The actress, whose last release was Bhagmati, speaks to Neelesh Misra in The Slow Cafe about her influences, the things she’s learnt along the way in the film industry, and working in the hinterland.
Among the current crop of female actors in Hindi cinema, not many can boast of coming up the “unconventional” way. Bhumi Pednekar is among the very few who can flaunt that in her bio. From piling on the kilos and playing an overweight teacher in the hinterland who finds love in her marriage in her very debut Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Mumbai-born and raised Bhumi has spent a substantial number of shooting hours in rural India.
Speaking in The Slow Cafe with Neelesh Misra she dwelled upon her interactions with people in the hinterland, the inherent urban-rural divide that irks her, her work with children and more.
Pednekar and Misra have collaborated professionally in RS Prasanna’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan, where Misra dons the mantle of narrator, lending much levity to an already-hilarious film. “You were the background music to the love story between Ayushmann [Khurrana] and me on screen,” began Pednekar. “Even now, it receives so much love.”
Pednekar has been a part of films that are commercial, but not without meaning — there’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Sonchiriya, Saand Ki Aankh (co-starring Taapsee Pannu, based on the Tomar grandmothers who excel in shooting), Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare… Does she feel there should be a message in every film or is entertainment enough, Misra asked her.
“Both are fine, but I feel that every artiste enters the industry with a vision. They come with an idea of what route they should take. My films are entertaining, yes, but I do tend to veer towards projects that might result in some change in mindset. Even Pati Patni Aur Woh has empowered women characters, which is why I chose to do that movie,” Pednekar said.
Speaking about actors and their social responsibility, she said: “As actors we have the power to touch hearts, and I think we have a moral duty to do something other than make them laugh. We say cinema reflects society. If we are the mirror, then we have a duty to live up to the status we have been given. Many a time, people don’t know their strength, and so don’t use it,” she added.
Misra and Pednekar then spoke about social conditioning and the need to break it, even if it takes time. “I come from an urban eco-system. I come across such regressive attitudes, I tell myself they do not deserve this life they have. In the villages, we meet so many progressive people who have had to fight for things that those in cities get on a platter. The Tomar grandmothers, for instance… after meeting them, I kept wondering what God was thinking when he distributed privilege and power,” Pednekar said.
“There are people who have access to nutritious food and education and who don’t use it, and these brilliant minds who have to struggle for everything. In fact, I’ve met more educated bewkoofon [fools] in my life so far,” said Pednekar.
In Abhishek Chaubey’s much-appreciated Sonchiriya, Pednekar played the role of Indumati Tomar, who kills to save a young girl. That film and her time shooting in the Chambal has resulted in a more lasting collaboration for three years now. Khushi, the little girl who played ‘Sonchiriya’ in the film, came from an ashram for tribal children.
Pednekar banked on the goodwill that social media is also capable of to raise funds for the school in Chambal. “They helped from America, London and Brazil. Now, the children attend about three hours of class everyday. They’ve picked up so much English. Sometimes, we don’t realise that you can give children something small, and they can run with it and do very well,” the actor said.
Popularity changes people. Being good and staying good are not that easy anymore. How is it with you, asked Misra. “With success, I won’t say I’ve already become a better human, but I am getting there. I have become more compassionate. We were taught empathy at home, but now, my success in films makes me think about the kindness that has come my way,” Pednekar said.
“I am from a non-film background. Why did I get a chance to act? So, I have to spread the cheer, the kindness. We look at our needs, our family’s needs, and then?” she asked.
A word usually associated with Pednekar is “grounded”. That, she says, comes from retaining her ecosystem from before she became an actress. “The same folks are in my life. My personal and professional lives are very different, and that’s why I think I am grounded. I have made mistakes, yes, but I have learnt from them,” she said.
It also helps that Pednekar grew up in a household that was accomplished but knew better than to pass on the pressure to succeed on the children. “Our father let us make mistakes and learn from them. So, I am not complacent. I have reached where I have after years of planning. I took small steps, but I got there,” she told Misra.
In between all the serious talk, Pednekar spoke about living in a house full of women — her father passed away some years ago after a prolonged fight with cancer. “During lockdown, it was me, my mother, sister, our domestic help didis, my assistant and then there was Ram Bhaiya. He was living in a house that was full of hormones. Every week, there was someone who was very angry,” she laughed.