After nine years, a bunch of accolades and some setbacks, Richa Chadha seems to have mastered the trick of keeping her audiences interested in whatever she does. The actor from Gangs of Wasseypur, Fukrey and Masaan has been applauded for her performance in Inside Edge, Amazon Prime Video’s first Indian drama. The series, directed by Karan Anshuman, is set in the high-stakes and scandal-ridden world of the Indian Premiere League. Chadha plays an actor who owns a team and has a tell-tale fringe and a volatile personal life (Preity Zinta appears to be the reference).
Chadha has moved away from the disappointment of her first solo project, Cabaret, being indefinitely postponed. She is looking ahead to the releases Fukrey Returns in December and Jia Aur Jia, a road trip movie with Kalki Koechlin. In a conversation with Scroll.in, Chadha reveals why Fukrey Returns is an important film for her and how streaming platforms have come to the rescue of storytellers.
‘Inside Edge’ seems to have been received well. Were you expecting this?
Well, no. I thought only people in India who follow cricket will watch it. But Inside Edge is now one of the most watched shows on Amazon Prime. I guess people who don’t watch Hindi entertainment shows or cricket have also liked it. Nobody in the team had expected this in fact, and now they will have to work doubly hard to come up with season 2, if that happens.
Would you ascribe the show’s success to the way it serves up cricket, glamour and scandal?
I have a theory about this. People who don’t watch Hindi entertainment channels or don’t watch cricket have watched and liked this show because it is original content. Our parents were lucky with good shows on TV, like Buniyaad, Hum Log, Circus. It was the golden age of television with directors experimenting with great scripts and concepts. That went away and we were left with only adapting to what currently works at the box office.
Even in my years of prominence in Bollywood, I have seen how the business has changed. It is no more about jubilees but the first weekend collections. There is a serious dearth of good content at home or even at the theatres, that is compelling enough for people to step out of their homes or watch something on television for anything longer than 30 minutes. When you give audiences something like this, they are willing to binge-watch.
Your character in ‘Inside Edge’ is a star who owns an IPL team and fights the odds to stand her ground. It is obviously based on Preity Zinta. Has she contacted you or the makers of the series?
It is a strong character, very nuanced writing of a woman who is insecure but is also very happy inside. I had to get inside an actor’s head to get it right.
Preity Zinta has not contacted me. I do not know her socially, though I have been a huge fan of her work. And I don’t think I can call her up and talk to her about it either. If she feels it is based on her, it is not for me to say. But I don’t think a real person’s life would have such a dramatic turn of events. Having said that, I don’t think I did a bad job of it.
How are streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon helping Indian actors and filmmakers? Are they better platforms for original and edgy ideas?
Absolutely. When I signed up for Inside Edge, people were sceptical – why are you doing TV? I had to explain to them this is not TV. Why are you taking a chance with your career? We are now taking to audiences that binge-watches American shows for three or four hours at a stretch on streaming platforms. Even our films cannot match up to them.
Now that the series has worked, I stand vindicated.
With ‘Inside Edge’ working out and ‘Fukrey Returns’ ready for a December release, you must be over the disappointment of your solo project ‘Cabaret’ missing its release date repeatedly.
Cabaret was an experiment. I was upset but convinced myself that there must be a divine explanation behind the film not releasing. I cannot take responsibility for the distributor and exhibitor nexus, and don’t have a say in the matter. Over time I have learnt not to get upset with these things because at least I got paid. There are others who did not.
Why did Bholi Punjaban from ‘Fukrey’ work as well as it did?
For many reasons. I don’t remember seeing an empowered woman on screen who is intimidating, no-nonsense and still quite cute. She is not the stereotypical sasuma or jealous bhabi. She is not your Phoolan Devi or Manorama but an imposing vamp who scares the hell out of four grown men. That was really interesting.
But it was a comedy and we did not really read so much into the character at that time. It was not like in Masaan, where I was told my character left people all moist-eyed. Men loved Bholi Punjaban in a way because she was powerful and scary. And women loved her because she was a complete badass. They wanted to be like her.
How did you arrive at that conclusion?
A few months after the film released, I was in Delhi during the winter. I was still not used to looking at myself as a Bollywood person. I was having a hard time and was irritable as I was running errands for my mom. I was at a shop were a lady and her daughter came up to me and began to compliment me: beta, I wish I could answer my mom-in-law the way you did in that film.
I was stunned. I realised that decades of being repressed actually makes our women want to break out and use such foul language. And now the writer and director Mrig Lamba has written my character with more conviction and added more shades for Fukrey Returns. I am just happy with the way the film has turned out.
Other than Jia and Jia, there is Love Sonia, a crowdfunded project on human trafficking. It changed me. The back story of my character brought me closer to the ordeal that these girls and women have to go through. The abortions, living with HIV, drugs… If the film is able to induce some compassion towards these women, it would mean a lot to me.