Richa Chadha: “Don’t know a single woman in the industry without a #MeToo experience…”


Richa Chadha was in London recently for the British Film Institute’s special screening of her film ‘Love Sonia’ which premiered earlier in 2018 at the London Indian Film Festival. Chadha has a number of interesting projects on the horizon, including the UK release of ‘Love Sonia’ next month, the second season of Amazon Prime Original series ‘Inside Edge 2’ and also Kangna Ranaut starrer ‘Panga’, directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. caught up with the actress in the British capital.

You’re in London for the screening of ‘Love Sonia’. How does it feel; the film has gotten so much appreciation across the globe?
I’m really happy about the fact that it is releasing here because I don’t think that, although it got amazing reviews in India, it didn’t get the box office it deserved, and I think it is because India is not ready to see this kind of truth. It is depressing; it’s too close to home because you watch it as Londoner, you get a little bit of shock at the magnitude of the problem but when you watch it in India, it could be happening down the road. You may know people who have been through it so I am really thrilled that it released here and could shine the right kind of light on the problem at home and maybe embarrass authorities on taking action on the subject. I have literally done this film for love and for understanding how huge this problem is. I am really happy with all the reviews. This is the first film which even before it released gave me two awards.

How important are festivals for these kind of films?
It depends on where you are. In India, if you are a festival film they think “oh my god the distributors are going to have to commit suicide” because it is a common saying. I think everything is changing here, as well as back home too but I do think that it is a greater opportunity to show diverse stories and content. I have had films go to Cannes and these other prestigious festivals, Marrakech, Berlin, etc. I am thrilled that it got whatever exposure it did at festivals but also in the sense that the Asian community was watching it. If any rich Indians want to donate to this issue and catch the local corruption, I would be really happy.

The ‘Love Sonia’ premiere was in London so how have you felt doing promotions here?
The premiere was very glamorous and nice. We barely did any promotions though. I felt it was nice because we had a full house; it was the opening film and a very interesting Q&A. I think one of the most humbling experiences as we met somebody who had two adopted children and was looking to adopt a third and he said ‘I’m going to adopt a survivor.’ This is why we do what we do. When the film released in India, even though it did terribly, there was a grant that was stuck in India for human trafficking. The NGO reached out to me later saying that those people, they watched the film on Friday and on Monday they had given them a huge sum of money, 20 Lakhs or something. I don’t know the exact figure but I put it on my Instagram because I was like sometimes this is why we do what we do, at least this is what I always wanted to do. People ask me what my ambition in Bollywood is. I have never wanted to be that. This is what I wanted to do so I’m very grateful and happy.

The industry thinks you’re sort of branded. I have worked very hard to not let that happen so I am doing a mix of roles now.

The content in ‘Love Sonia’ is particularly what you wanted to be highlighted maybe in India and around the world, as you say. In terms of content generally in India, the online platforms seem to be winning. You’ve done ‘Inside Edge’ on Amazon Prime and you’re doing a second season of the series. Do you think the feel towards content in film is changing even though you have the CBFC?
We have the CBFC 100% but even the CBFC is being forced to change. The funny thing is though; content in India is really changing especially this year. While we had a ‘Baaghi’ become a hit, we had an ‘Andhadhun’ and ‘Badhaai Ho’, and ‘Stree’. Even ‘Fukrey 2’ last year, when it happened last year we all got a bonus on our paycheck because of how well it did overseas. There is an impact because you can no longer fool people with bad special effects and a man flying in the air. Even five years ago, things were very different from what they are today. That gives me a lot of hope especially like ‘Inside Edge’, when we did the first season. The second season has tremendously improved in every department because we have learnt the grammar of telling a story in a one hour format. Before this we were clueless. We had to act for two or three hours and now it is so satisfying to do. I play the lead, she’s Muslim, she’s Kashmiri, she’s a smoker, and she can be bossy. On television, we are still watching ‘Naagin’, so where is the rest of the country going?

In ‘Inside Edge 2’, your character is very bold, glamorous and strong as a person. Are you drawn to those kinds of roles at all, or is there any particular role that you are inclined towards?
You know what happens, especially in Bollywood, it’s what you start with. While I was being considered for ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, I was also being considered for ‘Grand Masti’, it’s never what I would have chose, because what I chose is evident. The industry thinks you’re sort of branded. I have worked very hard to not let that happen so I am doing a mix of roles now. I have just done a comedy which is this film called ‘Abhi Toh Party Shuri Hui Hai’; it is going to be a masterpiece because it’s a satire and it’s so amazing. It has some of the best actors I have seen in Hindi cinema.

The Shakeela biopic you have coming up is a bold role as she is an adult actress. Did you meet Shakeela for this? How did you work together to get the character absolutely right?
I didn’t want to work together, I just wanted to observe her because she is who she is and doesn’t have a filter. When I met her, sometimes she was more liberal than friends of mine who have gone to universities abroad. It’s because she lived feminism, she spoke truth to power when it was not fashionable and there was no social media. I really enjoyed working on that film.

It’s like a global phenomenon, wherever it is happening it’s a good thing. If someone is not taking a stand for ‘Me Too’ they are being told for that, even if it’s a big superstar. It’s an evolution and its fine. I also feel to condemn somebody who is not as vocal immediately is not a good thing.

