Monthly Archives: December 2020

Durgamati has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, satisfying and challenging at the same time: Bhumi Pednekar

Durgamati is high on content because it is a conspiracy thriller. It is not illogical, yet is massy at the same time,’ says Bhumi Pednekar.

Bhumi Pednekar, who has successfully straddled the middle-of-road cinema, has made a mark for portraying strong characters. After a much acclaimed debut in Yash Raj Films’ Dum Laga Ke Haisha, successful outings such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan followed, as did the massively acclaimed Netflix India Original Lust Stories and commercial entertainer Pati Patni Aur Woh.

After Netflix’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Pednekar will next be seen in Amazon Prime Video India film Durgamati. A remake of Telugu movie Bhaagamathie, Durgamati is being touted as a high drama horror-conspiracy thriller. Excerpts below, from a chat with the brave actress who wants to leave behind a legacy with good cinema.

It must be really exciting to helm a solo film for the first time?

Yes! And Durgamati has really been one of the toughest performances. We always talk about how tough my films get, and the amount of hard work that I put in. But this one has really gone notches above anything that I have done so far. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, Durgamati was very demanding. Horror, conspiracy thriller, as a genre, is tough. The film actually has a lot more than seen in the trailer. My character is serving jail time for murder. There are a lot of things that happen to her. There are a lot of shades to Chanchal Chauhan, the IAS officer, in the part that I play. Every scene was very high drama, very emotional, very taxing as a performance but I can say very proudly that this has by far been one of the most exciting roles of a lifetime.

And you have said that such roles rarely come to female actor. Why is that so?

Yes, you rarely get such opportunities especially as a woman where you get a canvas that is so large, where you get to perform a role that you usually see your male counterparts doing. You usually see boys do action, drama, performance that is so macho and so full of heroism, that angry young man emotion… and that is what excited me the most about Durgamati. This is that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a film which is high on content because it is a conspiracy thriller, and it is not something illogical, and it is massy at the same time. It was a very challenging but very satisfying experience.

How difficult was horror as a genre, where you are reacting to moving images, visual effects, different sounds, and not to any human?

It was very tough because as an actor, half of the time you are reacting to things that you can’t see, you can’t hear or feel. Then you don’t know whether you are overdoing or under doing things, and how it is going to eventually look because that is what happens when you are reacting to only the visual effects, and it is a genre that I have never done. Through the film, there is a lot of screaming and shouting. Everything is real, honest, and we wanted it to be pitch perfect. I had to put in a lot of energy with my body tense. I had to scream, cry, howl, it would be so exhausting. I have played out of my comfort zone but it was the conviction that I had on the material and the director and people who are attached to the film and that really kind of got me going. It is a challenge when you have to give a long monologue. There were times when I had to give eight- to nine-minute long takes. Every scene is crucial; every scene is high on emotion and drama. This film is like a part of my soul.

Durgamati is definitely more dramatic than the rest of your work. How did you approach the part?

The prep for this film was very different. Usually, I have a dialect. I have a certain body language for the kind of characters I do. Here, because I was playing an IAS officer, the upbringing is very similar to what I had gone through in my real life. So for me, the whole process was more about the mindset. She is serving jail time, and there is a chain of incidents that have happened to her that has completely changed her being.

Bhaagamathie struck gold at the box office. Not only in India but Anushka Shetty scored her biggest solo hit even in the US, where it collected over $1.1 million. Are you worried about the comparisons?

Comparisons would happen, it is very natural. South film Bhaagamathie has a huge following, and it is the film and performances that made a huge impact. I completely understand if the comparisons happen but I have already done a remake, and comparisons happened when I did Pati Patni Aur Woh, so it will definitely happen with this fil. But it is not something that I am scared of or I will shy away from. I understand that as fans, you get very passionate and rightly so. But I just hope that after Durgamati, all fans of Bhaagamathie  watch Durgamati, and hopefully, they enjoy it because what we have done in this film is our version of what we feel the script is, or what we feel as characters. It is a remake. The only newness in the film is through the performances, and we all have tried hard to do it differently. Anushka (Shetty) had given such an inspiring performance in Bhaagamathie, and it got her a lot of love, and I hope that my work brings the same amount of love and adulation.

You said you have watched the original but many times, directors do not want actors to watch the original work. Did you consciously try to be different from Anushka?

But I watched the film when I didn’t know that I would do Durgamati. I watched it because I had heard that it’s an interesting film, it is a genre-breaker. The only thought in my head was, ‘Oh my god, this is a role of a lifetime for any actor’, and when the remake was offered to me, I was like, ‘Wow, I must have really manifested this.’ When I watched the original, I was amazed and in awe of what Anushka had done. Her performance really excited me to take the film on.

You are one of the few actors who has always pushed boundaries. Is there always a struggle to find exciting work?

Definitely. If you look at my trajectory of work, I have always tried to present a new version of myself to the audience, and something that both people and I also enjoy. I don’t want to limit myself to one kind of cinema. I will get bored. I love challenges. I love pushing boundaries. I love trying to do newer things, and Durgamati was the perfect script for me. I got an opportunity to do something that I have never done on celluloid. The idea is always to create characters, to leave behind the legacy of characters that you will be remembered for generations to come.

When do you start shooting your next, Badhaai Do (opposite Rajkummar Rao)? 

