Radhika Apte Curated
Indian Theatre and Film Actress
CURATED BY :
According to you, as an artist, what are the 5 things that you need?
You are quite the flavour of the season. Can you feel the love?
(Laughs) Yes, I can feel the love, but it’s scary love. I’m trying not to let myself get overwhelmed with all the attention. All this love and adulation come so abruptly and also go so abruptly, it’s better to just keep calm and keep working.
Sujoy Ghosh’s Bengali short film, Ahalya, got you massive response. Did you anticipate it?
The response has taken me by surprise. Sujoy and I have known each other for a while. One day, he called and said that he’s going to Kolkata and asked me if I’ll shoot with him for two days. I instantly agreed. His brief to me was pretty simple. He said: ‘You just have to open the door and look like a goddess’. I hope I got that right. (Laughs)
When I Googled you, the first search option that came up was ‘Radhika Apte hot’. Did you have any idea?
Really? I think this will come up for every female actor. Somehow, in the country we are, the word ‘hot’ is used for all heroines. So it’s okay. I’m not taking it personally.
So what is your definition of sexy?
It has to be the personality. It can’t just be looks. You can be whatever — conventional looking with classical facial structure and all that — but if you don’t have inner charm and personality, it just won’t click.
Hindi film audience saw you for the first time in Rakhta Charitra and then, of course, in Shor in the City. But you got recognition only with Badlapur. How do you interpret it?
It’s true I got maximum attention with Badlapur. Actually, I went to London for my dance course right after Rakhta Charitra and Shor in the City, so, I didn’t have any releases in two years. Badlapur was my first release since I returned. Sriram Raghavan did such a brilliant job with the film and it had such a good cast that the film got great appreciation. You know, it’s so strange, I just shot for six days for Badlapur and I never thought the film would get me such response. Casting director Mukesh Chhabra asked me to meet Sriram. I was apprehensive about auditioning for the role because I’m very bad at auditions. I never get a role if I audition for it. Fortunately, Sriram didn’t ask me to audition; he straightaway offered me the part. Then we had a lot of meetings and discussions on how I will approach the role. I improvised a lot and it’s all to Sriram’s credit because he brings out the best in an actor in a very quiet way. It was a small part and I wasn’t even part of any publicity so the response took me by surprise.
Were you disappointed when Shor in the City did not get you more commercial film offers? Is that why you went for the dance course to London?
That’s not correct. Shor in the City did get me a lot of offers in the commercial space, but I went to London even before the film released. I really wanted to learn dance and was so much in love with what I was doing that I wanted to finish the course.
So, in a way, you chose dance over films?
Not really. It’s just that I don’t leave things midway. If I take up something, then it’s only because I love it so, it makes no sense to leave it just because I got a better offer. Both my parents are doctors, but I’m passionate about dance and have always wanted to act since I was a child. I started with theatre in college, got into experimental theatre, then regional films came my way and then Hindi films and then dance followed, and now I’m back to acting full time. I like to do things properly.
Would you say that you had to struggle to get where you are today?
Absolutely. I’ve struggled all the way through. I auditioned a lot, did my bit of waiting around and not getting call backs. I remember, initially, when I moved to Mumbai from Pune, I just didn’t like the pace of the city. I went back to Pune after seven months. Even now, I don’t think my struggle is over. Maybe, now people know me and I get offers but I don’t always get to do what I want to do. I think, success has a different definition for everyone.
But now that you have bagged a Tamil film opposite Rajinikanth, maybe the struggle will be over?
(Laughs) Yes, I’m doing a film with Rajini sir. It’s really bizarre the way the offer came to me. The director Pa. Ranjith called me and I thought it was a hoax call. Then I met him and he narrated the story and told me if you say yes, then it’s a yes; so I said yes. It’s still sinking in that I’m going to be working with Rajini sir.
You seem to be mixing up all kinds of cinema — regional, commercial, shorts, international. Is that conscious?
Well, it’s not intentional, but I like it like this. I don’t have any barrier of language or medium. I don’t care for an image, so I don’t have to think about what to do or not to do. Being a Maharashtrian, I got Marathi films, then Rahul Bose saw my play and offered me a Bengali film and then Ram Gopal Varma offered me Rakhta Charitra in Hindi and Telugu and that’s how I ended up doing films in all these languages. But I thoroughly enjoy international films and that’s something I’m always on the lookout for.
