Adi Sir (Aditya Chopra), the directors I have worked with, and, of course, Shanoo Sharma. She is like an elder sister. I never told her that I wanted to become an actor, because I was devoted to my job and did not look at it as a means to get a film. Somewhere I knew that I would get to do what I wanted.

“I didn’t want to do a run-of-the-mill film.”
I did realise that there would be a big gap between my first two releases. But I was not worried about being away from the public eye as I had to lose weight. It had taken me a year to gain it, so I knew it would take me more time to shed it.

I did not want to do a regular movie after DLKH. It would have been silly of me to compromise on my second project after the effort I had put into Sandhya. I knew that something equally good, if not better, was waiting for me.

I had the option of doing a film that I didn’t believe in, but one that would have been a big commercial success. I would not have much to do in it, so I declined it. Call it destiny, but the day I learned that Manmarziyan — a movie that I was working on post DLKH — was folding, was the same day that I said yes to TEPK. Initially, I did not know that Akshay Kumar would be a part of it. I signed it because I loved the story and my character.

“The pressure encourages me to perform better.”
The fact that I have been a part of successful films does not put undue pressure on me. Honestly, I’ve never really been part of any projects that were sure-shot successes. I’ve gone by stuff that I believe in, so even if it doesn’t do well, I’m okay with it. The only stress I labour under is the fact that I have to perform well in every film. I know it is too soon but I am really scared that one day I will get lazy or lose all the fire that is in me.

“I am never happy with what I have done.”
After a shot, I am usually not content with my performance, but I don’t express my feelings. As an actor, it’s not my job to pursue a scene the way I see it, but to render it the way the director wants. If I have not executed it according to his vision, then I have not done my job correctly.

The fact that I am quite confident stems from my upbringing. My parents instilled confidence in me and my sister. I believed that I would eventually get to where destiny meant me to be. I’m also an extremely opinionated person. I believe in speaking out where I feel it is necessary, but I don’t believe in forcing my opinions down somebody’s throat.

“I have never thought of having a back-up plan.”
I feel that having a back-up plan means you don’t really know if you are going to make it or not. If things had not worked out for me, I would have figured it out and done something else. It’s not like I don’t sulk or cry when I have had a bad day. But at the end of it all, you have to cleanse your system, and go on to the next thing. Today, work is worship for me. When I am working, I forget about everything else.

“I am living my dream.”
I am grateful that I wake up every day and do what I love to do. I realise that I am doing something that thousands want to pursue. I would never take my profession for granted. It involves hard work and there are a lot of aspirations attached to what I do. I feel extremely humble about being where I am.

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