Playing ‘that crazy woman who falls in love with a murderer’ in today’s big release, Richa Chadda says she is exactly where she wants to be
By Rosella Stephen
“Being an actor is like dying a little every day. But then, so is smoking and living. What to do? – on Twitter earlier this month”
Richa Chadda, 28, identifies herself with cats, has been an intern at a men’s magazine, and is known to say it like it is on social media. Plus, she has a keen eye when it comes to selecting cinematic gems. Be it her 2008 debut in Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! or the recent Cannes favourite, Masaan, she has managed to elicit the right response from critics and audiences alike. This weekend’s Charles Aur Main, where she plays leading lady to Randeep Hooda’s serial killer, Charles Sobhraj, is likely to be no different. Chadda, however, may be too busy to hear herself think at present. When I interview her she is either racing to the airport from the sets, getting into or out of a TV interview, or sleep deprived. She hopes to exhale after wrapping up her current project, Pooja Bhatt’s Cabaret — with a two-day holiday.
The Delhi girl knew she wanted to be an actor quite early. “My oldest memory is possibly Saudagar (1991). I can still recall painting my face with sketch pens when I was four years, hoping to be as pretty as the woman on TV, while my portly grandfather watched, puzzled.” Her mother used to catch her dancing often. “So she took me to a famous Kathak teacher to learn the dance form and, while the other girls were hiding behind their mothers, I began performing to Mere haathon mein nau nau choodiyan from Chandni, with the wink and all! My mother was the quiet, shy teacher who had written a book on Gandhi, and she had no idea where this came from. I guess I was just born this way,” chuckles Chadda.
Always the outsider
Her 66-year-old Nagma in Anurag Kashyap’s explosive crime epic, Gangs Of Wasseypur, or the villainous Bholi Punjaban in Fukrey are all ballsy characters. Masaan, the gritty drama shot in Benares that won two awards at Cannes and a standing ovation, is another example of her taking a chance with unconventional roles. In the film, she plays Devi, a teacher at a computer coaching centre who is refreshingly realistic. “I am nervous only before getting on stage or a fashion runway,” she begins, adding that she grew up mimicking everyone in her joint family. “My parents let me be and for that I am grateful. I’ve tried to become a journalist and do other things, but this is me. I know I don’t want to do anything else but work in cinema.” With three projects following close on the heels of Main Aur Charles, she is on the right track.
But does she consciously choose intense films? “After this, I want to do a sweet, candy floss film,” she jests. In Main Aur Charles, she plays a law student who falls in love with the titular character. The biopic is eagerly awaited, given that ‘Bikini Killer’ Charles Sobhraj is currently in a jail in Nepal, having been convicted for his brutal murders in the 70s. Her chemistry with Hooda in the trailer is quite convincing. “It is just me focussing on the role. It is what actors would do in an item song, look at the camera or even a table with desire. That said, it was easy to work with Randeep. He has fine-tuned the body language and diction and is a very good actor.”
Balancing a Gangs of Wasseypur with a Fukrey or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela with Masaan, she insists she would rather be choosy about her films than regret it at leisure. “These movies take their toll on me too. After Masaan, I needed a holiday in San Francisco,”she confesses. She also had movie marathons on Romedy Now to get back to reality. “Director Prawaal Raman of Main Aur Charles kept calling me Mira, even when the camera stopped rolling. But who wants to be the crazy girl who falls in love with a murderer? I am a realistic person, even when I have organised chaos in my life. I am not a method actor, but when I put on my headphones and shut myself in my vanity, my team knows not to bother me,” she adds, as an afterthought.
Recalling her childhood, Chadda says she did all the regular things — “I learnt music, dance and theatre. My first recollection of a full-fledged play is from class five.” She was exposed to a variety of films, “from a Mirch Masala where Smita Patil turned red chilli into a weapon, to the beautiful Madhuri Dixit’s movies. I would pretend to be them, free of inhibition.” Accompanying her parents to “very good plays for adults” gave her a healthy understanding of the medium. “And my early introduction to professional theatre was when I played an extra in Kirti Jain’s Aur Kitne Tukde (How Many More Fragments), which premiered at the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi. It narrated how the Partition radically altered the lives of numerous women.” She remembers movies like Shashi Kapur’s award-winning Junoon, with fondness. “I was really moved by it. I also considered Dilip Kumar a fine actor, be it in Naya Daur, Mughal-e-Azam or Ram Aur Shyam. Actors in those days may have signed commercial films, done ludicrous things on screen or worn strange costumes. But they were good performers with a tight grasp on reality.”
Whether it is about banning beef or the Prime Minisher’s ‘Selfie with daughter’ initiative, Chadda is quick to share her opinion on social media. “I have a digital team to advise me, but I do not want to be misquoted and do the posts myself. The tweet that got the most reaction is the one after Cannes, when we won those two awards for Masaan and I posted a picture of my middle finger. It was my reply to all the unnecessary advice that kept coming my way for choosing to do small budget films,” says Chadha.
Taking a chance
Bhatt’s Cabaret, for which Chadda has been shooting for close to eight months, sees her in a more commercial set-up. Her posts on social media indicate that she has been catching up on movies like My Week with Marilyn and Chicago. Calling the actor-turned-producer her second mentor (after Wasseypur’s Anurag Kashyap) Chadda says, ‘‘Pooja has a keen eye and is hands on as a producer. Having only seen me in films like Gangs of Wasseypur, she thought I was capable of playing a glamorous dancer. I mostly get roles of a particular kind, so she was a saviour. On the sets she would think nothing of digging her hand into my dress to straighten it. A very cool woman.” Working with the producer made her more aware about the costs involved in the profession. Yet another project, Sudhir Mishra’s Aur Devdas, will introduce audiences to the classic story of the tragic-hero, but to addiction from a different angle. “I promise you a Paro you have never seen before,” she insists. In the third project, Jiah Aur Jiah, directed by Howard Rosemeyer and also starring Kalki Koechlin, she plays a girl forced to come of age quickly following certain circumstances.
Meanwhile, her trips to Cannes for her movies have been a learning exercise. “Seeing the many movies being made and how small your film is — it gives you perspective. I became more aware that movies are after all an art, and the first dispensable thing. Cannes gave me some of the best days of my life, and I am not just talking about the partying and the champagne,” she says, rather seriously, adding, “As for my style, I believe I have finally come into my own.”