Yes, I do. I am absolutely excited to start shooting for the film. Right now, I am concentrating and giving all my energy to Durgamati. It is a matter of few days that the film will be in public domain, and then I will start Badhaai Do

Would you not have preferred a theatrical release for Durgamati since it is a larger-than-life thriller mounted on such a huge scale? Will it have a desired impact when watched on a smaller screen?

Maybe a few months ago if you had asked me this question, I would have said, ‘Haan yaar, it is made for theatre, and it should have released in theatre,’ but my thinking has drastically changed over the last few months because during the pandemic, when we all were home, there was so much content that I watched on OTT platform, right from horror to action to thriller to romance. And I realised that by the end of it, it is the content that you are watching. Yes, some films should be out in theatres as well but everything that is happening right now, I couldn’t have asked for the better collaborator than the Amazon Prime Video because I am greedy, and I want my film to reach out to as many people as possible. When I get to know that my material is going to reach out to people in 200 countries, and in a time like this I have had two releases, I feel very lucky.

I love to keep doing different genres': Arshad Warsi on being offered a range of roles on streaming platforms

Arshad Warsi, most recently seen with Bhumi Pednekar in Durgamati, is slowly and steadily broadening the range of characters he is playing onscreen, thanks to streaming platforms

Arshad Warsi is not a big fan of horror genre but he agreed on Durgamati not just for its interesting and unpredictable script but because “the film didn’t have all those elements that I don’t like in horror. I don’t like ugly faces, blood, gore, somebody’s head blown off…The whole atmosphere, the house, the eeriness of spirit, I liked all that. I look for a good role and a good film, a film that I would like to see.”

“And then I got a serious role to play for a change,” adds Warsi. “Playing a politician, playing somebody way more mature than I am was great fun. My character Ishwar Prasad is pretty much like the original (Telugu film Bhaagamathie) but my body language and style of dialogue delivery is different.

Being someone who believes horror as a genre is difficult for an actor to perform, Warsi is all praises for Bhumi Pednekar. “I feel bad for Bhumi. That poor girl has gone through hell. She was dragged, pushed, thrown here and there. She went through a lot of torture. Fortunately I didn’t have to do all that. Bhumi is very hard-working, she puts her heart and soul into her work. She just doesn’t give up, she wants to give her best. I was quite impressed with her. I have also seen the original and I know how difficult it must have been to be part of it.”

Warsi may be more popular for his comedic turns in Munna Bhai, Golmaal and Dhamaal but he has been appreciated for his distinct characters in films like Hogi Pyaar Ki Jeet, Ishiqiya, and Jolly LLB. He even garnered critical acclaim for playing a police officer (SSP Ajay Kumar) in the crime drama Sehar (2005). The actor says stereotyping is not a problem but definitely a cycle he wants to break out of. “I have to keep doing different genres otherwise it is like being fed the same food everyday of your life. You will get fed up with it no matter how much you like it. I love doing comedies but at the same time I want to mix it with a couple of serious films here and there. I need movies like Durgamati, Jolly LLB, Sehar, and Ishqiya to keep me going. These movies don’t come to me very often.”

The versatile actor is slowly and steadily broadening the range of characters he is playing, thanks to streaming platforms. Warsi calls the OTT sphere a boon that has provided him with an opportunity to play more “serious” roles. Quite recently, he made his digital debut with Asur, a Voot Select crime thriller, in which he played Dhananjay Rajput, a forensic expert.

In cinema I am mostly getting comedy parts. I have been waiting for so many years and OTT has offered me various serious roles and I am doing most of them. Actors who haven’t got their chance to prove themselves in cinema have got a chance in OTT. I have been appreciated in Asur and I am going to start shooting for Asur 2 as soon as I finish Bachchan Pandey (Sajid Nadiadwala production’s film co-starring Akshay Kumar, Kriti Sanon and Jacqueline Fernandez). I will wrap Bachchan Pandey, which is completely nuts, mad comedy and then I will go to a very serious dramatic set for Asur,” says Warsi. “It is going to be great fun for people to watch Akshay and I together. We are completely insane, two mad people who enjoy doing comedy. The film is going to be bizarre and I love Akshay’s character in the film. We plan to start the shoot January next and will wrap up in March.”

Warsi has been busy with a lot of narrations during the lockdown but the story he is eagerly awaiting to hear is of Golmaal’s fifth instalment. “But I know that suddenly I will get a call from Rohit Shetty, he will summon me saying, ‘Come, we are listening to the script’. Sooner or later it will happen,” divulges Warsi, adding that the chances of Munna Bhai 3 happening appear bleak. “I don’t think Munna Bhai 3 will happen. I really doubt it. This is the strangest thing to happen. You have a producer and director who want to make the film, we have almost three scripts ready, we have actors who are all set. There are people waiting to watch it but still there is no film.”

Meanwhile, he isn’t complaining being holed up indoors with his family. “I have been enjoying myself. I am chilling, relaxing, hanging out with kids, and my dogs. My wife Maria (Goretti) has been cooking some great food and we are all putting on weight. I love being on the sets and I love being at home as well. I can’t say that I am missing work. I love going on bike rides, hanging out in mountainous regions and greener places. I live my life like that. I like not to work too much. With pandemic happening looks like we have started valuing life.