In a condom manufacturing company in Pune, actor Rakul Preet Singh was pleasantly surprised to learn that 70% of the staff were women, who went about their work in a matter-of-fact manner. “It could have been a tea factory where the staff identifies the good and the bad tea leaves. We filmed in this condom factory and the no-nonsense approach was liberating,” says the actor, ahead of her new Hindi film Chhatriwali, which will stream on Zee5 from January 20. Headlining this film, Rakul plays a chemistry teacher who does her bit to raise awareness towards sex education in Karnal, Haryana and is the quality control head in a condom manufacturing facility.
Chhatriwali, written by Sanchit Gupta and Priyadarshee Srivastava and directed by Tejas Vijay Deoskar, kickstarts Rakul’s innings for 2023. The past year saw her in five Hindi films — Runway 34, Cuttputli, Attack, Doctor G and Thank God. Before the 2019 hit De De Pyaar De, Rakul had featured occasionally in Hindi cinema and been shuttling between Hyderabad and Chennai for her commitments in Telugu and Tamil cinema.
She agrees that De De Pyaar De opened new doors in Mumbai. “Repetition can be boring and I was glad to explore new films in different genres.” With Chhatriwali, it has been an added responsibility since she is the central character. She hastens to add that she doesn’t expect to headline every film and is quite game for thrillers, romantic comedies and song and dance situations.
Chhatriwali was narrated to her over a Zoom call during the lockdown in 2020. Once the restrictions were lifted, she met the director and the writers in person to know how the topic of sex education will be dealt with to reach the family audience. “It is a well-written script and not in your face. Sometimes it is easy to cross the line and end up with double-meaning jokes. But this team took a nuanced approach. I liked how the story brings in a 12-year-old girl as a character who supports my journey.” Rakul hopes that the issue of safe sex can become a household conversation, just like sperm donation got spoken about post Vicky Donor.
Rakul recalls the statistics presented to her by the team. “I was shocked to learn that only about 7% of our population uses protection. There is a lack of awareness and even women who are aware are scared to have these dialogues with their partners. Instead of normalising the pain due to miscarriages and abortions caused by unsafe sex, there is a need to normalise these conversations. The government has mandated sex education in schools and it is important to stress the need for physical, emotional, sexual and mental health.”
She is glad that the film, which was planned for the digital audience, can reach viewers in tier two and three cities. “Sometimes the audience may hesitate to come to the theatres to watch such a film due to preconceived notions. But when one person watches this on OTT, he or she will know that the film is good for family viewing and can take the dialogue forward.”
Next up, Rakul is a part of director Shankar’s Tamil film Indian 2 co-starring Kamal Haasan and director Ravikumar’s Tamil film Ayalaan co-starring Sivakarthikeyan, apart from two Hindi films.
(Chhatriwali streams on Zee5 from January 20)