Richa Chadda on Masaan

When Richa Chadda takes on a role, any role, she owns the hell out of it. A starlet in a black marketeer’s dance troupe (Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, 2008), a spitfire matriarch in decline (Gangs Of Wasseypur, 2012) or a hard-talking don (Fukrey, 2013). So when she says she had to be asked not to judge her character in Neeraj Ghaywan’s Cannes vehicle Masaan, a thing she found hard to do, it makes you wonder.

When we spoke to her a few weeks before the film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, she was tight lipped about the details. From early reviews (which are calling the film “an engaging debut”) we know that the film follows four characters in Varanasi who are straining against their socio-cultural shackles in order to find themselves. Chadda plays Devi Pathak, a student-teacher struggling with enormous guilt after she is framed in a “sex scandal” by corrupt police officials. The shame from the scandal ruins her relationship with her father, a conservative priest, who tries to bribe the cops to close the case. However, she did admit that labouring under Pathak’s moral crisis for the 25 days she shot in Benares, made her “cranky” because she didn’t understand her guilt.  

Gritty and technically sound, albeit small-budget, storytelling has always trumped loosey-goosey blockbusters for the 26-year-old actor. It’s why she signed up for Ghaywan’s debut film in the first place. She’d met him as an assistant director on Gangs two years ago, in Varanasi incidentally, when he told her about his script. They went back and shot Masaan in November last year (it took a total of 45 days), often making time to hit their favourite food joints from back then. “It was fun to be with a team that is so young and working out of pure passion for the craft without any commercial interests,” she says.

It appears their effort has paid off. The film received a good five-minute long standing ovation at the end of the screening. Chadda who had not seen the film entirely till two days ago was worried on two counts: “I just hope I did okay, I tend to be very critical of myself. And considering the film is so quiet and serious, I hope I don’t cry and ruin my make-up!” But we all know what happened there.

Photograph: Joy Datta 

You may also want to read: Name to know: Neeraj Ghaywan


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