Richa Chadha is in awe of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
cha Chadha is not your conventional Hindi film actress. She doesn’t speak to please her contemporaries or the media. Sharp, witty and outspoken, she cracks the best of jokes with a straight face and doesn’t mince her words. From acknowledging her supporting role to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Omung Kumar’s biopic ‘Sarbjit’, to coping with co-star Randeep Hooda’s mood swings, she says it like it is. Presenting Richa Chadha unplugged.
After seven years in the industry, do you still feel like an outsider?
Frankly, I can’t think of any advantage of not being from the film industry, but I am existing. I may not be flourishing but I am busy and I have a lot of work. People know me and respect me, and I have earned goodwill. The fact that we have a term called ‘outsiders’ for the movie business, which does not exist in any other cinema in the world, says a lot. We don’t hear it for Chinese, Hollywood or European cinema. You’ll not hear the word outsider there. We are good-looking, successful, glamourous, but we are still considered outsiders, as if we are aliens or something. The term shouldn’t exist.
Who do you find the most attractive in Bollywood?
I love Shah Rukh Khan but people don’t give him enough credit. He is a hungry actor, who is breaking his own image and almost mocking himself in his latest film. It’s amazing. Here is an actor who is so evolved that he can take a look at himself like an outsider. I wonder how people can question his capability. He is intelligent, engaging, inspiring, he writes well and is a thorough gentleman.
What qualities in a man do you fancy the most?
I find intelligence and confidence in men very sexy. A man should be well read and kind. It’s nothing to do with how they look and how much money they have.
Unlike most actresses, you don’t mind saying that your film ‘Sarbjit’ predominantly revolves around Aishwarya and Randeep and yours is a supporting role.
It is her film and most actors bull***t their way through these questions. During the script, you get to know who has exactly what kind of role and who is doing what. When I sign a film like ‘Sarbjit’, I know it’s about Dalbir (played by Aishwarya) and Sarabjit (Randeep) and then Sukhpreet (me). It’s that kind of hierarchy even in the narrative and it’s a story about a sister fighting a lifelong battle for her brother’s release. So who am I kidding and why do I have to hide? People will eventually see the film and why should I lie about it, especially if I am really happy doing it? It’s not a tuccha that I am playing a second fiddle to. It’s Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and I am very proud of it.
Why was working with Randeep Hooda (who plays the titular role in ‘Sarbjit’) intimidating?
He is very moody. Sometimes he is nice, sometimes he is edgy. In Sarbjit, he was on a strict diet, gaining weight and losing weight, so he was going through hell as he had to be in solitary confinement as well. As an actor, I understand that every time you play an intense part, it takes a toll on you. Also, I play his wife in the film and when you are someone’s wife, you have to bear the husband’s mood swings also (smiles).
Essaying that role (of Sarabjit’s wife Sukhpreet) must have been a challenge.
I hope she feels that I have done justice to her part because I am urban and probably complete opposite of her in reality. Having said that, I didn’t feel that pressure because I wasn’t playing someone who is known. For instance, Farhan playing Milkha Singh or Randeep playing Charles Sobhraj would have been more difficult as they had to work on their body language, posture etc. I interpreted the character as a regular Punjabi woman.
What was meeting Sukhpreet like?
I remember I met her for the first time in the middle of the road. She started crying as soon as she saw me. That is when it hit me that we are making a film on someone’s husband, sister, wife and it must be painful for them to see. And this is not a case that happened 20-30 years ago. It is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Sarabjit passed away, or was rather murdered, in 2013.
Which is why you thought it was cruel to probe about her late husband…
I wanted to portray her character with empathy and respect. I never wanted to ask her how she felt as I knew how she felt. I could see it in her sunken eyes and face, as she had aged prematurely. Also, whatever I needed to play was already in the script as I had seen her videos. Beyond that, it would have been insensitive. I hate it when people ask those in trauma, ‘Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?’ I never wanted to be party to that. It’s not fair.
What was working with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan like?
I am in awe of her. She is so sharp. She has that meticulous South Indian brain. She knows all her lines at the back of her mind. We have to applaud the fact that Hindi is not her mother tongue, and here she is trying Punjabi. She is managing her house, her daughter, shooting for films and brands – and she does it all so well. Most of my scenes were with her and she was very protective of me, and guiding me like a mentor. She is a superstar and the world’s most beautiful woman. Her name itself is a big brand. Initially I was always like, ‘Should I talk to her or not’, but she is so welcoming and genuine. We hit it off really well right on the first day. No pretence, no problems at all.
Do you think she is underrated as an actor as her looks overshadow her talent?
I do think so. Now everybody dabbles in it (parallel cinema) a lot more, but she was at the peak of her career when she did ‘Chokher Bali’ and ‘Raincoat’. I think credit needs to be given for that. She did go ‘de-glam’ as they put it for these roles and she did them so well. Yes, she did get some flak because she is so beautiful. It’s happened to Brad Pitt as well. For a long time, his looks came in the way of his talent.
Given the subject, was the film emotionally draining?
Look at the timing. Just a few days ago, Kirpal Singh died (another Indian prisoner jailed in Lahore). This is the sad truth of life. People’s lives get ruined in this kind of conflict (India-Pak) and that really affects me. This is why it was emotionally draining. Especially the last few scenes of the film took a toll on me and I hope the hard work is communicated. It’s not the kind of film where you can go on the set and return happily. It took a lot
out of us. Especially for Randeep, it was extreme draining – physically and emotionally.