Richa Chadha on Jia aur Jia, Inside Edge, Fukrey 2, her characters on screen and everything in between

In an age when women are scrutinized for their choices and contributions to cinema and otherwise, actress Richa Chadha stands a class apart when it comes to her roles in films in recent years. From playing an obnoxious sister in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye! to playing a vengeful mother in Gangs of Wasseypur to playing a bad ass villain in Fukrey, Richa has defied genres and stereotypes to give memorable characters on screen including those in her upcoming Jia Aur Jia and Fukrey 2.

We sit down for a chat with her about her approach to characters, the role of women and her upcoming film in this quirky interview:

Let’s jump straight into Jia Aur Jia. Tell us about your character and what are you doing in the film?

I am playing a girl who is very snobbish. She is also clinically depressed, which is a dangerous combination. She decides to take a vacation and unfortunately runs into Kalki. Kalki is her namesake, but they are very different personalities. They are doing this budget holiday so they have to share a room, cab, everything. They get on each other’s nerves often. But each of them is traveling with a secret, that’s essentially the film. One’s traveling with her first 10 lakhs, one is traveling with her last 10 lakhs.

This is one of the rare films where you see single woman traveler going around exploring the world or women friendship.

I don’t know why the filmmakers have taken so long to explore the subject, it’s not like girls don’t travel solo. Maybe they think India is not safe to travel in, maybe they think girls don’t make money to travel. I really don’t know!

Jia Aur Jia

Kalki and Richa in Jia Aur Jia

Yet do you see a paradigm shift in that? We’ve seen Queen, Angry Indian Goddesses and a few others.

Not just travel, I haven’t seen many movies on female friendship. Male friendship has been historically shown since the 50s. Songs have been sung about male friendship like ‘Yaari hai emaan’ or ‘Yeh dosti hum nahi todenge’. But nothing on female friendship. That I found very strange. Internationally of course there are several examples. There’s Sisterhood of Traveling Pants, there’s a beautiful film called Fried Green Tomatoes and of course, Thelma and Louise.

Do you think maybe it is because of a lack of female directors/storytellers?

No this is a male director and a male writer. You shouldn’t have to be a woman to tell a story about women. Just like how you shouldn’t have to be a man to tell male-centric stories. Women have written scripts that revolve around men. We can’t each do our own thing. I feel like this is definitely a time when things are moving, working, and I think it is a necessary shift that needs to happen.

What do you take away from a film like Jia Aur Jia?

What I learnt about myself when I’m traveling is that travel, especially road travel is therapeutic. Sort of clears your head. In the same way like a nice walk or a jog does. I am quite a traveler. Everything you see in this house (points to quircky poster frames and book shelf) is something that I picked up from somewhere. Travel is an essential thing to have a broader world view. It is only when the plane takes off that you realize how small your problems are.

You and Kalki basically started from a similar school of filmmaking. How was it working with her?

Yeah, we had Anurag feature in our lives prominently, though in different capacities (laughs). There’s always mutual respect when two actors come together. You’ve seen their work and you admire their ideologies. I was always looking forward to working with her and I’m glad that I finally got a chance to. She actually one of the reasons I agreed to do the film and it’s the same for her. There’s a certain beauty that exists in sisterhood and women friendships that is so empowering and it’s irreplaceable.

We’ve seen you play a 18 year old to a 56 year old in the same film. We’ve seen you in Masaan, and Fukrey. Everything that you’ve done has been distinct- from Goliyon ki Raam Leela to Tamanchey to now a contemporary role like Jia. Tell us your unique choice of filmography.