Since he introduced you to Hindi film, was there any advice that Ram Gopal Varma gave you which has stayed with you?
Well, RGV is a man of few words. He likes to let his actors work in silence which is good for an actor’s observation skills. It helped that he didn’t tell me much.
You’ve been pretty open about your personal life. Were you advised to hide the fact that you are married?
Till date, people tell me to hide that I am married(to violinist Benedict Taylor). I get that a lot more in the south than in Mumbai but I’ve never paid any attention to this. I don’t do what doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t care for an image. I’m who I’m and I talk the way I am. I never saw my marriage as something I need to hide. What I do in my personal life should be separate from my work. I understand that when you become famous, people listen to you so you should take a stand on important matters that can positively influence people, but my personal life is my space. I’ve always been headstrong, passionate and I like to believe that honesty always works. I don’t know any other way.To all those who said I won’t get work because I’m married, I want to tell them that now I’ve a film with Rajini sir. I mean, who’s bigger than him?
How do you think Bollywood perceives you now? Are they still trying to figure you out or do you think they’ve found a slot for you?
I’ve never thought about this. If roles come my way then that will speak; if roles don’t come my way, then that will also speak. Sometimes, even if you are appreciated, you don’t get work. Landing a role is a consequence of a lot of things other than talent. If I think of how I’m being perceived then I’ll just be wasting my time. I also want to wait and see what comes my way.
Since you are a trained dancer, would you want to do a dance movie?
Oh yes. I hope somebody offers me a dance film and trains me for it.
Is there an iconic Bollywood song you want to dance to in any of your films?
You know I love the AR Rahman songs of the ’90s in films like Roja, Dil Se, Bombay. I’m obsessed with Rahman’s music and it’s a dream that one day he composes for a film that I’m working in, or I get to dance on those magical songs of his. Your film Parched will be premiering in the Toronto Film Festival and Manjhi—The Mountain Man and Kaun Kitney Panee Mein are also releasing soon. You are clearly making up for the two-year lag in your career.
There’s been an interesting relationship with space and consent in your personal and professional life. “Parched” is about women struggling to create their own safe space, and “Phobia” is about the trauma of dealing with a non-consensual, violent episode. The nude scenes in “Parched” recently made headlines. How did you process all of it?
It hasn’t affected me even remotely. Every human being struggles with space and consent. The moment you have a set of rules in society, you have issues with space and consent. Every relationship has its own issues with consent. It’s a constant struggle, and the older you grow you realise that there are more issues that you haven’t yet faced. It’s really about you realizing that you don’t have to want to struggle for freedom.
People objectified you in the nude scenes that leaked from “Parched”
You cannot control gaze… how someone chooses to view your body once it’s out in a public space. Even if you are completely clothed there will be a gaze. I really don’t think a female body should be such a huge issue. Either you respect it, or you don’t. You can’t pretend to respect a body. Clothes and nudity have nothing to do with male gaze. Nothing has changed since the video has been out. The change was when I chose to do this scene. Because that was a step towards feeling more liberated about my body. You watch a certain thing, you read a certain way, you aspire to be that person who doesn’t have inhibitions. But actually taking that step to be that, to practice what you believe in. Taking that step made me feel happy. That is my journey. What people think is out of my control.
Setting aside the fact that working with Rajnikanth was a huge reason to choose the film, what part of Kumudhavalli’s characterization stood out for you?
Kumudhavalli has a very particular set of values. In the film, there are a lot of flashbacks where he draws inspiration from her dialogues in order to become a gangster, or act on his anger or fury in a non-violent way. So she has a set of values, which is very different from what I believe in. And they’re very strong, it comes from a very different point of view. It comes from what she’s experienced in life. That’s what made me think it was a very strong character.
The moment when Kabali sees Kumudhavalli after a long time, the pace of the film suddenly slows. It’s a key moment, emotionally. When she breaks down, that vulnerability in strength is striking.
Yes, I personally feel that any moment of separation from any human being is very painful. It’s always about love, whether it’s your partner or friend or whoever. Sometimes even strangers. It’s very difficult. So reuniting with someone is a feeling that touches me deeply. I remember when I was a child and my grandfather had passed away, there was a poem I was asked to read. I was so young, I didn’t even know what it meant. The poem was about this man who was already dead. “When you come up, I will see you. Oh the rapture of the meeting, oh the joy to see you come.” And I remembered that poem when I read the scene. Pain is that, the separation from a possession. Pa Ranjith had a very specific way of portraying it, and he carried his own emotional attachment with it. So that really came together.
