While Ayushmann Khurrana battles premature balding in Bala, his co-star Bhumi Pednekar plays an orphaned girl who combats social wrath and societal prejudice coming her way as she plays a dark-skinned character.
Bhumi says as soon as she read the script, the character resonated with her, who is trying to break the stereotypes created by people. "Just like my character Latika, I have also been trying to break the mould through my work in my personal life, and here was another chance to do the same," says Bhumi, who has essayed distinguished roles in her past films like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, and Saand Ki Aankh, and has once again picked up the baton to spread yet another social message with Bala.
Bhumi Pednekar's character poster of Bala. Twitter
"Everybody has some complex that has been given by people. Bala is not a story about a bald guy or a balding guy. This is a story about anybody who has any kind of complex. You are told you are fat, you are thin, you are tall, you are short, you are too heavy, you have no hair, you are light, you are dark, and you are never perfect. The idea is to celebrate your imperfections. When we are born, there is no discrimination. It is what society does to us, and that is exactly what we are trying to break through from this film," says Bhumi.
Bala is Ayushmann and Bhumi's third collaboration. "What excited me the most is that our relationship in the film is very different this time." Ayushmann and I usually do romantic comedies. They are love stories with a twist. We did not want to do another love story where there is a problem. Here, we play childhood friends, and it is a very Tom and Jerry kind of relation that we have. We love each other, we hate each other. It is madness, and that is the fun part," she says.
After Saand Ki Aankh, Bala is Bhumi's second successive film that was mired in controversy. If it was the ageism debate in Saand Ki Aankh, it was her dusky look in Bala that attracted criticism. The trolls may have baffled her in the beginning but she has now taken it in her stride. "I have realised that where there is appreciation, there will be criticism, and everybody should have an opinion. Lot of them I respect, and many of these opinions set me thinking that maybe these people are right but lot of it is also crap. So I flush a lot of unwanted opinions down the toilet," she says.
"But whatever is the conversation, be it ageism, be it the colour aspect of it, I am an actor, and it is my job to be able to do different kinds of parts. With this logic, I should not have done Dum Laga Ke Haisha because I gained 30 kilograms for the film. I should not have done most of the films that I do. I have always said that watch the film, and if you have a problem with it, please come and comment on my work but don't comment on my choice because I will continue doing these kind of films.."
"If a filmmaker has taken me, it is because I add some value to the film. I am a half decent actor. I do bring in a lot to a movie. It can't be a person's physical appearance that an actor is cast in a film. There is a lot more that an actor brings in a movie. We need to look at the whole creative process more holistically as opposed to that only a lean can play a lean's part or only an obese can play obese. Then what will we actors do? I will be sitting at home," she reasons.
However, with three more releases coming up in the next few months, Bhumi is happy with the way her career is shaping. "If I see my career graph in the last one year, I started shooting last September with Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. The film has got so much international appreciation. It will be in India early next year. I am playing a 20-year-old girl over there, to playing a 70- year-old woman in Saand Ki Aankh. This year, I have done five to six strong characters. It says a lot about how times are changing. If I look at my colleagues, be it Alia (Bhatt), or be it Taapsee (Pannu), I think we all are doing films that are really empowering to my gender. We are doing films where women are celebrated. Not just this year but right from the start of my career, I have only been part of movies where the girl has lot to do. It is not a common thing but the change is happening slowly," she says.
And so far, Saand Ki Aankh remains her most special film that got her tremendous praise and acclaim. "It is a huge thing for me that Saand Ki Aankh is getting so much love. It had a very rocky start but slowly and steadily, it is only getting better. It has surpassed the second weekend, which is very encouraging for me. The kind of love I have got for the film, it has never happened in the past though," she says. "I have done some good films like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, or Toilet..., or Shubh Mangal... I have not gotten such a response, and it's flattering."
Bhumi, who was born and bred in Mumbai, has often settled into playing small-town characters in her films, which she feels is an awakening for her. "I am proud to be called a desi girl. I am the queen of heartland India. I love it, I own it, and I am going to celebrate it because in my real life, I am not that person. I am a city girl so playing these characters is actually very difficult for me. Playing a regular Bombay girl, who I am, is going to come very easy. There won't be any efforts. These characters require lot of work, and I am very proud of the fact that I can transform into these people. The way I have experienced rural and small town India in the last four years, I've never experienced in the last 24 years. My experiences have really humbled me as a person," she says.
Besides, the actress feels she has been able to break the monotony with her choices. "I am constantly looking for characters. I am not looking for projects. All my characters belong to a certain socio-economic background but none of these are similar. Now, in my next, Pati Patni Aur Woh, I am once again breaking the stereotype by not playing that typical patni shown on screen. She is nothing like that. I really work very hard so that I don't get repetitive. The day that happens, I would know that there is a need to change," she concludes.