Kalki, Vicky Kaushal and more quiz our December digital cover star Radhika Apte
Saif Ali Khan, Anurag Kashyap, among others, turn interviewers
Kalki Koechlin: You just directed your first short film. How was your experience handling actors?
Radhika Apte: I do feel that direction is quite difficult. A lot of times, I have heard: ‘As an actor, yours is an easy job’. And I understand that direction is difficult, in a different way. But having done all of that, I feel that an actor’s job is also quite tough. And direction can be extraordinarily stressful. It has taken me eight years of practice to never tell my co-actors what to do—because it’s just a rule. And I have practised it so hard. But then, when it was my film and the actors were performing, I just didn’t know how to give them honest feedback. I couldn’t gather the courage to tell them what to do. So now, the few things that I couldn’t tell them, I’m going to have to fix in dub (laughs). But yes, I was really blessed to work with good actors; and I think good actors are really a treat to work with. So, yeah, next time it’s going to be you Kalki, hopefully.
Sujoy Ghosh: Was there any one defining moment when you realised that acting is your calling? Or is this what you always wanted to do?
RA: I always wanted to be an actor. But I kept fluctuating between wanting to do theatre or films. And then I got my first film, which was plain luck. I had never faced a camera before but for a one-shot scene, the camera travelled with me and it was reading my face. It felt like the camera was my confidante. In the scene, I was falling in love with a man, which the camera could see but the man in question couldn’t. The camera felt like a very dear friend to me. And at that moment I realised that I liked the experience so much that I wanted to do more films.
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Leena Yadav: In which scene in Parched did you feel the most ‘naked’ while performing as an actor?
RA: Nice question! There were a few where there wasn’t much to do for the character, in terms of dialogue. The scenes belonged to the other actors in the film, while my character was supposed to be funny and laugh at the situation. And that I found incredibly difficult— to be able to retain the authenticity of the scene and the ease with which she ridicules herself was the most difficult. There was another scene, where we were at this other person’s house and they were getting married. And because there was food, she’s [the character] just eating. There are a lot of people there and she is just eating in the background. And suddenly somebody asks a question and she answers it with her mouth full. Or there’s one where we are talking about her and she ignores it. These one-liners, I think, were the most difficult. Sometimes, if you play a person with an inferiority complex, it seeps into your everyday life and that’s when I think it becomes a bit more obvious to people watching you. I think that’s when I felt most exposed.
LY: When you have to play a character that is different from you in every grain, how do you find the ‘centre’—the place from which to make the character real and believable. Do you find it difficult to buy into the character’s morality if it defies your own?
RA: Actually, I find it quite interesting. I think I find the centre in their childhood. I try to make up stories on their childhood. I understand their upbringing, how their value system was formed and what is the insecurity that they go back to. Also somewhere knowing that there are people who love these people as well—there’s a mother, there’s a friend who you can confide in and have empathy for.
LY: Do you find a difference, on the basis of your limited experience, in the way a man would approach the emotional centre of a character and a woman would as an actor?
RA: To be honest, I don’t even know how other women approach a character or what is their process. I genuinely don’t know if gender plays a part or not.
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Rajkumar Rao: What’s the main difference between working in films in the West and working in the Hindi film industry?
RA: I think there are two major differences: one is that people come on time abroad and here, they don’t. And the second is people pay on time there, and here they don’t. Actually there’s also a third difference, every department, every person on set knows the script in and out. And here, people don’t.
Saif Ali Khan: You have such beautiful features and can pull off something glamorous effortlessly, but instead your style statement is ‘minimalism’. What is the reason behind it?
RA: Laziness. Also, I choose to do other things with that time. I have other priorities.
SAK: There has been a lot of conversation around women’s exploitation in the industry. What do you have to say about that?
RA: Though there has been progress in recent times, it has happened at a pitiful pace. For instance, Taapsee [Pannu] and Bhumi’s [Pednekar] film released on Diwali and it was a success. So, there’s definitely a change. But it still feels like tokenism. You will not believe in how many places I am still fighting for parity. There is no pay parity—with the biggest brands, the biggest production houses. So, I wonder exactly when it’s actually going to change.
Vicky Kaushal: Not many people know that there is a sensitive and extremely curious writer inside you. So when you get a script and the writer in you knows that there can be an alternative treatment to a particular scene, dialogue or character, but the actor in you also respects the actual writer because they must have their own thought process to arrive there; what do you do, how do you tackle a self-conflicting situation like that?
RA: I am not a writer but everyone has opinions about good or bad. One doesn’t need to be a writer to comment on somebody’s writing. So, if I have major issues and conflicts, I won’t do it [film]. If it’s a conflict that’s possible to discuss…then sometimes the conversation makes you see where they are coming from and that may seem like a more interesting treatment. But if there is no scope of communication or possibility to fix it, then I don’t do it.
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Sriram Raghavan: If you could go back in time for a week, which period and place would you like to go to, and why?
RA: I would want to go back to the week before my grandmother passed away, this was in Pune in 2013. I would give anything to go back there.
Anurag Kashyap: You got two international recognitions for the short films you did with me and now when you’re making your first short film, why didn’t you cast me? Why this betrayal?
RA: You were the first person who received my script but as we all know how busy you are, I never got a revert. So, I had to compromise, you see!
Handwoven tape dress, INR 72,500, Amit Aggarwal. Leather gloves, stylist’s own.
Faux patent leather top, INR 11,200, BLONI. Mesh skirt, INR 32,000, Pankaj & Nidhi. Fishnet stockings, stylist’s own. Leather boots, INR 6,990, Zara. Suede boots (worn on hands), INR 1,64,500, Hermès
GroupWool jacket, price on request, Rishta by Arjun Saluja. Fishnet stockings, stylist’s own. Metal mesh and wire headgear, price on request, Little Shilpa.
Photographs: R. Burman; Styling: Malini Banerji; Hair and makeup: Clover Wootton/Anima Creative Management; Manicurist: 1010 The Nail Spa; Production: P. Productions; Assisted by: Pujarini Ghosh, Rupangi Grover, Tejaswini Sinha (styling), Rishima Garg (intern), Tina Motwani (photography); Design realisation: Prashish Moore