‘I would love to play Meena Kumari’

Anjali Jhangiani
Friday, 14 February 2020

In conversation with Richa Chadha on making biopics that feature stronger role models for women, turning vegan before it became a trend, and writing a book and a short film

Looking lovely in a black and white polka dot dress, Richa Chadha decided to self-style herself as she inaugurated the opening of Looks Salon at Phoenix MarketCity Pune on Thursday afternoon. “I wanted a feminine look for the occasion, so I ditched the stylist. Who wants to wear a power jacket and all that in this weather?” she said as she sat down for a tête-à-tête with us. 

It was refreshing to see the actress who is always playing loud roles that involve a lot of swearing, as the sweet Meenu in Panga. “I did Panga because it was a sweet film about female friendship and camaraderie. Even though it was a special appearance, I walked away with such great reviews. It was like a no-harm-no-foul role for me, no box-office pressure, but I got a lot of praise and I’m very grateful for it,” says Richa, adding that though it is fun to experiment with roles, unfortunately, there is still a lot of stereotyping and typecasting in the industry. “For all outsiders, I keep saying, ‘You have to be cast before you be typecast’,” she said. 

On biopics
The actress wants to do films that incorporate a lot of “physical stuff”, be it action, dance or sport. But when it comes to biopics, she feels that filmmakers tend to jump the gun while selecting the story. “If you decide to make a biopic on a sports person who is an achiever in their 20s, it’s pretty much just the start of their life. I want a real climax — life is meant to be bigger and fuller. I would love a sports biopic like Raging Bull, where Robert De Niro played this boxer. So many people have copied shots from that film. The story needs to have personal struggle, ups and downs, a sense of achievement after overcoming such great obstacles in life,” she said.
Citing the example of Mary Kom, she said, “I loved Priyanka in it. But since the film, our brilliant boxer has gone on to become an even bigger champion. We shouldn’t jump the gun with sports people. They’re always working, trying to better themselves and trying to push the boundaries.”

She does believe that more biopics should be made which provide stronger role models to women in this country. “I would love to play somebody like Savitribai Phule. If somebody makes a biopic on a woman who was fighting for the rights of women to be educated, I would happily be in it. Or a historical figure like Lal Ded, a mystic poet from Kashmir, whose poetry was forward for her time. We are so unaware of our own culture. And if I have to make a popular choice, I would love to play Meena Kumari, because I’ve followed her career — how she developed the habit of drinking because of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, and then how it led to loneliness, heartbreak and she started writing poetry. It would kill me if they cast someone who can’t speak Hindi properly in the role of a woman who wrote shayari, whose protégé is Gulzar saab,” said Richa.

Physical and mental health
The actress, who was always a vegetarian, talked about turning vegan before it became a trend. “I started experimenting with veganism about two years ago and became strict about it six months later. I’m not a lover of cheese and heavy things in general, but I did miss ghee, because I’m a Punjabi,” she shrugged. “But I’ve found vegan alternatives. It’s good for the environment and my body. And it’s a compassionate choice one can make. I was vegan before this Changemakers documentary came out on Netflix and the whole world was like ‘Wow — let’s go plant-based’,” she said.

Taking care of her mental health is also vital when she has to play different characters. “Some aspects of playing different characters have stayed with me, but I wouldn’t think I’m altered by it. Acting is something I do in between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. It’s my job,” said Richa, adding that she tries not to bring it back home with her. “After work, I come home, play with my cats, cook, work out, hang out with my boyfriend, just do normal things because I don’t want to go crazy. It’s not a question that one doesn’t ask— there are actors that have gone crazy. Take Heath Ledger. It does take a toll on your mind. But the choice is mine to do a great part while keeping my sanity alive. I choose my sanity over anything else every day,” she said. 

Coming up next
The actress is writing a book about her anecdotes as an outsider in Bollywood. “The book is half-done for the last six months. I need to find the time to sit and write. I usually get two days off, but in the first day I’m just marinating and by the time the thoughts start coming to me, the second day’s over,” she said, making a note that she really needs to make time for this project as she is only going to get busier from now on. 

She has also penned a short film, the details of which she wants to keep under wraps for now. “It’s a suspense film. I want to make it under two minutes. I don’t want to direct, because I don’t know how to, but I definitely want to act in it. I hope to shoot it soon,” said the actress who will next be seen in Shakeela, Madam Chief Minister, Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai and yet another season of Amazon Prime’s Inside Edge. 

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