I Represent the Neglected 70 Percent: Bhumi Pednekar

Bhumi Pednekar talks about occupying the unconventional space in Bollywood. 

3 min read
Bhumi Pednekar in a still from <i>Toilet: Ek Prem Katha</i>.&nbsp;

It took a Bhumi Pednekar to make us realize that more than 70 percent of India lives in rural, semi-rural areas and in the smaller cities.

Her films so far have represented the aspirations of the non-metropolitan woman egged on by ambitions that may seem laughable to the urban woman.

Taking a deep breath Bhumi says,

I didn’t consciously work towards occupying that space. But it just happened, first in Dum Lagake Haisha, then Toilet : Ek Prem Katha and now Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. It’s not as if I don’t want to play the sophisticated metropolitan girl. But I am very happy to be representing the aspirations of 70 percent of the Indian population that lives outside metropolitan India.

Cannily, Bhumi sees her films on small-town aspirations coinciding with a wave of nationalism in the country. “I think there was a scarcity of films that spoke on behalf of the small-town Indians. The three films that I’ve done so far address themselves to that section. And we’ve spoken on serious social issues that are normally not spoken about in our films. Toilet Ek Prem Katha was about rural homes going without toilets and how this affects the womenfolk. And now in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan we’ve addressed a sex-related problem regarding the male. And that’s unusual. Normally women are seen to have problems of this nature while men it is presumed are immune to all sex maladies. Hats off to Ayushmann for doing a role that goes against the prescribed definitions of a film hero.”

For her first film Dum Lagake Haisha, Bhumi had to gain a whopping 27 kgs. She says she never thought of turning away from the challenge. “There I was, a girl with no Bollywood connections getting to do a Yash Raj film. To me, Yash Raj was the ultimate. Not for a minute did I hesitate in saying yes. I thought about the challenge of putting on the extra kilos after saying yes.”

Butter chicken did it for Bhumi. “I constantly ate to maintain my heavier girth in Dum Lagake Haisha. I don’t think I ever want see butter chicken again.”

And then Bhumi lost it all. “I went back to being of normal weight. In Toilet Ek Prem Katha, it was like being launched as a newcomer. Audiences found it hard to connect the plump girl in Dum Lagake Haisha with the slimmer girl in Toilet Ek Prem Katha.” Bhumi is proud that her three films so far have been with relatively new directors.

Dum Lagake Haisha was director Sharat Katariya’s debut and mine. Before Toilet Ek Prem Katha, my director Shree Narayan Singh had done another film. But even for him it was re-launch. And now in Shubha Mangal Saavdhan, I was directed by RS Prassanna who makes his Hindi debut. Prassanna, incidentally is the first director nearly my age. I didn’t have to call him ‘Sir’.
Bhumi Pednekar, Actor

Does Bhumi crave to play the typical high-heeled pouty diva? Laughs the earthy woman, “I can carry off the high heels and the pout very well, thanks. But at this  moment, I’m happy with what I am getting, and doing. It’s a space I don’t see anyone else occupying. You will see me in a completely different avatar in Zoya Akhtar’s short film. My first with a female director, it was really liberating.”

(The love of Lata Mangeshkar's voice and Hindi movies - in that order - has propelled Subhash K Jha to the pursuit of journalism for over 30 years.)

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