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‘Hate is a form of love:’ Richa Chadha on playing Paro in Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Daas Dev’

Mishra’s adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel will be released on April 27.

The Paro character from Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1917 Bengali novel Devdas has been typically represented on screen as a submissive woman who lets her lover’s actions (or inaction) dictate her fate.

Dev.D, Anurag Kashyap’s 2009 adaptation of the novel, rewrote the character’s fate. Kashyap’s Paro (Mahie Gill) chooses to leave Devdas after he doubts her virtue, and rejects him when he tries to rekindle the relationship. In Daas Dev, the latest interpretation of the novel, director Sudhir Mishra has imagined Devdas as the heir to a political dynasty who finds himself pitted against Paro, the politically ambitious daughter of his father’s secretary.

The time for a weeping, distressed Paro has passed, says the actor who plays Paro in the April 27 release. “That idea of Paro, carrying diyas and running in corridors, is too old now,” Chadha told Scroll.in. “This Paro is very progressive. She knows that if she stands in an election opposite Dev, he’ll be forced to acknowledge her presence in spite of himself. She’ll keep meeting him at parties. It is a twisted and convoluted sense of love, but it is love. We can’t keep replaying the old stereotypes of women. At some point, we have to have some kind of artistic responsibility, especially with everything that is happening around us in the world.”

Rahul Bhat plays Devdas in the movie, while Aditi Rao Hydari portrays Chandramukhi, the courtesan in the novel.

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Daas Dev (2018).

Mishra’s reinterpretation of Devdas is being released after missing its deadline five times.

“It is sad but this is what unfortunately happens to independent producers and great filmmakers sometimes,” Chadha said. “Often, someone who has a creative bent of mind does not have a business mind and vice-versa. It seems the twain shall never meet.”

Daas Dev will surprise audiences with its depth and complexity, the 31-year-old actor promised. “One of the ideas that the film explores is about how the people you love are often the ones that hurt you the most,” she explained. “And in Daas Dev, this hurt is visceral. Here, hate is a form of love. I remember while shooting for a particularly fiery scene, Sudhir sir suddenly said, make Richa wear red lipstick and let her wear her hair loose. I wasn’t sure why, since my character doesn’t wear such make-up in the rest of the film – and yes I’m one of those actors who is going to question the need to wear make-up. Sudhir sir told me that Paro was going to leave Dev in that scene. Dev should not feel bad that a beautiful woman if leaving him, he explained.”

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Sehmi Hai Dhadkan, Daas Dev (2018).

Daas Dev is the latest movie to feature Chadha in a role that challenges the conventional depiction of women in films. These roles include the bold and brassy Dolly from her debut Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008), the matriarch Najma in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), the tough-as-nails female don Bholi Punjaban in Fukrey (2013) and the introverted and resolute Devi in Masaan (2015).

Are strong roles for women still rare? “Now, everyone seems to be doing these roles but I’m happy to have done it before everybody else,” Chadha said. “I’ve realised that unless you stake claim to your own success and how you’ve led a change, people don’t realise it. I bet if I was a star kid, it would have been very different right now and every little thing that I did would be lauded and applauded.”

Chadha is deeply invested in how each of her characters turns out. “I want each character’s humanity to come out,” she explained. “Even when I play Bholi Punjaban, who is a comical character in a goofy comedy, I want her to be independent, inspiring and ultimately human. I’m playing a prostitute in the film I’m shooting for right now, and I’ve invested so much vulnerability and honesty in her simply because I want her to be looked at as a commercial sex worker as opposed to a prostitute, which is now a heavily abused word.”

Apart from her own homework, Chadha also draws sustenance from her co-stars, who have pushed her to “up her game”. She said, “Like Manoj Bajpayee, for example: it is rare to find actors like him who bring the best in you.”

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Fukrey (2013).

Chadha likes to keep her “observation hat” on at all times, picking up cues and mannerisms for the characters she plays. “I’m mostly the fly on the wall, looking at people, seeing what they are doing, how they behave, how they eat,” she revealed. “Generally I read the script once and then I sit down and think about the various aspects that strike me about the character – does she speak fast or slow, is she educated, is she well-travelled, is she a virgin, what kind of food does she like. This process works very well because it gives you details that even the director or the writer may not have thought of.”

Many of the filmmakers she has worked with have embraced her approach. “Even a filmmaker like Mr Bhansali would often ask me whether it would make sense for the character I’m playing to say a particular line,” she explained. Chadha played Rasila, the sister-in-law of Leela (Deepika Padukone) in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013).

She credits her directors with the freedom to interpret her characters, right from her first movie, Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! “It was my first film, I was fresh out of college but Dibakar still asked me if Dolly would talk a certain way or not,” she said. “Of course, there are other filmmakers who’d prefer if you don’t raise an eyebrow or add a comma without checking with them, and that’s fine too.”

What Chadha tries to avoid is letting her personality seep into her characters. “That’s because then your body and consciousness ends up doing very surprising things,” she explained. “For instance, I had no reference point for Nagma in Gangs of Wasseypur. I had to play someone older and cry in a song. When I started crying in that scene, I really don’t know what I connected with – like some old woman’s pain of losing a husband or being lonely or being caught in this war of honour and violence.”

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Taar Bijli, Gangs of Wasseypur 2 (2012).

Chadha is currently shooting for Anubhav Sinha’s political satire Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai. The movie has an ensemble cast and includes Saurabh Shukla, Pankaj Tripathi, Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta, Kumud Mishra, Manoj Pahwa and Cyrus Broacha.

“It is an incredible cast and this is the most fun I’ve had on a set,” Chadha said. “It is a studio film that is being produced by Sony, and that gives me so much hope for the future. Just the thought that we don’t always have to watch rubbish and that there is hope for good content. Of course, it all depends on how many people actually go to theatres to watch small films and support them. Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai is one of those films that can either become a classic or people may just not get it at all.”

Chadha is less reluctant to talk about her other project, Indrajit Lankesh’s biopic of Malayalam adult star Shakeela, since the contract hasn’t been finalised yet. “It is definitely going to be something that will offer perspective and humanity to a character that is otherwise very judged,” she said. “That’s what excites me. Shakeela wrote a book about her life in Malayalam, which is going to be the source material for the film. The film will not present a black-and-white reading of her life. I also feel that one needs to look at the hypocrisy in condemning women who people think don’t fit the archetypes of the mother, the virgin and the slut.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.