Given the way Bollywood is going – its obsession with the No.1 actor, the 100 (200 and 300)-crore club, the most YouTube hits for an item song – you’d think it’s all about the numbers. Well, here are some more:
Kareena Kapoor has one movie releasing this year. Katrina Kaif has two. Anushka Sharma has three. But this isn’t even remotely close to what actress Radhika Apte has in store for 2015.
“I have five Hindi films, one Malayalam film, one Tamil film, and a Bengali short film ready for release,” says the 29-year-old, nonchalantly.
Going the distance
You’ve probably seen Radhika Apte already. She’s had rave reviews for Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur and the Anurag Kashyap-produced Hunterrr. Her 2015 roster features films made by other Bollywood heavyweights Ketan Mehta (Manjhi: The Mountain Man) and Sujoy Ghosh (his untitled short film).
She is the only actress working simultaneously in six languages: Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Bangla. And she’s also signed some crossover projects in English.
Apte was one film old (a small role in the 2005 Shahid Kapoor starrer, Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi) when Rahul Bose spotted her in an experimental play and recommended her for his Bengali film, Antaheen. “Apart from Bose, the film also starred Aparna Sen, so it looked like an opportunity I couldn’t miss,” she says.
One regional film opened the door to others: Apte shot for Ram Gopal Varma’s Rakht Charitra in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu simultaneously and after it released, offers poured in from the south. Marathi cinema came calling. “It’s my mother tongue, so doing Marathi films seemed natural. And I’m fluent in English, so I took up some international projects, too.”
Apart from her felicity with languages, Apte has also taken on roles that other actresses would have deemed insignificant. In Badlapur, she made a short appearance only in the second half. In Riteish Deshmukh’s Marathi blockbuster Lai Bhaari, she played the requisite arm candy. And in Onir’s I Am, she stood out in an ensemble cast that included Manisha Koirala and Juhi Chawla.
“The best thing about this industry is that there are no set rules here,” Apte says. “It’s not like MBBS, where you go to college, specialise in something, and then you’re set for life. I have done 30 films in my short career. Even bad experiences have been good for me; they’ve taught me what not to do.”
My mentors and I
Radhika Apte has worked with the best minds in the business, and picked up tricks of the trade from each
Anurag Kashyap: I learnt how to work on intuition from him. He’s very gutsy and we have that in common.
Ketan Mehta: He taught me that one shouldn’t be scared to dream big. In Mountain Man, a particular shot required me to roll down a cliff while making love to the hero as it rained! He nonchalantly said, “We’ll pull it off!”
Ram Gopal Varma: I learnt never to say ‘Good Morning’ from him. He hates small talk, and he hates when people are formal. So he asked people on the sets of Rakht Charitra to refrain from saying good morning to each other. He always said, “Your formality won’t make my morning good".
Movie critic Rajeev Masand finds it refreshing to see an actor who is not running after the top spot in any one film industry. "We don’t have a pan-India star," he points out.
"With great performances in different languages, Radhika is making the regional audiences take ownership of her. When she does a Tamil film, Tamilians feel that she’s their own. It’s great to have an actor that audiences across India recognise from films in their own language."
But jumping from language to language hasn’t been a breeze. Apte, fluent only in Hindi, Marathi and English, admits that Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu "all sound the same" to her and she feels clueless about "99 per cent" of the time on the sets of regional films. "The directors and other technicians start explaining things to me in English, but suddenly shift to their own languages, leaving me wondering what’s going on," she says, laughing.
Acting prep is trickier as well. "I translate and re-write my scenes in Devnagari to understand the meaning of each word, and get the pronunciation right," she says. "That’s how I figure out how to deliver them appropriately. If I don’t, the dubbing is difficult." While Apte has tried dubbing for her own lines in a Bangla film, she largely relies on professional dubbing artists for south Indian films.
Making it work
The only flip side of juggling between so many industries, Apte believes, is that she doesn’t have the commercial viability that some Bollywood newcomers enjoy. Still, director Sriram Raghavan says that it’s her willingness to experiment with roles that impressed him. “There were so many disturbing scenes in Badlapur,” he says. “But Radhika didn’t flinch once. An actor has to be uninhibited enough to give their 100 per cent to a scene, and she manages to do that.”
Apte doesn’t intend to slow her multilingual romp across cinema. “It’s my dream to collaborate with people from different countries and do world movies. I want to add more languages to my repertoire,” she says.
“But breaking into the international circuit is extremely difficult. You need an agent to get a good film, and you need a good film to get you an agent. It’s the chicken-and-egg struggle!”
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From HT Brunch, April 5
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