While 11-year-old Bhumi had an unambiguous dream—to act—she didn’t quite know how she would achieve it.
“I just knew that I had to make it happen, and I would talk about it with my mum and sister,” she laughs. “Honestly, I always wanted to succeed. I think when you have this ambition and this desire to make an impact, the Universe gives you a lot of strength; it gives you opportunities, you know? And I truly feel there was some force that just put me in the right place, at the right time. Like, the job with Yash Raj Films (YRF)...I was all of 17 when I joined them. I didn’t know what the fu*k I was doing, I didn’t know what casting was. But I worked really hard...I had decided to be so good at my job that people would have to take notice of me, and that’s exactly what happened. And then one opportunity led to another, and I pretty much became indispensable to the people around me. And this is what I tell my younger cousins and anyone who cares to listen...I tell them to be so sincere, to work so hard, that people simply have to notice them. I know it’s easier said than done, and I was lucky to get a chance to prove myself. A lot of people don’t get that...I feel very fortunate.”
I circle back to the “very ambitious” little Bhumi and ask if, as a woman, she has ever felt judged for being openly driven. “Oh, 100 percent, absolutely!” she exclaims. “I think some people get intimidated by the fact that I am ambitious. I’ve even been told, ‘You have so much ambition! Don’t turn into a robot!’. I don’t even understand what that means. Why is it assumed that because I love what I do, and have goals and dreams, I can’t strike a balance? It’s not like I will turn into a stone-cold person! I find this bizarre! I believe that financial independence is such a beautiful thing...it’s so liberating, and it is so important for young girls to voice their dreams and goals. The problem is that we whitewash our women. Women are supposed to be like Sita and all pious...that’s bullsh*t. I am a compassionate person and I care for people...I believe financial independence will only enable me to do more for society. And I feel that, sometimes, men get a little intimidated by me, which is why I believe it will take a certain kind of man to handle me...and the plus twos that come with me!” she laughs.
One of the things that defines Bhumi—apart from an incredibly versatile acting resume—is her passion for climate change issues. She tells me she has ‘climate anxiety’, and I tell her I absolutely love the term. “I’ve had ‘climate anxiety’ since I was a little girl. I would spend hours and nights thinking about the future of our planet. Because we are destroying it! So many of us are unaware of the damage we are doing...it’s happening right now and there is no Plan B—this is all we have, you know? So I decided to educate my friends and family about the impact our actions have on the environment. And that’s where my social-media initiative, Climate Warrior, stems from. I launched it last year, and I’ve done a whole bunch of things since—I’ve collaborated with several activists and global citizens who feel the same way. On World Environment Day, I launched a campaign called #OneWishForTheEarth, and was thrilled with the response. And I’ve learnt about so many interesting innovations—plastic recycling, fun ways to segregate your garbage, gardening, farming... That’s the vision, really—how do we become self-sufficient, become sustainable, build a circle economy? For instance, a good monsoon in Mumbai means you can survive on the water for six months...that’s a lot. But most of it is just lost! Our ground-water levels are depleting, our food isn’t nutritious enough, and so many people can’t even afford nutritious food! But a healthy meal should be our right. As should the right to clean air and clean water! I could go on and on about this because I’m just so passionate about the subject, but the fact is that we are all climate warriors...and we should all *be* climate warriors.”
Speaking of change, I ask Bhumi about the shifts she would like to see in the film industry. It is evident that she has given this subject some thought, because her response is prompt. “For starters, we need to change the depiction of the genders. We need to change how we show women and men. Women are not supposed to be whitewashed—we have desires, we have ambition, we have physical needs and emotions, and we have the capacity to balance. I believe women have superpowers, and I think we need to see a lot more of that in our cinema. Similarly, we must alter the way men are shown in films. We put so much pressure on the male gender, telling them that they are supposed to be strong, that they can’t cry, can’t show emotion...that is so wrong. This narrative—‘mard ko dard nahi hota’ or ‘a man doesn’t hurt’—this needs to change. I’ll give you an example involving my father...I miss my father so much. So, when I was a teenager, my dad taught me how to use a sanitary napkin because my mom was away at work and I’d just started my period. So my father organised the sanitary napkins for me, and because I didn’t know how to use one, he secured it to an underwear for me and then prepared a hot water bottle for me. The next day, he threw a little party for me. At that time, McDonald’s had a little party room, and my parents invited all my girlfriends to come celebrate with me. That has set such a good example for me, because this is how men are supposed to be; this is how fathers are supposed to be. Even in our films, when you see a father-daughter, father-son relationship, it is always strained—especially a father-son relationship. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Your parents are supposed to support you. I also believe we need to stop objectifying women, and there needs to be a lot more inclusivity in films, including the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m not complaining, because I know change is in the air...I just wish we could accelerate it. Like, I just watched Super Deluxe, and I couldn’t believe what I was watching. There’s such great work happening today and I feel lucky to be part of the Hindi film industry at this point. You know what they say: ‘If your art is flourishing, your society is flourishing...’.”