Bhumi Pednekar could not refuse an offer to be in Abhishek Chaubey’s upcoming dacoit drama Sonchiriya. How could she, when she was “blown away” by her character, Indumati?

The March 1 release is set in the Chambal region during the Emergency and follows a group of warring dacoits on the run from a police officer. Also starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey and Ashutosh Rana, the film has been written by Sudip Sharma (NH10, Players) and Chaubey (Udta Punjab, Ishqiya).

In an interview to Scroll.in, Pednekar described Indumati as a survivor with deep reserves of strength. “When she is pushed to a situation, she shows extraordinary power and that is why I loved her,” Pednekar said. “I had an opportunity to play this woman who has broken the shackles. I am representing a lot of women who don’t have a voice.”

Chaubey approached the 29-year-old actor shortly after she had finished shooting for the comedy Shubh Mangal Saavdhan in 2017. “I was enjoying my Sunday at my friend’s place when I got a message from him saying he wanted to meet me,” she recalled. “The further he ahead went with the story, the more I wanted to be a part of it. I feel extremely privileged to have worked with him this early on in my career.”

Play
Sonchiriya (2019).

Pednekar has played small-town characters before, such as in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) and Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015). But playing Indumati was a different experience, she said.

“I am a very opinionated Bombay girl and have played characters that belong to heartland India, but this one is still different,” Pednekar said. “The biggest thing that I had to do was to get rid of my ego and opinion. I remember in the initial few readings, sir [Chaubey] would keep telling me that I was operating from a place of anger and pride. My character could not have those things yet.”

Her preparations for the part included lessons in diction – and cooking for the crew for over a month.

“They had done this village set-up, where I was come in the morning and cook something,” she recalled. “We then got into our diction training, which was quite hectic. The language is not Hindi but Bundelkhandi, which was alien to us. By the end of the shoot, we were conversing in Bundelkhandi. We had to mentally prepare that this would not be an easy film to shoot.”

Bhumi Pednekar in Sonchiriya. Courtesy RSVP Movies.
Bhumi Pednekar in Sonchiriya. Courtesy RSVP Movies.

Pednekar was, however, game to all suggestions during the Sonchiriya shoot. “I wanted to be challenged – I have maintained that from my first film,” she said.

Pednekar’s debut, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, pushed her on many levels. She played Sandhya, an overweight aspiring teacher who gets married to a school dropout (Ayushmann Khurrana) who balks at her girth. (Pednekar knocked off the kilos right after the film’s release.)

More performances as feisty women making unusual choices followed: a woman who leaves her husband because there’s no proper sanitation in her new home in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and a maid in a secret relationship with her employer in Netflix anthology film Lust Stories (2018). The chapter featuring Pednekar was directed by Zoya Akhtar.

“I am looking for roles that challenge me and characters that question my existence and help me do extraordinary things,” Pednekar said about her choices. She has followed the same principle for her upcoming projects, which include Amar Kaushik’s Bala alongside Ayushmann Khurrana, Karan Johar’s period drama Takht, Alankrita Shrivastava’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare starring Konkana Sen Sharma, and the remake of BR Chopra’s 1978 film Pati Patni Aur Woh, opposite Kartik Aaryan.

Play
Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015).