Bombay Showcase

Girl on the go

Rising star:Radhika Apte at a producer’s office in Santacruz, Mumbai, on Tuesday.— Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury  

The first time I met Radhika Apte was at her rented apartment in Versova, before the release of Badlapur last January. In between packing her bags to catch a flight and making sure the apple cake baking in the kitchen didn’t burn, she gave me an interview sitting in her moderately-sized hall that had a giant poster of Chinatown . More than an interview, it’d felt like hanging out with a girl who’d just moved to Mumbai, barely managing things, but living on her own terms.

More than a year, five films, one short and a TV series later, when I meet the 30-year-old Pune-born Apte, it’s in a producer’s office, which has been booked for the entire day just for her interviews. It’s for the promotion of a psychological horror film, Phobia, in which she plays the lead, a first for her in a Hindi feature film.

A space cadet

Although she wasn’t the lead in any of her feature films, including Badlapur , Hunterr and Manjhi: The Mountain Man , Apte made the most of their varying degrees of success. Ironically, it’s the short film Ahalya that made the biggest splash. In Sujoy Ghosh’s modern take on infidelity with a touch of supernatural, she played a sensuous, young wife of an old man who seduces other men. It won’t be wrong to say that with 5,802,198 views, this 14-minute-long film is the first Indian short to get bonafide mainstream success.

With journalists and a safari of photographers waiting in queue, it seems like her stardom is imminent. When my turn finally comes nearly three hours after the given time, Apte, thankfully, sounds like the same person I’d met last year.

“I haven’t become that famous. If a few people recognise me on the streets, if I am in a good mood, it’s fine. Otherwise, I am not very good at this. I’m a space cadet, I’m usually doing my own thing.” She sounds more like a reclusive writer than the leading lady opposite superstar Rajinikanth in his next film, Kabali . Apte is not somebody who likes public attention. At her wedding, with British musician Benedict Taylor, which was a small party with 50 guests, she says she didn’t wear a wedding dress so that she wasn’t the centre of attention. And she gets borderline irritated with strangers wanting to take a selfie with her because she has a pretty face.

“This guy came and told me he wanted a photo with me. It was during the promotions of Manjhi and I was really exhausted. I looked at him and asked him to name three films that I have done. He said, “Madam, Fair and Lovely ad,” she says, “I don’t like the fact that people are attracted to the field for glamour.”

For constructive appreciation

What she enjoys is constructive appreciation for her work. Like the Customs officer at the airport the previous night who told her that he remembers her from Tu or the guy in the medical shop who complemented her about Garbo , both plays that she had done sometime back. “It makes me think, yeah, we have something to talk about. I can sit and chat with him for 15 minutes. Because I can see that he has seen my work and actually wants to know more about it. And I would love to know about his.”

In an industry where awards are as genuine as reality shows are real, Apte won a big prize at a foreign film festival where no other Indian has won before. She was adjudged the Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival last month for her role in Clean Shaven , directed by Anurag Kashyap, which is a part of Madly , a six-part anthology film about love. Considering it is an anthology film, the fact that she was nominated in the Features category was a surprise in itself for Apte, let alone winning it.

“I have never got an award. And you rarely get an international festival award. It’s hard and very competitive. I actually still don’t know why they gave it to me. I even thought, ‘Is it that…?’” she stops herself, “No, no I shouldn’t say this.” It is as if she is talking herself into learning how to not cross the line of political correctness.

Although it’s tempting to call her the ‘Cool Indie Girl’ of the moment, her movie choices make her difficult to be categorised. In Kashyap’s segment in Madly , Apte plays a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who gets physically intimate with a younger neighbour. If that is one end of the spectrum, the other extreme is acting opposite Rajinikanth. Independent ( Parched , Bombairiya , The Ashram ), regional films ( Antaheen ), blockbusters ( Lai Bhaari ), short films, TV series, she has done everything in between.

Apte who thinks that “it is the job of an actor to venture into uncomfortable spaces” says that the rewards of the two kinds of films are very different. Clarifying that she has a solid part in Kabali , which she assures us is not an average Rajini film and is a more subject-driven drama, she says, “In a masala film, you are focussing on different things: how you look, what you wear, how much make up you put on, how the hair is flowing, [what your] figure looks like — things that are secondary in my opinion. I am not underestimating it because it is so hard to do that. But I look at it as trying to get into a state where I am so fit that I can take any physical form.”

It doesn’t sound like the trite, pop philosophy Bollywood actors sometimes try to pass as earnestness because it comes from a person who has spent two years studying the fundamentals of physical movements. A trained Kathak dancer, Apte took a break to pursue Contemporary Dance at Trinity Laban, London in 2011 — a time when she was flooded with film offers after the success of Shor in the City (2011). She has also been involved with Pune-based experimental theatre group Aasakta.

Experimenting with the body

“The Trinity experience taught me things about space, body movement and breathing, how every organic and inorganic part of your movement can manipulate consequences. It’s amazing. Atul [Kulkarni] when he was training for the play Natsamrat had told me that there is a stage of your body that you can arrive at. But it takes time, a month, a month and a half and it can take any shape. You can become really muscular or frail. I am doing a film where I need to be kind of muscular, but the last year and a half has been very hectic. But whatever little time I have got, I really want to put effort into seeing how my body reacts.”

Apte’s holistic approaches toward her craft notwithstanding, there are things she makes herself do that she doesn’t enjoy for the larger sake of her film career; for instance, doing promotional events or signing up on social media. But as an actor whose liberal ideology reflects in her films, interviews or web videos, it’s only so far her compromises can be stretched. While she is open about doing “hardcore commercial films” as long as they offer her something substantial and interesting, Apte has also learnt her lessons that many of them have deep-seated misogyny and blatantly objectify women.

“Earlier I have compromised on my principles a lot. They were so not me,” she says, referring to a number of Telugu films she acted in. “I sort of regret it. I don’t agree with it. It agitated me for a while and then I realised how the makers believed in it full-heartedly, which is interesting. But it taught me to take a stand. Politically too, if I am playing a hardcore right-wing person, it has to be backed by reason. If it is propaganda, I am not going to do it. Now, I am getting better at choosing what I want to do.”

Earlier I compromised on my principles a lot. They were so not me.

Now, I am getting better at choosing what I want to do

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 11:05:42 AM |

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