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Cover Story
August 10, 2017

Radhika Apte On Being Passionate About Acting But Hating The Trappings Of Fame

Text by Huzan Tata. Photographed by Ashish Shah. Styling by Kshitij Kankaria. Assisted by Divya Balakrishnan and Ruhani Singh. Make-Up and Hair by Riviera Vaz, Anima Creative Management. Location Courtesy: The Machan, Lonavala

A poster girl for regional and art-house cinema, she is equally at ease doing Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and Bengali films — and is sitting pretty with plum projects in her kitty

We have had an early start to our day and, braving the torrential downpour, are headed out on a four-hour-long drive to our appointed location, The Machan in Lonavala. I quickly whip out my iPod and set my romantic songs playlist on shuffle mode — its melodious tunes provide an apt background score for the rain-drenched journey. Call it serendipity or coincidence but the first song the iPod gently belts out is Saibo, the gentle number from Shor in the City (2011), a movie that featured Radhika Apte — our cover girl for the month.

Apte may not have hogged the limelight in her early appearances on celluloid, but a few years later she has grabbed a spot on several film-makers’ wish lists, having done notable work in Hindi cinema with Badlapur (2015), the Anurag Basu-directed telefilm Chokher Bali (2015) (as Binodini, a role also portrayed by Aishwarya Rai in the 2003 Rituparno Ghosh film), and the viral short film Ahalya (2015) by Sujoy Ghosh. Her turns on stage in Uney Purey Shahar Ek (2013) and Garbo (2009), forays in Telugu and Tamil cinema with Lion (2015) and Dhoni (2012), and her National Award-winning Bengali movie Antaheen (2009) did not go unnoticed. And what catapulted her further centre stage was the news of her bagging a role in Ashutosh Gowariker’s next as well as Padman, Twinkle Khanna’s debut film as producer, with a cast that includes Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor.

Reaching our destination, we are soon comfortably seated in her cabin at the luxurious tree-house resort. Dressed casually in her trackpants and yellow jacket, and patiently getting her hair and make-up done, Apte can pass for the girl next door, seemingly unaffected by the fame that has come her way.

The Pune girl moved to Mumbai when her then-boyfriend Benedict Taylor (now her husband) convinced her to make the shift. “Today, I’m very happy I took that decision. Mumbai has become home,” she tells me during our interaction. Balancing theatre, regional cinema and Hindi movies with equal aplomb, Apte has come to be recognised as a powerhouse performer. Currently filming Baazaar with Saif Ali Khan, this 31-year-old remains rooted in reality, and ironically does not want to be remembered for her work after she is long gone. “Who wants to be remembered? Once I die, I die! I don’t care. What I’m doing is for myself,” she says, quite matter-of-factly. Excerpts from our conversation that spans an action-filled morning….

Creative Balance
“I have been studying Kathak since my childhood; and when I was a kid I was also involved in a lot of other activities including singing and karate. My school was a very experimental one. They focused a lot on extracurriculars, so, as much as we studied, we did other stuff as well — theatre, craft, sports, dance, singing…. It really helped me to be creative, to maintain a balance between academics and creativity, and to apply this in my classwork as well — for I feel both are not exclusive. Pune is such a vibrant place — my parents used to take me to watch a lot of theatre. And in college, there was a big theatre fest called Purushottam Karandak, and that’s what drew me to the stage. Eventually, I joined a group called Aasakta Kalamanch and did a lot of plays with them.”

One For The Script
“There are different things one keeps in mind when accepting a project. Certain times you know that this is the actor or director you want to work with or, sometimes, the script is so good — which rarely happens. And sometimes you do it because you want a good balance of commercial viability, success and content. Sometimes it’s for the monies. I think I do films for a combination of all these things. Eventually I’m going to probably narrow it down to simply liking the script and the director. I’ve realised that the other reasons can be very frustrating in the long run. I’ve really loved working with Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, Harshvardhan Kulkarni and Sriram Raghavan. I hope I can work with them in the future, and more solidly.”

Finding A Muse
“Usually, I draw my inspiration from people — what they do, how they are, how they look at their lives. Fortunately in this field, you come across so many different people and meet new people every day. I wouldn’t say that I have one standout performance. Different roles take different things out of you. Parched (2015) was quite challenging and I got to play a character that I had a lot of fun developing — I had the means to find great focus and work on it as we were at the location for two months. I also enjoyed working on Hunterrr (2015), which is one of the simplest characters I’ve played, but it was so subtle and nuanced that I really enjoyed it. Phobia (2016) was another film for which I worked on my role extensively and really enjoyed it. I’ve also done a short film called Clean Shaven (2016) with Anurag (Kashyap), which I personally really like.”

A Meditative Art
“I really don’t know if I can do anything else! It gives me so much happiness to do a good project. It’s not the fame — I absolutely detest it, I don’t like to be recognised! I don’t like the taam jhaam. This field requires a certain kind of lifestyle, for you have to make enough money to sustain yourself, so as long as you can do that, it works. Other than that, the only reason I am here is because I get pure happiness from it.

Pursuing an art is very meditative. So are academic subjects, sure. Whatever field you choose, it’s quite meditative once you get into it. But because I’m an artiste or an actor, it’s important for me to keep alive the other aspects of my brain by reading other things or maintaining my interest in different activities. Why do we have to compare everything all the time? Why can’t dance bring me as much joy as acting?”

Celluloid Capers
“There is good and bad cinema. But I also think that there’s a level of compromise. The lesser of this, the better it is. In a so-called commercial film, there’s more of a compromise, which I don’t enjoy that much — it’s just not my cup of tea. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching these kinds of films, even though I may not want to act in them. When you have freedom of expression, I don’t think things should be censored at all. Movies can surely be certified, but there should be no censorship.”

Comfortable In Her Own Skin
“Very honestly, I’m on Twitter and Instagram for my own sake. Professionally, I don’t really read much of what people write. I don’t know what people do or say, I rarely check my feeds. After a point I don’t think your online self can dictate too much. I learnt about internet trolls when I was ‘trolled’ for the first time. I was just curious to know what it is. At that point, I immediately stopped reading stuff. I don’t read what anyone writes to me or even on their own walls. I follow a few people who share interesting articles and that’s all. Critics too don’t affect me beyond a point, because I usually ask only those people whose opinions I value about my performances and films. Of course, it’s good to get admiration or critical response; it’s always welcome. But you can’t live by that.”

Changing Impressions
“For a long time, I believed that acting was regarded as a ‘dumb’ profession. And when I decided to be an actor, I faced that attitude as well. But I think it also depends on what kind of films you’re doing and what kind of image you portray. Because this field is mainly about marketing, and people are marketing themselves. It matters how you put yourself out there. In our real lives, many people are different from the image they portray. I think the opinion that actors are dumb or are not intellectual is changing slowly.”

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