When you took a year off to study dance in London, you’d mentioned that you studied movement analysis. How much has it helped in honing your craft?
You know, it was so interesting when I’d learnt it, because it was fresh in my body and my mind, so it’s been five years since. I feel an urgent need to go back to it. But I was doing a lot of theatre back then. I was so much more aware of my body and the space around it. Movement, organic movement, inorganic movement, dissecting movement – when you see a movement, any movement. Just to walk or stillness, whether it’s a dance piece. You are in awe of certain people when they walk in, when the move. But why? Why are you in awe of that? When you start dissecting that, understanding it, how it came to life, and how it worked. It really excited me. The magnification, the idea of being larger-than-life, reduces to the whole process. Why does a certain walk reflect a certain vibe? Why a movement goes with a certain emotion…
How did you find your footing when you came back to India after the year off?
I felt this urge when I moved back to Mumbai, to pursue acting. That was really it. It just happened organically. When I picked a lot of regional cinema projects – I’ve done Tamil Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam – it was never a conscious decision (to work in multiple languages). Rahul Bose had seen a play of mine, and offered me Antaheen, Rakthacharithra happened and I was a big Ramu fan (Ram Gopal Varma) in my teens. So that led to Tamil, to working with Prakash Raj. Whatever projects came in, I felt the need to do them. Language was never a barrier.
In your roles, a significant amount of them initially involved playing a village belle. How did you reconcile yourself with idea of being typecast?
You can’t worry about being typecast because you will definitely get typecast. It will happen whether you like it or not. So it’s just about how you want to break it. I just try not to choose similar parts. Because we do have very similar parts in the film industry. We complain about other genres – Why is she doing three horror films? But most of the films are rom-coms today! So it’s about how you break the typecast conundrum. It’s not just about breaking it for someone’s perception (about me) to change, it’s also for myself. It’s really funny. If you’re good, and your film is successful, you only get such parts. I just don’t find any logic in that.
You’ve said for an actor it is necessary to vegetate and look for inspiration. And yet when I tried to count the number of films and shows you have that are up for release, I wondered when you had time to vegetate.
Somebody in my personal space is going to love you for saying that. I keep getting criticised for taking on so much work. But actually I do feel that vegetating is very important for an actor, or else you get drained. You need to find inspiration somewhere and the whole of last year was so tiring. Actually I had planned it very well. If you see my contracts, every thing had its space and breaks but our industry is so amazingly efficient that nothing finishes on time. The whole of December and January which was supposed to be a holiday, I was shooting for four projects, all spilled over from the whole year. I’m not somebody who can put my foot down and say ‘sorry holiday time. I need to go. You can postpone your release’. Even this March I was supposed to be on holiday but a project from two years ago has come back. You really do need a break. I’m doing another project in April for which I will need to learn a foreign language and I need that space to do that. I just finished another project which was again a foreign film as well. Because I was not in India, it was the first time where I didn’t have to go for a single event, a single appearance, there wasn’t a single day of work from another project. It was such a strict contract that even on an off day you had to take the day off. I could read, watch a film, go for a walk, exercise, and give love to myself and go back for work for the next 5 days. I would love to be able to work like that.
How do you live this hectic professional life and shuttle between here and London – where your husband lives? It can’t be easy.
I try and visit every couple of months and he also comes so we’re not away from each other for more than a month. It’s exhausting and very expensive also. I remember sometimes people meet on an aircraft and they ask why are you flying economy and I’m like what the hell does that mean. Imagine making three trips in two months, and that too last-minute ones because suddenly I got a week off. It’s such an expensive lifestyle – two houses in two of the most expensive cities in the world and 2-3 tickets a month to travel back and forth every month. That’s why I’m not vegetating!
What stands out in all the work you’re doing is the diversity – the characters, the stories, the kinds of filmmakers you’re working with. What has it taken to come to a stage where filmmakers and producers can imagine you in various roles?