Tying in with that, at the moment, it seems that the ‘Me Too’ movement has died down slightly. But there are a lot of people still talking about it.
To be honest, I don’t even know a single woman who has not had an experience. It could range from an inappropriate text message or sending you a disgusting forward by mistake, or open offers, or slight intimidation or sabotaging your career if you say no. All those things count as sexual harassment and I’m not going to mince my words. I don’t know a single woman who has not come to it in some way, shape or form even the ones that come to the sets with their mothers. It is also disorganised, the Indian film industry is not as organised as here in the UK in the sense that they don’t have royalties; the bills need to be stronger. We are getting there but I feel like there will be a few more big name reveals. There were a lot of out of court settlements and it’s what I’ve heard, the press also to be fair. It was just a very messy outing because it was so delayed. It was just that people started reacting to rumours and some people were like ‘it’s a rumour, he’s back at work’. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking because a few wrong people got named like my friend Varun Grover. He invited an investigation but there was nobody. The other thing is there have been women who have come forward with names but if they don’t want to follow it up legally, there is very little other people can do.

How, as an actress, who is in the middle of all that, go about surviving? There are obviously open offers and indirectness but how do you manoeuvre it?
The thing is I don’t know how else to be so I’m my own person and I can deal with it. I’m just like don’t, and f*** you. That’s also some of the reasons you don’t see me at too many parties, and I’m also not invited to so many, and it’s fine. I am very happy in my little bubble. This is it; I have never been drawn to that kind of thing. I am not saying that socialising is bad though.

Another project of yours which is coming is ‘Panga’. Ashwini Iyer Tiwari is a brilliant director, as many have seen. How have you felt working with her?
She is super chill; she is like any of us. She talks a lot, was interested in shooting in a field and wrapped up early so she went for a little run, two to three rounds of the field, came back and had a big meal. She is lovely to work with; really fun and I enjoy working with her, especially in the capacity of a female director. There is a complete absence of the male gaze and it’s very refreshing. Its like ‘ohh your neckline is deep, you can pull it up’ and I was like this is much better now. There is no sexualising in her thought process. I wanted to do a sports film, I love Kabbadi and I felt it was a good team.

You also have ‘Section 375’ with Akshaye Khanna. What is it about?
The film is very important at this time, especially given the Me Too movement. Section 375 in the Indian constitution is the clause on consent. The whole film is about marzi yah zabardasti. It is a costume drama and I play the lawyer and Akshaye Khanna plays the other lawyer and we are obviously at loggerheads. It is also an interesting debate if justice is equal to the law. Sometimes the law is upheld and justice is not done and sometimes justice is done but the law is not done.

Do you think as an actor you are more conscious about the content with online and things going on India as it appears things are more magnified?
I think it’s like a global thing that everybody has become very vocal and conscious. I watched the latest episode of ‘Modern Family’, and it was on how to communicate with each other in 2018, you can’t say he, she. You have to say he, she, or they. We are a mile from that in India but people are slowly getting conscious. There are being questions like why are you endorsing a film that’s banned and those kind of things. It’s like a global phenomenon, wherever it is happening it’s a good thing. If someone is not taking a stand for ‘Me Too’ they are being told for that, even if it’s a big superstar. It’s an evolution and its fine. I also feel to condemn somebody who is not as vocal immediately is not a good thing. You have to do it with compassion otherwise you will lose the other person. Instead of shaming somebody saying your views are so backward, they’re never going to listen to you, you have to make them see your point of view and ask them if they agree. That’s how it works.

You recently released a single. Is that something you always wanted to do?
No not at all – my brother is a musician. I went to do something for him somewhere and they were lacking a female vocalist that day and Dr Zeus said ‘tum gaa do’ and I said ‘theek hai, gaa deti hoon’, and it worked out. I went for some other work at 8 or 9 o’clock and by 2am I finished recording.

You are also producing; you’ve released a short film, and are producing a feature now for a friend. Is this something you can see yourself doing a lot more of, or are you going to see how it goes?
I want to consciously champion good content so hopefully yes, but it’s really baby steps now. I am going to try to get a hang of it and put together best possible team and then something will happen.

Do you ever see yourself going into direction as well?
Not at the moment. I think I do enough (laughs). I can’t handle anymore headaches. Directors really have the hardest job. They have the script or they write, they direct, they sit down with the edit, and then they’re living with the dream, I can’t do all that. I am looking at the director and am thinking it’s so much easier being an actor, come on the set, do your job, and then go away. Somebody calls you and tells you the film is releasing in January, alright I’ll give a week’s worth of promotions, and you’re done. Directors really have a hard time. Making a film can take maybe two years, at least a year.

You’ve been in London a couple of times now. How do you find the city?
I love it, I took the Tube that day with my friends and I felt like a local. I came here and I realised I was under-prepared for the cold so I went to Primark and I was like wow this is amazing stuff. I love not being recognised. That’s why every time I finish a project and I need to go somewhere, I love going abroad. I think a lot of people do that because they don’t want the constant hassle. Although, there are so many Indians here and I’m like cursing out loud (laughs). I was at TopShop buying a jacket the other day there was an Indian student. There are still so many things I didn’t understand. The Indian student came and said ‘hello, I’m sorry to take up your personal time but may I have a photo’ and I’m like what is she saying, no one in India is so polite, they just come. I said excuse me and she’s like ‘no ma’am, can I have a photo’. I said yeah sure, and then she said ‘I’m shivering’ and I thought she was telling me she’s cold and I’m like please wear a jacket. My friend told me she’s trying to indicate that she’s nervous. I felt like a fool. It was really funny. One of my favorite things to do is walk around and every time I’m here I end up walking into completely unknown neighborhoods for 90 minutes and look around. I’m really happy that everybody can be themselves in this city so that’s great. would like to thank Richa Chadha for taking the time to talk to us.

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