Chadha, who plays the controversial actress in the biopic directed by Indrajit Lankesh, speaks of her reason for doing the film, the connect, and meeting Shakeela.
Shakeela has no regrets or bitterness towards her past: Richa Chadha
Mumbai - 28 Dec 2020 10:05 IST
Updated : 10:06 IST
For someone who has faced vilification, abuse, conspiracy and struggle, Shakeela harbours no bitterness towards her past, says Richa Chadha, who portrays the actress in the eponymous biopic released on Christmas Day.
"She is actually an innocent, gullible woman," Chadha told Cinestaan.com in a telephone interview. That's quite a statement, as Indrajit Lankesh's film talks of an actress who rose so high in the popularity stakes as to make major South stars wary of having their films released on the same day as hers.
Shakeela captures the life and struggle of arguably India's first soft-porn star. Speaking of the film, Chadha said, "I got interested in it because she is not very well known up North. She was also unusually famous for her time. Considering everything that had happened in her life, it was something I found very interesting. I am happy it could be translated to the big screen by somebody who understands that struggle."
In a year that has overturned the film industry's working pattern and many of its certainties, Chadha has enjoyed some quiet time. She recently appeared in the Amazon Prime anthology Unpaused and has a few projects lined up for the new year. "We have Fukrey 3, which will start in the first half of next year. I have one more release called Madam Chief Minister," she said. Excerpts:
Shakeela's life is an interesting journey, but how did you come across the script and what got you interested in it?
I got interested because she is not very well known up North. She was also really unusually famous for her time. Considering everything that had happened in her life, it was something I found very interesting. I am really happy that it could be translated and brought on to the big screen by somebody who understands that struggle. I hope people get an insight into the kind of person she was, and let's see if she is happy with this portrayal.
As you said, she is not really well known up North. So how do you expect the audience to react to this story?
Even if they don't know about her, they will find out via this film. Hopefully, they will understand her counterview. They [the audience] don't have to really know her story, as long as they like the film and understand what she suffered.
Another interesting aspect was that she wilfully stopped working in B-grade films once she was financially secure. That takes a bit of conviction to wrench yourself out of the industry, and yet pursue acting.
Yes, she does not do those kind of films any more. She continues to work as a junior artiste, because she was very clear that she only did it for her family's needs. Yeah, it is very ballsy as not many people can give up a life of luxury for the sake of their convictions. She felt that life had more to offer her and she continued to work as long as her family wanted. Once she discovered that her [family's] needs had been met, she went on to do the work of her choice.
Did you worry about any issue with the CBFC [Central Board of Film Certification], considering the story's context?
Not really. The film is not about soft-porn but about someone who did those films and was vilified. We got it cleared with minimal cuts, so there have been no problems as such.
Do you expect any comparison with The Dirty Picture (2011), considering the stories are on similar lines, though on different personalities?
I think they are completely different stories albeit [they are] stories about people whose paths crossed and didn't know each other. Also, The Dirty Picture came out 10 years ago, though I would welcome any comparison with Vidya Balan!
Did you meet or speak to Shakeela before the film?
Yes, I did meet her. I had to get that side of the story, find out the comfort level with the script. If you are working with the life of a person, it is not fair to create something without her side. I didn't want that to happen. I wanted to inspire my role from how she is, how she works, what her personal taste is like, how she likes her drink, or smoke.
Was there any aspect of her that struck you as unique?
She is actually a very innocent person. She is gullible and naive. If you see the trailer, it was her mother who pushed her into the film business out of economic necessity. She had to fend for the family, and she was the family's breadwinner. From that point of view, I found her to be very giving and generous. I even asked if she was angry with her mother or family for this. She was not angry or bitter at all. She just found it all to be quite amusing.
It is an interesting story, and people who have been raised in the South are aware of many aspects of it. They know who went out of their way to sabotage her, or tried to get her killed, or helped her. They know about this like people over here might know of [the late T-Series founder] Gulshan Kumar.
The year 2020 has seen the rise of OTT platforms. I recently saw Unpaused and enjoyed it. Was the experience of returning to work after a long break scary?
It was fine. For somebody who loves acting in movies, for somebody who comes from theatre, this lockdown has been very hard. On artistes especially. I felt grateful that we were able to go and shoot anything at all. It is a source of livelihood for many people.
What are you looking forward to in the next year?
We have Fukrey 3, which will start in the first half of next year. I have one more release called Madam Chief Minister. Then, there are a few films I have done, which I hope will be released in the first half.