I just let the character breathe inside me
She’s bold yet calm, she’s confident yet unpretentious, she has things crystal clear in her head and in conversation. Absolutely loved the its-as-simple-as-that-attitude. A pleasure to listen to, Richa Chadha is one of the most gifted actors we have today. She talks to us about the recent experience at Cannes, the journey of Masaan and more movies.
Congrats on the overwhelming response at Cannes. What was going on in your mind amidst that thunderous applause?
Nothing. We were waiting for the response and the applause went on and on. It was very special actually. It was extremely kind of them.
What made you sign Masaan?
Masaan was written for me. I had no doubt about the script. I had to respect the fact that my director had written it for me. Of course, I love him but it was a difficult part to play. It was someone who is strong but also vulnerable, respectful but also rebellious at the same time. It was a part of contradiction.
What was the brief?
The brief was that of a small town student girl who works part-time in a coaching center in the University. She has access to everything that we have access to in the city, typically the Internet. However, she is a priest’s daughter. Then something happens in the script and you’ll have to watch the rest.
It’s a shame we don’t get to see the film soon enough. I understand you can’t give out spoilers here. Lets talk about what kind of preparation you had to do for the role?
I wanted to do the film for sure so I thought about the character. I don’t work in the ‘method’ way. I read the script a few times and then just let the character breathe inside me.
What do you mean when you say ‘let the character breathe inside you’?
Method acting is when, suppose, I have to play a school teacher, I would go to great lengths to observe a real teacher, spend time with her, study her life and then try to emulate that. The way I approach my roles is to make sure I understand the emotional graph of the character. I don’t read the script after that. I don’t memorize the lines too much. I read them again when I am on the sets so that if I want to take a pause or improvise in a certain way, I can. When I say I let the character breathe inside me, I mean that you do something, but you don’t fix it. For instance, there was this scene with Nawaz in Gangs of Wasseypur, which, when I read on paper, was all about ‘baap ka, dada ka, bhai ka, sabka badla lega’. It went on to become iconic later on. But if you read the scene, you would think there’ll be a lot of screaming and shouting, she would confront him and finally ask him to get lost. We are all improv-actors so when we did the scene, what came to me was not tears. It was more like ‘let me look for a knife to chop off his fingers’. That scene came out magically and these things happen only when you let the character breathe.
Specific to Masaan, my subconscious told me that this is a small town girl who watches things on the internet but doesn’t have first hand experience. She probably doesn’t wear jeans and a tee shirt on a daily basis. Maybe she wears kurtis. Then one answers questions like, ‘How would she react in particular situation, would she be confused? etc’ It’s my imagination of the character.
You have always been bold and brazen about your choice of films. What is it that you, as an actor, seek through the roles you do?
Truth. How can I tell this story in the most convincing way, even though I am not this person?
I will never live this kind of life. What can I do to convince the audience that for the next two hours, I am?
How have you grown as an actor from Oye Lucky Lucky Oye to Masaan? You didn’t go unnoticed even in the minuscule role of Dolly.
I am still very instinctive as an actor. I work on spontaneity. I don’t think I have done too much to change. I try and take every day like a first time. So if I have to seek work actively, I go out and do it. If I have to go and audition for a character, I do it. I have no ego about that.
Are you comfortable with giving auditions?
(matter of fact) Yes! For actors it is difficult because you can always say, ‘go watch my last film, or go see my work.’ But I always look at it from the point of view of the director. He is working with you for the first time. He doesn’t know how awesome you are and its okay. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in satisfying him, putting him at ease and saying, ‘look I am interested.’
What’s your equation with the director, Neeraj?
Oh, I love him! He’s one of the nicest people I know. He has patiently kept at this film for so long without money, without motivation and a lot of other things. Anyone else would have given up a long time ago. I am flattered that he wrote the film for me. He is one of the most evolved people I have met. He is not greedy or selfish. He is a very special guy. And I think what is being awarded here is his humility and the fact that people actually want him to do well. No one wants to pull him down. I am sure there will be people who are envious now that he has won awards. But they are fond of him and it is a good quality to have as a director, when you have people who like you and not just want to work with you.
What kept you going as an actor through the journey of this film?
It didn’t take too much time for me. Neeraj took a while to find financiers but once the funding came in we started shooting. We began in November 2014 and here it is for you to see. We’re in June 2015 and it has already won awards.
What were the challenges while working on a complex script like this?
There are no challenges. You just hope that people understand it. Some people do and some people don’t. But you have to make a film.
Which of your roles is closest to the real Richa Chadha?
None I guess. People write very dramatic characters for films. They’re either deceptive, liars, seductive but in normal life we are nothing like that.
Do you think the response at Cannes will help the film at the box office? These days, it all boils down to numbers and weekend collections.
Isn’t that sad? You work for years on a film and then people talk about Friday opening, by lunch on Saturday it’s all over. But some of our cult films were flops at the box office including Sholay and Andaz Apna Apna. Its sad that cinema has been reduced to just an initial number game. You don’t even let the film breathe.
What is your take on social media? Your film hasn’t released yet but there is enough buzz to get people excited and raise expectations after the appreciation at Cannes. People are ready to like it already. Bombay Velvet was killed before it released.
Was it killed before it released or the day it released? People talk about that film as if it was a crime for Anurag Kashyap to make that film or even live and breathe in Mumbai. They forget that the same person has given us Black Friday and Gangs of Wasseypur, Gulaal and a whole bunch of cult films. He has inspired a generation of Indie film makers. Although the critics are another story, I found no difference between the hate that came out for Sajid Khan after Himmatwala and the hate that came out for Anurag. It is so much easier to pull people down than to appreciate them. I just want to say that you can do both these things free of cost. For the sake of cinema, we need all films to work at the box office, whether they are ‘arty’ or commercial. The bigger films often fund the smaller films. No one benefits from a film flopping.
Main aur Charles and Aur Devdas, both seem like off beat films again. Tell us a little about your roles in these films.
They are both very different roles. In Main aur Charles, I play a law student who is very gullible, easily fooled but thinks she’s too smart for the world. She ends up falling flat on her face. In Aur Devdas, I play Paro. You know Paro right?
Right. But there are many references for Paro. What kind of preparation did you go through to keep your character different?
Yes. I watched them and tried not to imbibe them too much because then I don’t bring anything fresh to the table. People have seen it a million times. This Paro doesn’t take stuff lying down. If she feels there is something wrong, she will defend herself and do something about it. She is ambitious and can also be vindictive. Paro is a hero in the film.