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Richa Chadha: The road from Dolly to Paro

On choosing feisty, strong-willed characters, the actor has found her niche

Richa Chadha. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Richa Chadha. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Of all the comments she would have to field, Richa Chadha did not anticipate being “too intelligent" as one of them. While it bothered her at first, the Masaan (2015) and Inside Edge actor says it’s a reaction she has realized is both a compliment and a reflection of the other person’s insecurity. After a decade of working in Bollywood, Chadha says she is able to take most things in her stride.

Revelling in the success of Fukrey Returns (2017), Chadha began her career in theatre before landing the role of Dolly in Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008) almost 10 years ago. But it was the part of Nagma in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012) that got her noticed. Since then she has slipped into the tacky leopard-skin hoodie that is the trademark of Bholi Punjaban in the Fukrey franchise and has been loved as Devi in Masaan. Chadha talks about her next film Daas Dev (Sudhir Mishra’s reworking of Devdas), her first Hollywood film, and her venture into direction. Edited excerpts:

‘Fukrey’ has become a successful franchise but the story pivots around Bholi Punjaban, a foul-mouthed negative character, played by you.

There is no other character like Bholi Punjaban. I love Bholi because, in her head, there is no distinction between how women and men ought to behave. If she wants to kiss a weirdo on the mouth, she will go for it. There is no taming her. Her drinking and smoking are not superficial. She has her Scotch and tikka and gets her henchmen to dance. I loved playing Bholi, not only because I am so different from her in real life but also because I think she and I have the same patience for bullshit. On a more serious note, I feel vindicated when a commercial film like Fukrey does so well, as I can lay stake to that and say I contributed to the box office and helped the industry make so much money this year. If there is money in circulation, more films—whether big or small—can take off.

You have been very vocal about patriarchy and equality. How do you reconcile that with parts like Paro (in ‘Daas Dev’) and Shakeela, in an untitled biopic about the adult movie star from Kerala, where objectification of the woman, or female weakness, are central to the stories?

The issues are perfectly reconciled in these films. This Paro leaves Dev and becomes his political opponent. It’s progressive and she’s a catalyst. In Sudhir Mishra’s adaptation of Devdas, the women have agency. Paro’s character becomes a part of political conspiracy and creates mini earthquakes in Uttar Pradesh politics. That’s what drew me to it. I can’t say much about Shakeela yet, except that her story has a dramatic, fascinating graph.

A couple of years ago, you shared your experiences with bulimia. It must have been liberating to come out in the open with it.

Yes, it was. I know of a few other people in the industry who are bulimic and I was hoping they would come out and say something. But people in the industry were like: I don’t want to talk about this mental problem. People would reach out and say we are worried for you. But I am not some tragic figure. I am actually quite happy. I got over my condition very quickly because I understood what was happening. But it’s a comment on society too. For instance, a friend’s seven-year-old daughter stopped eating ice cream and when I asked her why, she said it’s because everyone is so thin.

You produced a Punjabi short film last year and now you have directed a short film, ‘Logikal’. How did that come about?

I suddenly got some funds and I had three days to put the film together. So I quickly wrote this story, which is a dystopian dark comedy set in 2025. Making it was a different experience for me. Being involved in something from the writing stage would give me a lot of satisfaction as I love detailing. I want to create content that makes people think. Besides, short films are highly accessible—you can watch them on your phone.

Daas Dev is slated to release in cinemas on 27 April.

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