When Bollywood actress Richa Chadha went from playing a glamorous adult film star (Shakeela) to a tough-as-nails female politician in her latest, Madam Chief Minister, you’d think the transition would have been extremely challenging.
But Richa, who survived pandemic-hit Bollywood last year with impactful parts in Panga, Ghoomketu, Shakeela and the anthology Unpaused, is not one to let the intensity of a character get in the way of her real life, or her next role.
Over a Zoom call, she revealed how she kicks back in between films and ensures the journey from one role to the next is smooth. “I had time in between (Shakeela and Madam Chief Minister). It’s just that films are releasing back to back because of the Covid lockdown and how there was nothing in the theatres for a long time. It was challenging, yes, but I don’t do the method, so I don’t get impacted by my characters. I do the prep work, I do the shooting, and then I take some time off and do fun things and live a normal life; I play with my cats. I don’t let the characters I play affect me or get to my head a lot.”
However, the Fukrey actress admits that Madam Chief Minister, the story of a gritty female politician who battles caste politics and gender biases, was “her toughest role till date”.
“The character is a fighter and a survivor. She battles the double whammy of caste oppression and gender misogyny in the politics of North India. And despite her background, and almost being killed several times, she rises to the top and becomes the populous state’s chief minister. So that journey excited me; the nature of the character and what an oddball she was excited me. I hope people can see that and (I hope) they watch the film because it’s both exciting and entertaining.”
The trailer showcases Richa’s character Tara as extraordinarily determined and strong-willed, a woman who doesn’t let even personal tragedy stand in the way of pursuing what she believes in. Does Richa feel Madam Chief Minister will convey a message to viewers, especially women?
“There will be a comment on caste-based discrimination. There will be a subtle comment on the nature of power and what it can do to individuals, even well-meaning, well-brought-up, good, noble people. And like her, I think the only thing in life all of us want to do is survive, tide over the bad and enjoy the good. And that’s exactly what this character does throughout her life. The only message would perhaps be not to be afraid of anything and go after what you want, and do so while benefiting others, not just for your selfish reasons.”
How much of herself did Richa invest in her Madam Chief Minister character and what has she learned in the process? “I did a lot of prep work both internal and in terms of reading and learning new things, learning how to ride the bike, the physicality of this tomboy character, her diction. Of course, when you have to play a part as strong as this, you have to draw a lot from yourself and put it into your work. I think there is a lot of me in this character, but that’s only because it uses my instrument, body, and voice. She (Tara) is a brilliant, confident and completely fearless person, and I think much more fearless than me. I think the character has given me a lot and taught me a lot.”
Richa who believes a film that revolves around politics will always cause a stir recently addressed a controversy regarding Madam Chief Minister’s first poster released on January 5 and criticized for allegedly stereotyping the Dalit community. As someone who has spent over a decade in the industry (she made her debut with Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! In 2008), does she feel better equipped to deal with controversies now?
“In the beginning, I didn’t have to deal with any controversies at all. When you make a political film, things are bound to happen and get spoken and written about. So I wasn’t surprised that there was a controversy, but I think there was an oversight from our side; that’s what we realized and we made amends the next day (the poster was retracted). I even put out a statement.”
She admits that one is never “well-equipped to deal with anything like public shaming or trolling” adding, “Sometimes it can startle you, but I don’t let it affect my mind space or mental health or work.”
Bollywood stars are often subject to trolling, and when asked if there are ever phases where she switches off from social media, she said, “I routinely do that. I make my account private – both Instagram and Twitter. When I feel like I have gotten into a zone where I am scrolling mindlessly, then I stop. But it’s never because of trolling. It’s always because I don’t have the time to invest in or waste time in mindless scrolling or useless engagements or fights with people. So it’s only for my focus and for me to do work in the real world and not just in the online world.”
While Bollywood was negatively affected by Covid-19, Richa believes that the industry will recover soon. She spoke of both the personal and professional lessons learned during the lockdown and the ongoing pandemic. “Personally, this period of lockdown just reminded me how little we need to be happy in life. Of course, I speak again from a privilege, I did not have to worry about the necessities of life, I had a house, I had food; But you realize that you don’t need to be a consumer all the time, you don’t need to be around people all the time or be at parties to have fun. The little things in life can give you so much joy and make life healthy and meaningful. ”
“When it comes to our industry, there is already a lot of introspection and change going on. Some incoming changes have been accelerated due to the pandemic, such as the growth of OTT networks. So I think the industry is changing right now and we’ll find ourselves fine sooner or later. ”
Richa looks forward to continuing to do a job that she believes in and remains grateful for the love and support both inside and outside of India. She yelled at her fans in the United Arab Emirates saying, “The United Arab Emirates is always special! I want to say to everyone who lives outside the country, and I know that movies become a really important part of your life when you are away from home. I notice when I travel abroad or when I attend a function like the IIFA or an international film festival. You see how much people value Hindi cinema and are always proud to belong to this industry that now had the legacy of being inclusive, secular, and I hope we can continue that way. ”
“We are very honoured by your love. I don’t want to beg you to watch my movie because you will see it if you have to, but honestly, I’m always grateful when I travel out of the country and hear stories about how movies become such an essential part ex-pat culture. ”
Madam Chief Minister launches this weekend in the UAE.