Ask actor Bhumi Pednekar about her insecurities, she proclaims that she is “most secure” while facing the camera. Take her off the camera, she grapples with concerns about her appearance.
“My characters are amazing. On screen, I love celebrating my flaws as I’m essaying these characters. However, Bhumi, the person, is worried about her looks. I worry about what to wear when I am going to an event. I wear make-up and if I have a pimple, I conceal it,” she says.
By her own admission, weighing 93 kilos for her very first film Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2014) somehow liberated her from agonising about her on-screen look.
“I’m aware that on the screen, it’s my character that people watch. I’m very fortunate to have been offered to play such well-written and strong characters,” says the actor, who returns to the big screen in Abhishek Chaubey-directed bandit thriller, Sonchiriya. After playing Sandhya with spunk in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, she was cast as the female lead in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017). Last year, she delivered a riveting performance as a house-help in Zoya Akhtar-directed segment of Lust Stories.
Set in Chambal during the Emergency, Sonchiriya has been an “emotional journey” for Pednekar.
“Working on this movie was like visiting an acting school. Being a Mumbai girl, I had led a comfortable life. To play the role of a rural woman who was living in a suppressed society in the ’70s, I had to prepare myself physically and mentally,” says the 29-year-old about what she calls her “most ambitious role” till date. This character, she says, has made her more humane and patient.
Her preparation for the role involved going around Mumbai’s Aaram Nagar area, where Chaubey’s office is located, barefoot with an assistant director. There were days Pednekar would collect twigs and bring them to the office where Chaubey had created a village set-up. There, she would cook food on an earthen stove for the unit of around 20 people. On other days, she walked around carrying heavy loads of water on her head. Shekhar Kapur-directed Bandit Queen (1994), too, made a significant contribution to her preparation. “I had watched this movie when young. I revisited this several times. With all its authenticity and rawness, it was a great reference,” she says. According to her, Sonchiriya, though set in a lawless world, still offers hope.
Pednekar received a call from Chaubey after Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s release. “When he narrated the film, I thought it was a tough role. Yet, I knew if I was not part of this movie, I would feel a sense of great loss. Chaubey has been on my wishlist for long,” says Pednekar. For the movie, Chaubey, who has earlier directed Ishqiya (2010) and Udta Punjab (2016), was adamant that the actors including Pednekar and Sushant Singh Rajput learn Bundelkhandi.
“The way Bundelkhandis talk, there is a sense of pride. There is also a lot of dark humour and quirk. These quirks can be captured only through their language. We underwent three months of language training under Ram Diwakar, who is also part of the movie’s cast,” says the actor, who — during their Chambal shoot — lived in a heritage property that was converted into a hotel.
Though the story of Pednekar’s casting, when she was working as an assistant casting director at Yash Raj Films, as Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s lead actor sounds like a fairytale, the actor vehemently denies that she is “an accidental actor”. Pednekar says: “Acting was always on my agenda. Since my childhood, I would dress up and wear make-up. Then, I would make my parents sit and perform to Chal chhaiyan chhaiyan and Koi mil gaya. Cinema had a strong impact on me. At my school — Arya Vidya Mandir, Juhu — I took part in various dramatic activities.”
The actor credits her debut movie for giving her career a powerful start and for enabling her to make her “choice”. “I was offered several movies after Dum Laga Ke Haisha. So unlike many others, I’m fortunate to be able to select my projects,” she says.
After Sonchiriya, she will be seen in Alankrita Shrivastava’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare, along with Konkona Sen Sharma as well as Amar Kaushik-directed Bala opposite Ayushmann Khurrana. She also has Karan Johar’s period drama Takht and the remake of Pati, Patni Aur Woh in her kitty.