few minutes before our scheduled video call for this interview, I message Bhumi Pednekar to remind her that excerpts from our recording will go up on social media. You know, just in case she would like to apply some lipstick or fix her hair or something. “Cool!” comes the reply, and moments later, Bhumi’s face pops up on my Skype screen, skillfully contoured, the high points of her cheeks glistening with highlighter. “I just finished filming a make-up tutorial for my social media handle,” she informs me, “which is why I’m all dolled up!” Bhumi’s love for “getting dolled up” is one of the things that often surprises people about her. Perhaps owing to her unconventional oeuvre; the fact that while each one of her on-screen roles has been delightfully robust, they have presented Bhumi in a light that is the anti-thesis of the stereotypical ‘heroine’. Bhumi plays the part of an overweight (and under-appreciated) bride in Dum Laga Ke Haisha (the actor gained 30 kilos for this breakout role, with help from a fair number of cheese pizzas). In Bala, she is a dark-skinned woman in a small town, battling colour bias and toxic beauty benchmarks. In Saand Ki Aankh, the 31-year-old transforms into 70-year-old sharpshooter Chandro Tomar; and in Lust Stories, she is the deferential housemaid. Her body of work has certainly cemented Bhumi’s status as a truly versatile actor...and, she reveals, also led some to believe that she is much like the women she portrays in films.
“People just assume I am somebody who does not enjoy vanity or getting dressed up...but that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” she laughs. “I have been obsessed with make-up since I was a teenager... I collected money to build my own little vanity bag. I asked all my cousins and aunts and uncles to gift me make-up products, because I was so into beauty. And I’ve been filming my make-up routine for years, but I’ve never put up a video. I posted one last week and it got a lot of love, so I decided to do some more. The truth is that I love dolling up...I find it therapeutic. The time I spend with myself in front of the mirror...it’s a lot of self-love.”
Bhumi tells me that her choice of roles has also led many to believe that she is “a girl from a small town in India.” She is, however, an out-and-out “Mumbai girl...born and brought up in Juhu!”. And she likes that people haven’t quite figured her out yet. “People don’t really know a lot about me; they know more about my work, and I like it that way. But I’m not this salwar-kurta girl...I love it, but I’m not her. I’m a city girl and I love glamour. People still don’t know who the real Bhumi is because the roles I’ve done are so overpowering, which is great—as an actor, it’s my job to ensure that. But I am not the roles that I play. I am as urban as one can get. Funnily enough, that was a big problem when my director was casting for Dum Laga Ke Haisha. They felt I was ‘too Mumbai’ and wondered how it would work. So I had to work incredibly hard to unlearn everything, but that’s the fun in what I do...”
Every single one of Bhumi’s on-screen roles has been relatable...and oft-times raw. I ask whether she consciously seeks out scripts that tell the tales of everyday women. “I have always wanted to do good films...I want to leave behind a legacy,” she states. “And while I haven’t necessarily gone after ‘socially relevant’ films, I am conscious about not picking films that are ‘mindless’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy singing and dancing...I do. There just needs to be a certain aesthetic; it has to make sense, you know? I enjoy working on socially relevant cinema, I feel like my craft gives me an opportunity to give back, to serve humanity and our society. I’ve also been lucky to have received so many opportunities. Like, my second film was Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, with Akshay [Kumar] sir, and it held a powerful social message. After that, things just kept happening for me.” “Every film of mine has been a choice, not a majboori [compulsion],” Bhumi continues. “For instance, for a film like Saand Ki Aankh to happen, I had to say no to a multi-crore film, because I just felt like Saand Ki Aankh would give me a lot more as an actor than a super-hit franchise...and it did. Because of the films I have done, I have grown as an actor as well as a human being. So I’m clear about needing to gain something from a movie. In the end, only a good film stays with you. People won’t remember how many crores it made at the box office...”