It’s taken a really, really long time. After I did Shor In The City and Rakhta Charitra, people were just refusing to cast me in so called glamorous roles. I did Badlapur and Hunterr and it still wasn’t glamorous enough. I remember Nikkhil Advani was the first person who came to me and said I’m going to put you there. I’m so grateful because I go and meet people in the most urban outfits because I am an urban girl. And they still ask me questions like will you look like this. I feel like saying you can put a wig on a dog and make him walk a certain way. What I mean is that it is so put on. You can put layers of make-up and get a blow dry and put five different extensions in your hair and become someone else
Kalki Koechlin has said that once they realised that she was open to doing ‘bold’ characters, that’s all she got. Does that happen to you?
I get genres. And, of course, this whole trend of women empowerment characters is so depressing. The women I’m portraying, there is a lot of empowerment in that. But then I get these women who are constantly being beaten and even though that’s what the situation of a lot of women in the country is, the way they have written the script is so depressing. I’m just like guys, if you want to show empowerment, think of it from the woman’s perspective. When men want to show empowerment and think this is something they want to do for women, it’s very scary. I also used to get a lot of people tell me ‘madam this is National Award-winning role’ for you. I get very irritated. Someone recently told me I need to be less rude to people which is very true.
Are you in a better space in terms of what is being offered to you?
Honestly, right now I’m not signing anything here and nothing that has been offered to me right now is something that interests me. I think I’ll have to wait for something good to come. I’m getting better scripts than say four years ago. I have more choice. But I’d really like to have more. I don’t have to do a film that I completely don’t believe in anymore. At one point I did because otherwise I’d have no money to survive. But it’s not necessary that everything I’m doing makes me go like ‘oh my God, I was waiting for this to happen’.
You said in an interview that a filmmaker that you thought was very liberal asked you to keep your marriage a secret and you said no. You’ve been in meetings with filmmakers where they’ve asked you to fix your face and you’ve said no. What is the fall out of constantly saying no? Do you end up upsetting people?
They upset me by asking the question. I don’t care if I’m upsetting them. It’s just too bad for them. I hear no every day and nothing will happen if I don’t do a nose job, so its not like they’re losing out on anything. It’s funny that people have this impression that I keeping saying no and that I stand my ground. The people who really know me will say that I cannot say no. I put up with a lot of things that I don’t agree with – people coming late, extending shoot days, people going against contract and not paying for extra time. Exploitation doesn’t have to be sexual. And I don’t say anything, I just do it. I don’t think that me putting my foot down is going to change anything. It will only ruin my career. If Akshay Kumar puts his foot down it changes things because he’s reached that level. It was amazing working with him on Padman because he would work for 8 hours and that’s it.
What’s the hardest part of being an actor today?
Rejection. What you want to do and what you end up doing sometimes can be different. You get rejected every day. Sometimes you can see a director’s face and know that he’s absolutely not liked a shot but he’s had to go ahead with it. That’s also rejection. I still audition for parts – not so much in India – because it’s a part of the job. And I want to mention here that Mukesh Chhabra is so good at taking auditions. I was so scared of auditioning and then he once told me to just trust him. He auditioned me for Badlapur and then for Netflix’s Sacred Games which he made so easy and fun.
How come you are so frequently casted in every Netflix film or series?
What was your childhood like?
Your parents are doctors, did they want you to be one?
What was it like to be an actor initially?
How did your first break happen?
Which was your first film?
What’s the difference between big budget films and small budget films?
How was it working with Akshay Kumar?
Is there wage gape in the industry?
Do you think Ghoul has the potential to change people’s perception towards horror movies of Hindi film industry?
How do you deal with hate?
What’s driving your choices?
Have you just been constantly working?
Do you ever worry about spreading yourself too thin?
What is your dream?
Do you feel like the situation in the industry is better than it was when you started?
What you think has directly lead to where you are today?
Which character of yours reflect your own personality?
Is it important for you to know who is your co-star?
Which film of yours is your favourite?
From where do you get the confidence?
Why are you in this industry?
How are you so versatile?
You do various kind of roles, to change from one character to another, is that difficult?
Have you ever felt really difficult to work in this industry?
How do you balance your long distance relationship and work?
Are there any mantras or motto that you live by?
What are character actors?
What are the things has changed in Bollywood?
What do you think the digital media platform has to offer?
What were your expectations from ‘Andhadhun’?
