From playing a supporting character in Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! to becoming one among the few successful faces of today’s independent Hindi cinema, Richa’s nine-year-old journey in the film industry has seen quality films and meaty roles. In a group interview, Richa speaks candidly about the dubious and murky ways of an industry, she is happy to be working in as an outsider.
Q. You debuted in Hindi cinema in 2008 with Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. It is almost a decade in Bollywood. How do you feel when you look back at your journey?
The reason why I don’t think of it as a decade in my head is because after Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! I didn’t do films. I went back to theatre and TV commercials. I wasn’t interested in films. I thought it was very hard. I thought that people here are too strange and sleazy. I didn’t want to do films. I thought films are also stupid, to be honest with you. This was till I found a script that I totally loved, which was Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). And Gangs also fell in my lap, after many actresses declined the role. I was asked if I would like to do it, so I readily said yes. They said that my character requires aging, and I said, ‘If I was not aging alone, and everybody is growing old then I will also do it, what’s the harm?’
I think at some point I was also very disappointed. I was very young when I did Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. I did it straight after college. So, when it didn’t do well at the box-office as it coincided with the terrorist attacks (26/11 Mumbai attack), I thought ‘Oh My God! This is so scary. You work so hard. You put your hopes on something and it doesn’t do well. It is a gamble!’ That’s why I didn’t do films for a long time after Oye Lucky. Even now, I am selective because of that reason.
Q. You didn’t do a film till four years after Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. So, what brought you back to movies?
If it weren’t for Gangs of Wasseypur, I wouldn’t necessarily be doing films. I would be doing my theatre, or something to do with dance and music. It is just that because I started getting different, interesting projects after Gangs that I am here, Fukrey was a comedy. After that I did a short film with Meera Nair. That’s when I realised that I can act, and I can pay my bills by doing this.
After Oye Lucky, I was ready to go. It is because of Gangs that I am still here. So, I measure my growth and journey only from Gangs. That’s when I sort of learnt all of it. When I did Gangs, I didn’t have a manager, PR or stylist. There were times when I was told, ‘Today we have a success party in the evening,’ and I would go to a mall in Juhu to buy a dress. I would wear it there and get my make-up done in a salon on the ground floor. That’s how I was managing then. This is what people don’t understand about those who come from outside. We don’t have anyone guiding us about these things. We have no inroads into the industry. For us, at least in the initial stage, there is no grooming. There are no advisors to tell us ‘Don’t do this, or do this’, or that this film will get you typecast, or this film will do good to you. You just make your own way here, so it takes us time.
The star kids are already packaged perfect! They have their PRs, stylists and everything in place. They are not worried that they have to share a flat with three girls, and pay rent. That is the difference that nobody understands.
Q. But you have come a long way from then. So, how does the equation with people change? Like you mentioned there were experiences in the beginning, but how are things now?
There were plenty of experiences. I am a straight forward girl. I can’t play games. I can’t pretend. I just can’t do it. I have tried and it doesn’t work also. Initially, I was very naive. I have lost films to people who said, ‘Oh don’t do this film, it’s not good…etc… don’t do it!’ That happened to me with Fukrey. They told me to not do it. They said not to do it because my role was small, but then I realised it wasn’t small. I was asked not to read the script and not to do the film. And the next thing, I found was their girlfriend went for the audition for the same film. And this has happened to me like five or six times.
Now I am like slap yourself, smell the coffee and get your work together. It happened with actresses also. You befriend them. Do brunches and lunches. You are buying make-up together. They will find out what you are quoting for a film. They would then go to a producer and tell them that ‘I met with her, and she doesn’t seem interested in your film, but I am,’ and they would quote lesser and try to grab the film. Not only would they do that, they would also be ready to sleep with the producers as a bonus. I lost a lot of work like that. A lot of work! So, I have learnt the hard way.
Q. How difficult is it for you to deal with all of this? Does all of this not make you bitter?
It is very difficult. I lose my mind every week! But it doesn’t make me bitter. It makes me angry. If I was bitter, I would be cynical and stop trying. I am angry. I am angry with the women who are ready to sleep with the producers because people also expect it out of us.
I am angry with members of your fraternity (media) because you hanker us for TRPs. But then what do you do? The minute a star kid is born you go and even click pictures of its diapers, and it goes on for the rest of our lives! I am angry at the business model of Bollywood. No films are working, but everyone is in some cocoon saying that films are making crores. People have no money, especially after demonetization and GST. The screens are few and the taxation is high. No one is understanding that the film industry might be dead in the next couple of years, and we might be watching stuff only on Netflix and Amazon. That’s how our future is looking like because people are not taking any kind of collective steps.
Q. There must be people telling you to behave in a certain way, because you are a female actor and without any connection in the industry. How do you react to those diktats?
When I came to the industry, one PR person told me, ‘Send a text message to this actor. Go on a date with him.’ And I said, ‘But he is married!’. Then this person said, ‘Oh babes! Why didn’t you send a message to this cricketer? It would have been good for your career, PR and public image.’ I can’t date anyone on a transactional basis. But these are the kind of advices I used to get. These are the things that people tell you when you are from outside. That’s why I have very few friends in the industry. I hang out with him (Jia aur Jia co-star, Arslan Goni) because he is an outsider. He has studied law. And Kalki (Koechlin). These are normal people. So, I basically end up hanging out with them so that I don’t lose my shit and go mental.
