Radhika Madan fails to understand why director Vasan Bala chose her for Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, which has earned her rave reviews. But listen to her speak about how much she hated action films until Mard happened and how heartbroken she was because her opening shot in her debut film was a far cry from the Karan Johar heroine moment she had waited for all her life, one would know what Vasan saw in her. The two-film-old actor’s audacity and candour is simply infectious.
During a recent interaction with indianexpress.com, the actor spoke about her transition from television’s ‘it’ girl to redefining female characters in Bollywood. She also reveals how Vasan and Pataakha director Vishal Bhardwaj have changed her core as an artiste
Q. Supri in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and Champa Kumari in Pataakha have this inherent anger inside them. Did you feel there was a chord that connected them?
They both are intense, not necessarily angry. With Champa Kumari, it was more of having a superiority complex. She felt she was above everything. That is the reason when something didn’t go as planned, she reacted in a certain way. With Supri, it was an undercurrent. She could not talk about it. Nobody would know what happened in her life until she met Surya. That was more internal.
Q. For me, why Supri also worked wonderfully was how she stood up for everyone but herself. As women, we assume ourselves to be saviours for people around us but we hardly get the courage to speak for ourselves.
Vasan sir and I used to just sit and discuss what would have happened with Supri in those years and then we reached a situation where she saw her mother living that life. So, sub-consciously you know you have to compromise. You have an inbuilt anger towards your mother about why didn’t she take that step. Because her mother didn’t do it, Supri thought this is normal.
Q. Often, what happens is even if we don’t like a trait in our parents, we end up imbibing exactly that quality subconsciously.
Yeah, exactly. Subconsciously, we end up taking in all that we hate about them.
Q. It is in action, where she feels in control of everything around her. That is her outlet. What was Vasan’s brief on it?
I never liked action. I would have opted for any other genre, even horror, but this (laughs). I never used to watch horror films. I was pretty honest with Vasan sir. I told him, ‘I don’t know why I am doing this film. I don’t know action. I don’t enjoy it.’ He said, ‘Bas ho jayega’ (It will happen). I have no idea what he saw in me. He told me he saw a video of mine and I don’t know which video it is. I knew getting action right was a huge part of it. What he told me was he didn’t want it to look fake. ‘Mujhe nahi chahiye jo heroines action karne ki koshish karti hain par nahi karti,’ (I don’t want the kind of action that actresses pretend to do on screen but don’t actually execute it in reality), that’s the only thing he told me. He didn’t want people to feel, ‘Oh! Poor girl tried to do action.’ He wanted her to be a bad-ass and better than Surya. And I was like, ‘How?!’.
Then I started training for it. Abhimanyu (Dasani) has grown up watching all Bruce Lee movies and I had no idea about it. He had begun training in martial arts before me. I used to train four hours every day and watch an action film every day. Initially, it was very tough for me to sit through an action movie and I would take a break every 20 minutes. After a month and a half, I got used to the schedule and finally fell in love with it.
Earlier, I used to feel out of place during the conversations that Vasan sir and Abhimanyu had. But when I started watching, I began giving my two cents! All three of us – Gulshan, Abhimanyu and I – had different kinds of training because our styles were supposed to be different. I was required to be on ground, while Abhimanyu was required to be off it. This was also because we thought Supri is short so if she jumps, anyone would grab her, while Surya had grown up on VHS tapes and video games so flying or jumping came naturally to him.
Q. Did Vasan tell you Supri’s motivation to take up action?
When she meets Karate Man on a street, she assumes that he must have seen how people get mistreated at home and as a result he started martial arts as a means of self-defense. So, she learns not for the love of martial arts but because of her instinct to save others. Also, what was very important for Vasan sir was that she lives Surya’s dream by training with Karate Mani because this is what he wanted to do.
Q. You started off as the typical Ekta Kapoor TV heroine in a successful romantic saga and jumped to become an uncouth, fiery woman in Pataakha and have now played a physically strong but emotionally vulnerable girl in Mard. Was it a thought-out decision to take a route in Bollywood which is in striking contrast with your TV image?
