#BigInterview: Bhumi on smashing patriarchy

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Conventional – a word that does not fit into actor Bhumi Pednekar‘s career trajectory, not even by a mile. If you turn the pages of her filmography, she started off by playing a small town overweight woman in Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha, opposite Ayushmann Khurrana. Commercial success followed, and she shone in movies like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017), Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017), Pati Patni Aur Woh (2019) and others, even grabbing eyeballs for social dramas like Saand Ki Aankh(2019) and Sonchiriya (2019).Currently in the news for her urban romcom feminist comedy Thank You for Coming, helmed by debutant director Karan Boolani, the actor settles in for a no holds barred conversation with us, delving how cinema (and the society) sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to women empowerment…
Your movie Thank You for Coming is creating a lot of buzz…
I am aware that there is a lot of chatter around the same, both good and bad. However, in our industry, there aren’t many comedies written for women in the first place, so TYFC was like a breath of fresh air. The script also felt extremely personal, and the character of Kanika Kapoor resonated deeply with me – why should women carry the weight of being ‘correct’ all the time? As a woman, I am constantly learning, unlearning and making mistakes – and that is perfectly okay. We need not be prim and proper all the time and our imperfections are what makes us balanced. The movie shatters the notion that urban, elite women supposedly ‘have it all’, however, their lives too can be a big, giant mess, albeit of a different sorts.

The movie gave you a chance to break away from your small town girl mould…
Oh yes, which was also one of the reasons I jumped onto it. You know, I have mostly played these small town gritty women roles, but I now realise that when you portray a strong female character on screen, it does not matter where she is from. While the struggles of a big city girl will be different from someone, who say is from a small town, it does not make it less of an ordeal. For TYFC for example, I had to get extremely comfortable with my body, but since Kanika is a strongly cushioned role, it wasn’t so difficult.

Your director Karan Boolani has an issue with the term chick flick…
What is a good chick flick (for the lack of a better word)? A well-written chick flick makes you feel empowered and good about yourself. I don’t think the problem lies in the phrase chick flick per se, but you can’t blanket label them all as ‘frivolous’. When coming of age movies having male leads like Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara can be lapped up the audience, you can’t turn around and say something like ‘ye kya road trip pe ja rahi hai ladkiyan‘ (what is this – just girls going on a road trip) when a group of women do the same. This inherent patriarchy is something that we should try to smash.

Bhumi Pednekar grabs attention with her unusual top as she attends an event with Rhea Kapoor

Go on…
So, even in the case of Thank You for Coming, I am okay with people who are trying to bring down the movie, but the criticism should have some meat and can’t be all over the place. For example, you can say that the performances are not up to the mark or that the script is not tight, but allegations like it shows women drinking and talking about lust and pleasure are unwarranted, since movies with male actors portraying these issues are dime a dozen. Playing someone like Kanika Kapoor also empowered me as a person, and I felt a little more naked, putting everything out there…

Do you think in your case, it (criticism) is a little more apparent since you started out in an unconventional way, playing an overweight woman and then gravitated towards (mostly) playing small town girls. So adaptation, in the eyes of the audience, is difficult to come by?
I will give you an example to answer this. I love dressing up in real-life and am a makeup pro. However, most of the roles that I have done till now do not require me to look glam, so I tend to don that avatar in real-life. Does that make me a different person? No it does not. It just means that I have a personality that is not akin to my reel-self. And, I know the audience is used to seeing me in a ‘certain’ way, so a role like this must have been something out of the blue for them.
And in terms of performances, you can look glam and yet put up a good show right?
Absolutely, the two aren’t mutually exclusive to each other. The bottom line is that you need to step up and do what your role requires you to, no matter how you are in real-life. The adaptability part you mentioned, change I think is indeed slow to come by, but eventually the audience too, comes around. For example, my appearance (neither good nor bad) has ever been a talking point per se, but now with TYFC, I see that changing. Even in terms of content, movies like Lust Stories have done well, so it is a good start.

You think it is different when so many women are working together vis à vis when it is a boy girl sort of story?
At the offset, I would like to say that my male co-stars from earlier movies have all been extremely open-minded, feminists (in their own right) and just wonderful people, so this isn’t a gender issue per se. However, in the case of women, when you have gone through the same set of struggles, you tend to have a lot of shared empathy and bond on a different level. Even men, (like Karan Boolani) who have been brought up by strong, independent women bring in a certain balance and synergy while working together.

Talking about independence, do you think women in general are branded difficult/intimidating if they are opinionated?
ABSOLUTELY! The moment you have a mind of your own, you are difficult. The moment you say you have dreams and ambitions, you are difficult. If only I kept tabs on the number of times these things have been said to me! Even in terms of my personal life, a man can only give me companionship, but I can’t carry this burden on myself thinking that ‘oh, he is completing me’. As women, we are labeled easily (single, unmarried, mother, divorced etc), but that apart, it is okay to let your life not revolve around those labels.
Going back, usually actors start off by playing uber glam characters, somewhat far removed from reality, but for you, the career trajectory has been a bit of a backward spiral. Right?
You know I will not sugar coat this, but will give an honest answer. I do not come from a film family, so there is no way I would have had a big launch or something like that. I was simply lucky to grab a role in the first place. At that point, main toh kuch bhi kar leti, (I would have picked up anything) because I had to start somewhere na? However, Dum Laga Ke Haisha was an honest movie, with its heart in the right place. Moving on, it of course, opened the doors for many social dramas, and while I was quite content doing those, that is not the only thing I have done. For example, in terms of performances, my movie Sonchiriya is ranked higher than Dum Laga Ke Haisha, but since the latter was commercially successful as well, it tends to be more popular.
You have done comedies, social dramas and now feminist movies. What more do you want to explore?
Just like any other actor, I too want to star in a Karan Johar movie since I love his style of filmmaking. Then, there is Rajkumar Hirani and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who at some point I would like to tie up with.
What is that you are working on?
Well, I am quite excited! One is a social drama that is quite close to my heart and the other is a full on masala film. Extremely different from each other, but both equally meaningful.
Credit Source – https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/bhumi-pednekar-the-inherent-patriarchy-in-cinema-should-be-smashed-big-interview/articleshow/104403883.cms

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