For the past fortnight, Bhumi Pednekar has been in the news for two reasons. The first is the stupendous success of her debut film Dum Laga Ke Haisha, which received rave reviews and has also proven to be a surprise hit at the box-office. The second is the fact that Bhumi — who weighed 87 kg at the time of filming — is now more than 20 kg lighter.
It is the sort of transformation that body-image activists could find most problematic. Why would she feel compelled to lose that weight? Is it impossible to be an actress in Bollywood without adhering to the industry’s usually unrealistic standards?
But the 25-year-old, whose performance as Haridwar girl Sandhya is being hailed as one of the best debuts in recent times, is nonplussed by such suspicions. “I have always been an overweight girl, but even so, I gained nearly 15 kgs for this role,” she says, during a chat in her make-up room at Yash Raj Studios, Mumbai. “After I finished shooting exactly a year ago, I started consciously trying to lose weight because I was reaching a stage from which going back would have been much, much harder.”
Also Read: Review: Dum Laga Ke Haisha Is A Delight
She doesn’t understand why her weight-loss is a big deal at all. “I grew up in an environment where we [she and her sister] were always told that we were beautiful just as we were, and I have grown up believing that,” she says. “Plus, as an actor, you have to be able to transform as and when the roles demand it, so I didn’t want to be stereotyped as an actress who can only play certain kind of roles because of my weight."
Up until the recent release of Dum Laga Ke…, Pednekar made the most of her year-long break — aside from following a diet and going to the gym — by spending time with her family and travelling. It was her first real break from work in nearly seven years. At the age of 18, Pednekar, who had always harboured dreams of being in the movies, managed to get a job at Yash Raj Films (which eventually produced her debut). Since then, she has been working largely in the casting department headed by Shanoo Sharma, auditioning thousands of actors for secondary parts in the production house’s films. Often, she would read lines for actors, secretly fulfilling her dreams of 'acting'.
Sharma, the casting director of Dum Laga Ke…, was one of the first people to suggest to her that she could do more than that. “About three years ago, she [Sharma] walked in to see me conducting an audition,” says Pednekar. “She suggested then that I should try my hand at directing.” A few months were spent assisting directors in YRF’s TV department before she returned to casting.
A year after that, she was asked to record a ‘mock audition’. These are usually done by casting directors for the benefit of prospective actors who may want to audition from other cities and countries via video, so that they get an idea of the styling and the tone of the scene. This scene was for Dum Laga Ke…, written by Sharat Katariya, whose debut film Pednekar had watched and liked. “I had no idea at the time, but that ‘mock audition’ was actually a real audition for me,” she recollects with a laugh. “I was shocked and yet excited at the same time, because I had always been a closet actor.”
Being part of the YRF family, however, did not mean that she had it as easy as one would expect; Pednekar not only auditioned over 100 girls for her part anyway, but also put herself through the same process for one-and-a-half months.
Today, the film is still in theatres with the rare distinction of earning more in its second weekend than in the first — the hallmark of a true ‘word-of-mouth’ movie. “When I read the script, what I loved most about it was that the movie wasn’t a bunch of jokes about an overweight girl — it was actually just a beautiful love story between two complex characters and something we see all around us.”
She is still busy promoting the film, having spent all of Tuesday doing the rounds of radio stations across Mumbai, but is looking forward to the future. “I’m so new right now that I have no idea what is going to happen,” she says. “I could get offered another movie where I have to gain weight again or another in which I’m playing a patient [who is ailing] and lose more weight. All I want to do is play as many varied and interesting characters as I can.”