How was your experience working with Sriram Raghavan?
How was your experience working in ‘Andhadhun’?
What’s the difference between working in a web series and a mainstream Bollywood movies?
Who are the directors you would like to work with in the future?
Why weren’t you present to receive the award of best actress at the “Tribeca Film Festival”?
Why do you hate taking selfies?
How do you become and understand a character?
Why was it important for you to do ‘Padman’?
Do you think the mindset of men needs to be changed?
Do you feel like someone like Akshay Kumar doing a film like Padman can leave a powerful impact?
How much do you get affected by the character that you play?
What are your upcoming projects?
What has been your greatest inspiration?
What was the worst phase in your life?
How do you process your way through films like Phobia or Ghoul?
How do you feel when you are called “bold”?
Describe a film or a character which you find very challenging.
What’s the difference between working in a Bollywood films and Hollywood films?
Have you ever felt depressed?
How are you fighting with your anxiety?
How is your relationship with all the directors that you work with?
What are your views on #MenToo?
What are your upcoming projects?
What drew you in doing “Padman”?
How did you land up in ‘Padman’?
Have you ever planned on directing or writing?
What is your workout regime?
What made you think that you wanted to be apert of ‘Parched’?
How important craft is for you?
How did you prepare for the role in ‘Parched’?
How did you prepare yourself for the role in ‘Ghoul’?
Why do you think the rest of the world seems to be finally catching on to the brilliance of Bollywood?
Why do you think events like UK Asian Film Festival are special and important?
Do you think the diversity of cinema in Asian cinema is helping to change the assumptions of people?
Tell us about your film Phobia.
How did you prepare yourself for your character in ‘Phobia’?
What is your take on style statement?
How was your experience working with director of ‘Phobia’ Pawan Kripalani?
What’s the deal with you and the audio space of Amazon?
How do you think the storytelling through the medium of sound can be more expanded?
Do you think you are missing out on Marathi cinema?
Did you feel apprehensive while doing ‘Ghoul’?
How important your character in ‘Sacred Games’ was for you?
Will we see you in season 2 of ‘Sacred Games’?
What about the censorship for ‘Sacred Gmaes’?
Do you speak Tamil?
How did you end up getting into theatre and films?
How did you process your way through scary films like Phobia and Ghoul?
Is it true that you were homeschooled?
Do you think Bollywood is making more women-centric movies now?
Would you say that the digital age has given you incredibly new opportunities?
Would you consider yourself to be the star of the shows like Phobia and Ghoul?
What do you have to say about the bold and sensuous image that Netflix gives you?
Which are the movies you find to be very challenging?
Would you call Lust Stories to be a feminist movie?
How comfortable are you in making nude scenes?
Is it true that you had co-written the script for Lust Stories?
What’s your process of selecting a film or a project?
Has the money you are making from movies, improved and bettered over the year?
How was your experience working in Hollywood films compared to Bollywood?
What is your stress buster?
Have you been subjected to stress and depression while working in the industry?
What do you have to say about cognitive behavioral therapy?
How did cognitive behavioural therapy help you?
Do you think there is space for #MenToo in India?
What are your future projects?
What drives your choice of projects to work in ??
Being a woman, is it difficult to get interesting projects in the industry?
There is always less exciting things happening for female actors right from the beginning. There are very few projects and everybody is trying to get that projects. The reason people turn towards producing films is when they establish themselves.
Tell us about your first few years after you first moved to Mumbai from Pune.
Which of the films you did so far would you consider to be your first ‘big break’?
Do you think being in the film industry is all about looks?
With your genre of alternative or parallel cinema, do you think the film scenario in India is changing?
Do you think digital is the future of cinema?
Do you think there is inequality in the film industry?
How do you deal with hate?
You are viewed as an iconoclast in the film industry. What gave you the confidence to stand up for yourself and what you believe in?
What inspired you to pursue acting? What is your vision for yourself?
You are a very versatile actor. Is this by design? How do you choose your roles?
Does your ability to take up a variety of roles come naturally to you, or is it a challenge?
Have you ever lost heart or felt that the industry is too difficult for you?
Do you have any special motto or mantra that you live by?
How do you deal with constant work? How do you balance work and your personal life?
Do you think 2018 was your big breakout year? How do you feel about the projects you’ve done?
How do you deal with online trolls?