Q. In the past few months, we have been getting feelers from your agency about your closeness to different co-stars. Latest is about your equation with Ali Fazal. If you want, you can set the record straight.
Ali is my boyfriend. That’s not wrong. But sometimes with PR, these stories come from the project people. And at that time, we are not supposed to accept or deny. That’s a very tricky thing but honestly, it annoys me because then my mom gets worried. But then I would rather have these things than being caught up in a sex-tape scandal. I also feel it’s just a passe to hide your relationships and say, ‘We are just good friends.’ When I went to Venice, people asked me why I went there. They are like, ‘Is something going on between you both?’ So, first of all, I say, ‘You are not my mother (to be asking this question).’ Secondly, of course, there is something between us, otherwise, why would I go to Venice? It’s not like I went to Lokhandwala from Andheri. Whatever you want to believe, you are free to believe. The best way to react to this is to be dignified about it. This (their relationship) came out because we could no longer hide it. We were very happy hiding it for many years. So, when it came out, there was no point denying it.
Q. Amid the madness, how did Jia Aur Jia (her upcoming film with Kalki Koechlin) come along?
Sometimes good things come along (laughs). The script came to me, and it was a film in Sweden. I thought to myself that Masaan was in Benaras, Fukrey was in Delhi, and this was a new place. It sounded like a good thing to do. And Kalki was a part of the film. I have known her from long, from when Anurag and she were together, that time she was my boss’s wife, and we just hit it off. We both come from a similar background – theatre, an outsider, trying to do independent cinema. And so, we had a lot of fun. And then we met Arslan Goni (male actor in the film), and we had a great time on this film.
Q. For the longest time, there has been a perception that two female actors cannot get along with each other. How much does this bother you as you just worked with good friend Kalki?
Can I tell you something? Kalki is an extremely intelligent, beautiful and sorted person. She has gone through her ups and downs. She was recently quite sick too. So, I have respect for her. I have befriended a lot of actresses because that’s my nature. I go out of my way (to be nice to other actresses). You can ask about this to people around. That’s who I am, and that’s how I have been brought up. But every time I have done this kindness with a competing actress, it has come back to bite me. Either I am left paying their unpaid bills, someone has copied my idea, slept with a producer or paid the media to write bad about me. All that has happened with me.
Women don’t realise that you have to promote the category, not the brand. I can’t keep talking about myself that ‘Richa is awesome, she is doing well,’ If Sonam (Kapoor) is doing well, I have to compliment her, or if Kangana (Ranaut) is doing well, I have to acknowledge it to promote our category. That’s how actresses will get longevity. Otherwise, you will keep fighting among yourselves and in two-three years, some old daddy will come and say, ‘I want fresh faces,’ and you are out! Actresses become disposable. For that reason, I feel female actors have to back each other. You will never read stories like this in Hollywood because they have sense more than people here. Because they do TV serials here (which promote the idea) that a woman is another woman’s biggest enemy. These women I am talking about fall into this trap and stab you in the back. So, what do I do? As a sensible person, I have to safeguard myself. So, I decide that I don’t need many friends. I will have a few close friends and rest of the friends that I have are from outside the industry. These riff-raff people I don’t want in my life.
Q. Doesn’t it get lonely then?
No. It doesn’t. Because then you have genuine people in your life and also you have other interests (besides acting). I like photography and dancing. I keep myself busy with all these things. I don’t do a project for the sake of doing it. Touchwood, I have never been out of work. I don’t think it will get lonely. People are lonely in a room of people also. At these parties, people gossip about what others are wearing and who is losing hair. And when this is over, they look at each other and ask, ‘How long will you stay?’ The minute you have to ask someone that at a party, then you know it’s not a party but a way of networking.
Q. You aren’t seen at these Bollywood parties.
Because I don’t have time to waste. Also, I don’t like to mince my words. So, it is possible that many people don’t want to invite me. And I am intensely private. I like to hang out with people I like.
Q. Don’t you then have a fear of missing out and perhaps lose out on parts in big films?
I have 20 examples of people, who network and are at every party taking pouty selfies, but still are out of work. So, I would rather do my work quietly. If networking got you work, then everybody would have been successful. I have a good equation with people. I like to have that aura, respect, and credibility for the kind of work I do. I am not interested in taking shitty selfies at a party.
Q. Lastly, do you think there will ever be a point in your career when you will feel you are an insider in Bollywood?
No. Yuck! I don’t want to. For me, a Friday is a Friday. It is a day where a film releases. That’s it. We are becoming an industry where we serve each other between Bandra-Goregaon. We would be like, ‘Your kid did so well in that dance, he was so good’, ‘Oh your daughter was so sexy in that dance.’ You just pat each other’s backs. You know why film people hate to go to movie screenings? Because they can’t be honest about how shitty the film is. This is a true thing. So, I will never be an insider and I have never tried to fit in as well. I am happy in my life and my space. I am happy with my friends and my cat.