Bhumi Pednekar on ‘Bhakshak’ and being a dependable performer for women-centric films

The Bollywood actor, who plays an independent journalist in her upcoming crime thriller on Netflix, opens up on her career, the after-effects of ‘Thank You For Coming,’ honing her comic skills, and more

February 06, 2024 04:20 pm | Updated February 07, 2024 11:09 pm IST

Bhumi Pednekar as Vaishali Singh in ‘Bhakshak’

Bhumi Pednekar as Vaishali Singh in ‘Bhakshak’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

In her upcoming film, Bhakshak, Bhumi Pednekar plays Vaishali, a gutsy independent journalist who unearths a crime in a shelter home for homeless girlsDirected by Pulkit and bankrolled by Shah Rukh Khan and Gauri Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, the film premieres on Netflix on February 9.

Bhumi is known for headlining female-oriented movies. They offer her challenging roles to sink her teeth into and deliver a convincing performance. Bhakshak comes on the back of Thank You For Coming, in which she plays a woman seeking love and sexual pleasure, and Afwaah, a hard-hitting political drama. Bhakshak is yet another film that reflects the issues of society, told albeit in a different way when compared to her previous movies, says Bhumi.

Excerpts from the interview

Going by the trailer, you seem to have delivered an understated performance in ‘Bhakshak.’ As a journalist, you are reporting a serious issue in a non-sensational and straightforward way. What can you tell us about the character you are playing?

It was a conscious decision that we took. We have mostly seen journalism being portrayed on screen in one specific manner. So, we wanted to step away from that. Vaishali is an independent journalist in a small town who does her job for the love of her profession and she wants to do it with dignity and integrity. Big corporate companies aren’t supporting her, and she doesn’t even hail from a wealthy family. Vaishali isn’t a cop with the power of her badge or a gun; she manages her job with a small camera, a cameraman, and a van. She isn’t even going after a big story. In fact, when a big case comes up, she is not sure of taking it up. Vaishali isn’t a hero; she is a regular woman dealing with everyday issues. She is guts and glory through and through, but she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve because the character had to be relatable.

Where did you draw references to play this atypical journalist?

The world that Vaishali belongs to is the independent circuit of media. We don’t know their faces, but they are the media professionals who hit the nook of crisis first than some of the most successful journalists. I started researching about this world. I went through the YouTube channels of these independent journalists and I was curious about how they find news stories without adequate resources. My director, who is a phenomenal filmmaker, gave me further input about the character.

Is ‘Bhakshak’ a reflection of the trial by media or does it unfold like a powerful social drama? What makes it different from the rest of the thrillers?

The film intends to knock into our consciousness. Today, when we see an injured dog on the road, we don’t call an ambulance or a doctor. We just drive past it. We witness an accident and stop to take a video. You hear loud noises from the house next to you, and even though it’s been happening for months, you don’t intervene to see if the children and women in the house are fine or not. We are unaffected by things others undergo and the film wants to tap into that. Bhakshak is a socio-drama thriller where Vaishali fights for orphan children that nobody knows exist.

Sanjay Mishra and Bhumi Pednekar in ‘Bhakshak’

Sanjay Mishra and Bhumi Pednekar in ‘Bhakshak’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

You seem to be a dependable performer for movies we broadly call female-oriented. How do you think it happened? Did you consciously chase such roles?

I think I got a little lucky with my first movie (Dum Laga Ke Haisha). It set the tone for my career. My choices after that worked commercially and critically. I found a group of filmmakers who showed faith in me as an actor. Even as a person, I like films that leave an impact. My art is my way of being a solution to society’s problems. Also, I was exposed to films high on content because of my mother (Sumitra Pednekar, anti-tobacco activist). I grew up watching films like Bazaar (1982) and Mandi (1983). Later on, I loved Hazaroon Khwaishein Aisi (2005), Rang De Basanti (2006), and Swades (2004).

In ‘Thank You For Coming,’ you had to entertain and also ensure the film’s message reaches the audience. How did you crack the character?

Thank You For Coming was home turf for me. My being is closer to the world of the movie. I know women like her. If you take away from the sexual problem shown in the film, I am bits of her as well. Generally, in our movies, urban female problems are not considered serious. That made doing Thank You For Coming exciting. My character isn’t ideal, and the idea wasn’t to create a quintessential heroine. She is a mess, and I mean it nicely. She isn’t perfect because she is real.

Do you think the film deserved more love?

I saw a narrative that said the movie made people uncomfortable. We are living in 2023; what are we even talking about? There was an accusation about the film not defending our culture, and I was surprised. I realised that I had to do more of these films. Thank You For Coming is the personal story of many women and I received a lot of love when the film was released digitally. It will remain one of the important films of my career.

ALSO READ:‘Afwaah’ movie review: Sudhir Mishra’s night out in a rumour mill

Does comedy come naturally to you, or is it a skill you have honed over the years?

I have been a part of different types of comedy dramas. Pati Patni Aur Woh was a romantic comedy. In that film, the dialogues were very crucial. If you don’t deliver such dialogues in the metre they are written, you aren’t going to be funny. They are thought-after jokes. Thank You For Coming and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan are situational comedies. In such films, the scope for improvisation is more as they are character-driven. Badhaai Do is a sensitive movie that deals with its subject in a humorous tone. In such movies, a lot depends on reactions. Raj’s (Rajkummar Rao) character is so funny because I was the one reacting to his buffoonery. I had to perform my role in a way that would get funny reactions. So, every movie improves your skills.

You have been part of films like ‘Bheed’ and ‘Afwaah,’ which talk about the times we are living in. Was it a challenge for these films, which weren’t mere entertainers, to cater to the masses? Did such films receive greater acceptance a decade ago?

Absolutely. I feel that has been the case post the COVID-19 pandemic. The audiences’ taste changes every two years. But I am not losing hope. Look at what happened with the 12th Fail. It’s not your so-called big-screen spectacle. However, the movie is entertaining and realistic. Films like Bheed or Afwaah will always find an audience when they drop on OTT. Honestly, not many went to watch these films in theatres, but they got so much love on the streaming space.

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