‘My character in Sonchiriya has been the strongest’: Bhumi Pednekar – Last year, Bhumi Pednekar was missing in action on the big screen, though she was seen in Lust Stories, an anthology of four short films on a digital platform. But 2019 will see the talented performer having a couple of releases starting with Sonchiriya. The film, which is set in the ravines of Chambal, has the Toilet: Ek Prem Katha actress play a feisty character alongside Sushant Singh Rajput. The 29-year-old, who has been essaying strong women characters ever since her debut in Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), considers her rustic avatar to be the most challenging till date. Here, she talks about her unique prep for the role and more. Excerpts…
From an overweight girl in Dum Laga Ke Haisha to being completely deglam in Sonchiriya, you have no qualms experimenting with your look. Don’t you feel apprehensive about how it will be received?
Honestly, no. When I play a character, I am completely disconnected from Bhumi, the person. I become the character. In Sonchiriya, the transformation was worked upon extensively right from the discolouration on my face to pigmentation due to sun exposure, the roughness of the skin texture, etc. I had to stop grooming myself for a couple of months. No going to the parlour, no manicure, waxing, skin or hair treatment. The only make-up was to get tan and darkness around the face. In fact, when I would drape the sari and have freckles on my face, I would become a different person. Recently, when I had to don that look for the promotions, I thought I appeared beautiful.
What prompted you to take up the film?
Abhishek Chaubey (director) has been on my bucket list. I have seen all his films, and especially loved Ishqiya (2010). But I was blown away by Udta Punjab (2016). So when I got a call from him, I was surprised. There was a gut feeling that I wanted to be a part of this phenomenal story of courage and spirit. It’s a humane story that comes from a region known for its lawlessness and harshness. The actioner is set ’70s during the Emergency period. It’s more than 40 years ago, but still relevant. That’s what stayed back with me after the narration. A lot of things that the director Abhsihek Chaubey has tried to comment on still exist; be it the caste divide, status war or the atrocities that women face. It’s the sheer consequence of revenge. Sonchiriya is an action-packed revenge drama. There’s so much happening in the movie that you start feeling for the characters.
What kind of prep did you have to do for the role?
In my first meeting with Chaubey sir, he told me categorically that in order to be a part of this film, I had to be physically, mentally and emotionally strong. He gave us that kind of training, too. We learnt the Bundelkhandi dialect. Ram Diwakar, who plays an important character in the film, trained us as he is from Chambal. We became so fluent in the language that we conversed in it on the sets even with the crew. As compared to other films, my physical training for this was different. I designed my workout around my character’s daily chores. I represent a girl, who does a lot of physical labour. Women there walk several kilometers to get water and carry 8-10 litres on their head, at times, with children on their back. To make myself stronger, I used to walk around Aram Nagar, barefoot, with some kind of weight on my back, either aate ki bori or chawal ki bori.
To what extent did this help while shooting?
We conditioned ourselves to such an extent that we felt we belonged to the region. So much so that even being pricked by thorns or the insects scurrying around didn’t get a reaction from us. The film is full of action, so we also trained in gun work, but it was all raw. Also, this is the first time I am doing action. The director spoke to us extensively about the character. Since it’s in the ’70s, it’s before modernisation took place. Women lived such a suppressed life, they did not know what the options were. My character shows a lot of strength and courage, but it is a reaction to the circumstances she is in. Women inherently are extremely strong, but their strength is only shown when they go through some dire situation.
As we can see in the trailer, the characters speak a lot in Bundelkhandi. Won’t this be a hindrance as many viewers cannot understand the language?
Not really. The beauty of cinema is that it’s an audio-visual medium. The audio has a strong visual supporting it. The language won’t be tough, it’s not alien from Hindi. A few minutes into the film and you’ll understand it. Chambal is a huge character in the movie and we had to make it as authentic to the area as possible. The language is not a hindrance in any way, it only uplifts the film.
How was it working with Sushant Singh Rajput?
Sushant is a passionate actor and so am I. We bonded on those grounds. He is a fit guy and did a lot of prep to get into the layers of the character. Sushant, Manoj sir (Bajpayee), Ranvir Shorey, Ashutosh sir (Rana) and I had a blast shooting for it. We used to improvise and help each other, there was never any kind of insecurity or ego battle. The entire cast needed to be synchronised for the film to be what it is.
Of all the characters you have played so far, which has been the strongest?
I honestly cannot pick one, but what I have done in Sonchiriya is most different. I did not know what life in 1970 was like and the entire process made me realise that such a big section is still living under suppression. They are still trying to find their freedom. This has been my strongest character.