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'I want the predators to feel afraid'

By Karan Sanjay Shah
November 09, 2018 09:58 IST
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'It's okay to Twitter shame somebody, but what happens after that?'
'Most of these people, who were accused, are back at work now.'
'I want the movement to go on, I don't want the momentum to slow down.'

Richa Chadha is one of the most outspoken actresses around.

From feminism to body shaming to #MeToo, Richa is unabashed about her views and unafraid to speak her mind.

She is currently playing the Southside sensation Shakeela, and the shooting is currently in progress in Bengaluru. 

"Initially, my perception of her (Shakeela) was the same like other people -- that she is an adult star and she's done... maybe not porn because it was illegal... but soft porn movies. Now my perception is what is on the logo: 'Not a pornstar'," Richa tells Contributor Karan Sanjay Shah.

What was the one thing that made you take up a film on Shakeela?

Honestly, there were three things.

First, her life and the potential for it cinematically.

Then, it was her as a personality. I have never met a woman like her.

Third and most importantly, the script.

When I read it, when I was narrated it, I was pretty sure I would decline it because I was afraid it would go into a certain zone.

But I realised that not only is it far from it, but the unbelievable events in her life made me greedy as an actor to be able to live them out on cinema.

It's written as a screenplay, God has written it. It's fantastic!

What I don't understand is how no one took it up sooner as her autobiography had been out a while ago.

As a person, she is liberated, evolved, comfortable in her own skin, comfortable with her current condition and comfortable with her condemnation too.

IMAGE: A Shakeela poster. Photograph: Kind courtesy Richa Chadha/Instagram

Did you know about Shakeela before the movie?

When I was a kid, I remember India Today ran a story about this huge star.

I was surprised that this really big, huge woman is a huge star in the South.

That was the first time I heard about her, I guess sometime during the 1990s.

What was your perception of her initially? Has it changed?

Initially, my perception of her was the same like other people -- that she is an adult star and she's done... maybe not porn because it was illegal... but soft porn movies.

Now my perception is what is on the logo: 'Not a pornstar'.


What was your reaction when you heard her story for the first time?

I felt really sad! Not because she's sad, but because whatever happened to her was not her fault.

She didn't choose any of this.

What really hurt me was that the people, who wronged her, are flourishing. That's really unfair.

It is unfair that she is living in a 550 square foot house on rent and everybody else is doing well.

I asked her if she feels angry.

She said, 'No, anger is a pointless emotion.'

I was taken aback.

She could have easily been hooked onto drugs or cigarettes or been an alcoholic. She likes her drink but she's not dependent on anything.

She likes to travel.

She likes to be surrounded by nature.

She doesn't judge herself; she doesn't even judge the people who have wronged her.

If I tell her they had stolen your money, she says, 'What to do? People are greedy.'

That's such a different way of looking at things.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Richa Chadda/Instagram

If you were in her situation, how would you react?

I don't know if I'm strong enough to withstand the kind of pressure she went through.

If I was in her position when -- and you'll have to see the film to know more -- whatever she went through in the late 1990s, I don't think I would've made it because you are completely without any support, no love in your life, no money, nothing... What do you rely on?

Today, if my career is going bad, I can call my boyfriend or my dad and mom. There are a million things I can do.

When you met Shakeela for the first time, how was the vibe? And how did you prep with her?

Of course, I gained weight, which is obvious, as she was quite healthy. I have started losing it now.

The vibe was definitely something, she is an incredible human.

It must be so difficult gaining weight, then losing it.

Yes, it is quite difficult.

IMAGE: Richa with Ali Fazal. Photograph: Kind courtesy Richa Chadha/Instagram

You look so much like her in the first look that came out. What kind of research do you do for such roles?

I try to humanise the subject first because if I start judging her, that's death for the script and for everybody.

Then I do research.

I find out what she actually feels.

The physical weight gaining and appearance is different. But what about her mind space, does she feel sad, how does she feel sad, does she feel lonely, does she feel humiliated?

Do you get sucked into those emotions?

Yeah, maybe for a few minutes.

But I have learned over time to be wise and not do method acting. So, I don't let it last more than 10, 15 minutes after 'cut'.

Or else I will go mental.

In five films, if I do five extreme emotions and characters, I will really lose it.

I think a lot of actors do go through it. I feel Heath Ledger did lose his mind.

What is the one thing you want the audience to take away from this film?

I want the audience to look at her as a woman first. See the kind of harassment and trouble she had to go through.

We are talking about harassment. The last time we spoke, I remember you mentioned that you don't feel a movement like #MeToo would happen in India. But it has happened.

Yes, everything's coming out.

But what I told you last time also is that we lack the humanisation, we lack the loyalties, we don't have the legal things in place.

I was talking to another journalist and she told me that victims aren't coming forward now.

I said they won't because they have no support.

That's what I meant earlier too.

It's okay to Twitter shame somebody, but what happens after that?

Most of these people, who were accused, are back at work now.

I want the movement to go on, I don't want the momentum to slow down.

I want the predators to feel afraid.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Richa Chadha/Instagram

Do you think this movement will sustain or die down in India?

I think it's just about starting because I didn't expect women to come out so strongly in support of each other.

I didn't expect Vinta Nanda and Sandhya Mridul and these kinds of cases coming out.

I'm so disgusted with people like Alok Nath.

If you have an alcohol problem, deal with it.

I know that when I get drunk, I don't do such things.=

Do you think the predators will be punished?

Some of them have been affected, na?

Shoots are being cancelled or they are being replaced.

There is an amazing feminist writer called Lindy West; she wrote a very nice piece for The New York Times.

She wrote about Woody Allen, saying if we can't go after your work or your career, we will go after your legacy. You will never be remembered the same way.

I think a lot of women will have to take solace in that.

For all the good that Alok Nath had done, being perceived as a father figure, the fact that he was hitting on a girl, who was playing his daughter, made me almost want to throw up. That's his legacy now.

You said a lot of women came out in support and that's great. But we have not seen the top, established stars come out and speak about this issue and support it.

They might be afraid.

See, honestly, I can't judge because I'm not in a position where Rs 300 crores, Rs 400 crores is riding on me, that is the difference.

They have liabilities.

So, I don't know what the deal is, but I wish that there was open and universal condemning because all they have daughters too.

You don't care about us, that's fine, but care about making the world a better place for your daughters.

You are doing some fabulous work. What's next for you and how are you going about picking these films?

I choose my films by heart and instinct.

I am shooting for Shakeela and then Inside Edge 2.

Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai releases next year.

Then, there is Section 375 and Panga.

That's pretty much all I have, my hands are full.

There's another one or two films in the pipeline, and a couple of biopics, which I will announce later.

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Karan Sanjay Shah in Bengaluru