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.

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