I am really bad at planning stuff. When I plan, it gets screwed up. When universe does it, it’s beautiful. If it were up to me, I would have debuted with a Karan Johar film with my hair flying and looking super pretty. I was told I have a conventional face but I got these projects. Now, I realise I have taken a different road, what do I do? I am very cliche and conventional (in choices). So, I actually have to curb that.
I have grown up watching Karan Johar films. So, your mind gets dominated by that content. I still remember it was my opening shot (in Mard), where I am just putting up a poster. I went to the set thinking there would be at least a blow dry to make my hair look good. I finished my shot and sir said, ‘Moving on.’ And I told him, ‘Sir, that was my opening shot. I am not doing anything!’ And he replied, ‘So?’ But he has presented me in an amazing way. He has given me a heroic entry with the “Nakhre Wali” song. He made me look so cool!
Q. Your hair actually is in motion while you perform stunts in the song.
He used to tell me the same thing, ‘See, it’s flying.’
Q. How have these experiences changed you as an actor?
I still had some inhibitions after I completed Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota but once I did Pataakha, I was freed. I gained four kilos, had my teeth tinted, got four shades darker and that just changed me as a person and an actor. I have become more comfortable in my skin. I felt Champa Kumari was the most beautiful girl on this planet. I really believed that. When she gets a haircut and she is running, wearing pink shades, with her buffalo, it was my Karan Johar moment. That was it.
Q. The beginning of an artiste shapes him or her to a great extent. Yours has been with two of the most brilliantly imaginative minds. How have they have shaped you?
They perhaps don’t realise it but they have grounded me. They have made me see what is actually right and important and what’s temporary and superficial. They have flipped me as a person. I want to stick to this new core. I really feel talent will surpass everything from age barrier to competition with star kids. They have instilled this belief in me. They both are my mentors.
After every award function, I go to Vishal sir’s house. I recently received two awards for Pataakha. During the first one, he wasn’t home. So, I met Rekha ma’am and their son. We partied. After every 10 days, I need to speak to him to tell him about what’s going on in my life. Sanya (Malhotra), him and I make sure we meet every 10-15 days. Vasan sir knows every project that I get offered. I sign a project only after consulting them.
Q. Is it difficult for an actor to adapt to the worlds of Vishal Bhardwaj and Vasan Bala after having learnt the basics from the Ekta Kapoor school of entertainment?
I didn’t know ‘A’ of acting when I signed Meri Aashiqui (Ekta Kapoor’s TV show). If you check out the episodes of its first four months, you would ask, ‘Why is this girl in it?’ I learnt acting on set. There were times when we used to question certain scenes in the show and our director told us that it was important for us to be convinced about the story to make audience believe in our work. I thought if I could get convinced by that, then I could do anything. That was the most important thing I learnt in TV.
I had my ups and downs. I started behaving like a star when I saw little success. My director just made me sit and asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And I replied, ‘I have worked hard for this. I was just 18 when they made me shoot nonstop for 56 hours and now I deserve it. I will treat them the way I want to.’ He told me that just because everyone else was doing it, I shouldn’t do it. He asked me to treat the set as my home. That changed me forever. I have seen a whole journey on television. From tasting success at 18-19 to acting starry and then finally coming home. I am thankful to Ekta ma’am for this opportunity. So, when I came to movies, I knew I didn’t want to take that path. I had let go of whatever image I had of myself.
Q. Everyone is aware of gender disparity in Bollywood on and off camera, however, TV is considered a woman’s medium because the content is dominated by female characters. But how are women treated off it? Do they face disparity on set?
What is common in both the mediums is that if people like you, there would be no disparity. If your TRP is high, you are treated in a different way and if it’s low, it’s different. If the show’s doing well, a female actor can ask for a price hike and they will do it because they believe she is getting in the TRPs but if they are low, then the blame is on her. In Bollywood, it’s about box office numbers.
But things are changing because there are parts being written especially for women. And whenever I get told in a meeting that it’s a great script but it’s for the guy. I tell them, ‘Change it to a girl. I can do it.’ Why not? If a new guy can do it, why can’t I do it? I challenge them. Earlier, women didn’t express their opinions because they felt no one would listen but right now, they do and we must speak. Like, I feel that Rohit Shetty should make a film with a woman lead. I want Zoya Akhtar to have a female protagonist.