‘Why leave our brains behind for a movie?’
A STELLAR storyline, taut direction and fitting cast make up Gangs of Wasseypur part 1. Everyone’s talking about Anurag Kashyap’s perfect art of filmmaking, Manoj Bajpai’s eerily realistic potrayal of protagonist Sardar Khan, who’s scared of no one...no one except for his wife. So it was clear early on that Kashyap would have to pick a female lead befitting that fear, that strength. And he did, in the form of Richa Chadda. Four years after she made an impact in just four scenes in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Richa returns to the forefront to play a spunky yet doting Najma Khatoon. Excerpts from an interview:
You’re a Delhi girl from a non-filmi, non-modelling background. How did you get into acting?
I was first cast as an extra in a play called Aur Kitne Tukde by an NSD director called Kirti Jain in Delhi. I was always interested in the performing arts and this play happened to me when I was 16. I had been dancing since I was six, trained in Kathak for 10 years but I was too young to patiently see through such a tough classical avatar of dance. Acting seemed to become something that was larger than the other things. I was happy to move into a sphere that combined music, dance and performing together. I also didn’t want my parents to push me into academics since they’re both academics. I did my graduation in History from St Stephens, it was the very proper thing to do and my parents were very into the school of thought that said, ‘IAS toh kar lo, MA toh kar hi lo’.
I remember I deliberately went to these entrance examinations at IIMC and Jamia and I would sleep there because what if I made a half-attempt and still got through. Eventually I shifted to Mumbai and continued my theatre work with Barry John, he even selected me as the lead for one of his plays. And that’s where I was picked for my debut film Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
But then why the gap of four years between your first film and GoW. That’s a long disappearing period for most to endure?
I got very similar parts to Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!: I didn’t want to be Dolly forever. People remembered me from those four scenes in Oye Lucky!, so, I knew my calibre. I didn’t want to do the same thing. Also, not everyone is as talented as Dibakar Banerjee.
The whole thing about being an actor is to do different things, different characters. That’s why I wanted to get into films in the first place. I thought of that period not as a period of unemployment but as a period of gestation. So I consciously stayed away from stupid stuff. I was always busy, I was also always broke but happy.
You have to have real guts to do that. To not take up similar roles but also be sort of broke.
Yeah, but most good actors go through the same thing. My co-star Manoj Bajpai was telling me how he was out of work for a good year after Satya. And I was like ‘Why? It was a landmark film and a landmark character.’ He told me, ‘You have to have patience and you have to wait.’ If you want to be known as a good actor or work in good films then you have to wait. I am banking on one thing — I don’t even have modelling in my background — my versatility. My character in Wasseypur ages from 16 to 60. In fact, Anurag kept another older actor on the sets just in case I couldn’t pull off my character’s older avatar, but I did. My kind of cinema is good cinema, not commercial or arty, just good cinema.
When Anurag came to you with GoW, did you have a reading?
Anurag called me and said that there’s this film and would you like to do a small role. Without even reading the script I said yes, I’d do any role. He called back later to tell me that the role he’s offering me is that of the lead female actor. I was so happy, I even cried a little. I think any actor would trust Anurag, nobody’s a useless actor in his film. I knew this was a landmark film as the pre-production of GoW had already happened for six months prior to Anurag offering me the role, so I’d heard great stuff about GoW already. He didn’t even have a locked script when we were shooting; he was developing stuff on the spot and would always come up with something unusual.
I don’t know if you know I had also auditioned for Dev D, for Kalki’s role. Anurag had told me then that mine was the best audition and he’d offer me something bigger soon. He kept his word and I’m really glad that promise was GoW.
And then, it took a really long time for GoW to get studio backing.
We started the work on the film in 2010, the prosthetic work had begun which is expensive as you know and the studio backed out before the film was to go on the floor. It was being backed by a big studio at that time and they backed out ten days before the shooting was to begin. We thought the film was shelved. I remember Anurag calling me and saying, ‘Look, I will make the film. Somehow, anyhow’. I believed in him.
His films leave you with such a sense of realism, don’t they?
Yeah, its true. Look at the music of GoW. All films have their music done in Mumbai, which is fine. In our film when music had to be composed Anurag told Sneha Khanwalkar to search and look dilligently. She stayed in Patna for three months where she traced the lives of plantation workers from Bihar who had been transported to Trinidad and Tobago, so she travelled there and revived lost musical traditions like chutney music. Everything in an Anurag Kashyap film is so organic, because he plans it that way.
How did you do the groundwork for your role?
She’s a strong woman in a patriarchal society and the only woman that Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai) is truly scared of. Anurag wanted us to play it by the ear. Its the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I have experience of being a 16 year old, but not a 60 year old.
How is Anurag able to extract the best acting from all the actors he casts, whether a film old or several films old?
Because he loves them. He loves them so much, that no one feels insecure. Its just like when u want somebody to stretch you have to relax the muscles, you can’t tighten the muscles and expect the flexibility to increase (laughs). He won’t clip your wings.
‘I got very similar parts to Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!: I didn’t want to be Dolly forever. I was always busy, always broke but happy’
You have to have brought back a lot of memorable moments from Cannes?
(Giggles) It was a lot about the clothes, a lot about switching between heels and my flats (with the latter being loved by my feet more than the former). I think the most memorable point was this compliment I got was from this journalist who writes movie reviews for Variety magazine. Post the five-and-a-half-hour screening of GoW, she went looking for me. And the thing is that I was seated right next to her the whole time. Basically she hadn’t recognised me in all those hours. That for me was the best compliment; that I could transform into my character to that extent.
Are you nervous at all, now that GoW has got so much critical acclaim?
Critical acclaim is fine but I want this film to work commercially. Mostly for Anurag and the production house. But also because if this film is a commercial hit, it will force the industry to change their formula of what a hit film should be like. And I think it’s time for that change to happen now. I mean how many times will you tell people for a hit film ‘Please leave your brains at home’. That’s silly no? Isn’t your brain a part of your body?