I love playing distinct roles. I get very annoyed when people try to stereotype. After I did Wasseypur for the next 2-3 years I only got Bihari characters. After I did Raam Leela, I got Gujarati characters. Yet after playing Bholi (Punjaban) in Fukrey, I got these badass, Delhi girl characters. It’s a shame that stereotype does exist across the world because it stops the actor bringing forth what he/she has. I have barely explored 10% of myself. I love exploring language. In this film, I play a Tamil Brahmin. I can read and write Tamil, it’s a skill that I have. Because of that, there was so much more that I could do to the accent of the character. It’s sad but sometimes we see the actors playing in the same character under different names. Sometimes, even the names are not changed. Here, we are trying many different things.

You mentioned two interesting things; about mainstream cinema and if you are trying to add method to your acting it is bracketed as a parallel, arthouse or an indie project.  

Indeed. And why can’t we have box office success with a good quality product? To me Masaan was not an indie film. It was a great lesson for me that after I did Oye Lucky… and Fukrey was offered to me, I went back to meet my teacher Barry John and told him about my character that, ‘she’s a tough girl, she works out in a strange way, she’s been a criminal and is a Delhi girl with an accent, so how shall I go about it?’ He said, “You grew up in Delhi right? How many Delhi girls do you know?” That changed everything. She could be from Delhi (points to our DP), I could be from Delhi and we could both have distinct personalities.

Fukrey 2-

Richa as Bholi Punjaban in Fukrey Franchise

With Fukrey 2, what are the different nuances that you are bringing?

Well the character has evolved. She has gone through a depression, humiliation, insult. She wants revenge badly. She has come out like a wounded tiger and will destroy anything in her path. That’s what she is pretty much doing in the film.

Did you approach the character differently this time?

If you do a character once, and you do it again later, it takes a few days to get into the skin of the character but after that it is easy. Even when you do a play, it is sporadic. You do one in July, then you do it again in September, you immediately slip again in that character. With Bholi this time, I tried to give her more of a personal agenda for her vengeance. She’s not just aimlessly cruel, there’s a surprise in the film.

Bholi is not slapstick like other characters. It is very subtle since you are actually not trying to be funny. Tell us about your humor in Fukrey.

Well I hope people still try to look at it like that! It’s a fun character. For me the challenge is how to be likeable even though she is so harsh. She is the kind of girl who has no restriction in her head about being a girl. I love how my director Mrigdeep has written it and how he is diligent with the humor and everything.

I want to know if it was the director’s call or yours; she is a really scary character with this tomboy-ish look, at the same time she is getting her nails done—was it a part of your approach to the character?

Not at all, that is the genius of my director Mrigdeep and writer Vipul Vig. That’s the stereotype we face that if she is a bold, strong girl, she cannot paint her nails. When I first started going to awards functions, I had to somehow break the image of Faizal’s mother (from Gangs of Wasseypur) because we live in a country that likes to box people. So I used to wear the gowns and the short dresses and people would tell me, ‘you should be in the clothes that kurtas and sarees’ and I would tell them back that ‘I want to question your idea of what an independent woman should wear or look like’. I cannot see myself in a cloning factory. It is the same with the characters.

What was it like with Inside Edge (Amazon Web Series)?

I got to play this character in Inside Edge; she’s an ambitious woman and a smoker. People immediately think: Smoker actress means that she is a bitch. In the first episode you see her smoking and her body language being free. I thought it was a very well written character, because somewhere she was so vulnerable and insecure about her spot under the sun that she did all that she could to say it. I loved playing that character since it had so many layers. I could at once feel arrogant, insecure and invincible.

In terms of web series, did you approach it like three big films?

No I didn’t. Because we watch all this now. We watch Narcos and House of Cards and American Gods. It’s really delicious entertainment. Its one hour, and you can’t wait to watch the next one. It’s addictive and the content is better. There is no pressure of box office, or inserting an item song illogically. It’s nice to read material that is not spoon fed to you.

What’s coming after Jia Aur Jia and Fukrey 2?

I honestly don’t know. I am exploring different things. I have started writing and it feels wonderful. I produced a short film earlier this year. Thematically, it appealed to me, because my friend, wrote and directed it. I’d also like to develop scripts that I can do.