Richa Chadha: People keep telling Mr Bhansali that he should get out of this courtesan mode, but I beg to differ

The actor, in an exclusive interview with Cosmopolitan India, speaks about playing a character without any agency, working again with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, embracing motherhood, and much more.

16 May, 2024
Richa Chadha: People keep telling Mr Bhansali that he should get out of this courtesan mode, but I beg to differ

Known for effortlessly playing bold and outspoken characters like Nagma Khatoon in Gangs of Wasseypur and Bholi Punjaban in Fukrey, it was a welcome change to see Richa Chadha play a character unlike them in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Netflix series Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar. While her character, Lajjo was delusional and heartbroken, the beauty in her grief saw the actor (once again) showcase her range, doing complete justice to the scale and grandeur of the narrative. 

Having aced this role, Chadha is all set to embrace the role of motherhood in a few months as she and her husband Ali Fazal announced that they were expecting their first child. Cosmopolitan India catches up with the actor, who talks about being completely different from her Heeramandi character, her fascination with the life of courtesans, how Ali Fazal is the perfect hands-on partner, working with him, and taking things as they come during her pregnancy.

Cosmopolitan India: Did Heeramandi get you intrigued by the lives of the courtesans? Can you explain your process of preparing for the role?

Richa Chadha: I wasn’t intrigued, as such, while growing up. I didn’t know much about this world. It was only when I was studying history and I read about the revolt of 1857 did I learn about the vital role that courtesans played in the freedom struggle. Later, when I read about courtesans from Mumbai, such as Jaddanbai, who were renowned for thumri, I felt really good. They deserved more credit, not just for shaping the culture and etiquette but for embracing the freedom struggle. There was so much stigma attached to their name, but I think they’re very fascinating characters. People keep telling Mr Bhansali that he should get out of this courtesan mode, but I beg to differ. Add to that, no one’s making anything around it. 

CI: While the women on the show are fighting for power, property, and independence for the country, Lajjo is fighting for love. Are you a hopeless romantic in real life? 

RC: I am quite practical, and I’m not like Lajjo at all. She’s fairly delusional. I’m also not hopeless. I do have a lot of hope and a strong sense of practicality. I keep saying that if I hadn’t met my current partner, I wouldn’t be married. I would not have given anyone so much importance in my life had I not met Ali (Fazal). In a sense, I am very different from Lajjo. I’ve had a healthy childhood and parents who loved me, and I’ve never had abandonment issues. In her back story, she was six when a family member sold her at a brothel. They clutch at straws and will hold on to anything. They want to feel like they belong and have something to anchor them in life. I wanted that aspect to come through. You could see that he was neither truthful nor faithful, but here she is going crazy. 

CI: You’ve played very strong-minded and empowered characters in your career. But Lajjo, who uses alcohol to escape her reality and is very self-destructive, is the complete opposite. It’s a role that surprises us. Would you call her a weak character? 

RC: I wouldn’t call her a weak character, but she’s a person who doesn’t have any agency. She has the freedom to make her own choices. When she’s at Heeramandi, she’s under Malikajaan’s control and supervision. So much so that she doesn’t want to dance. She’s been slapped, and she wants to leave. But she has to dance because she’s been paid to dance. She has to finish her job and leave. That kind of thing makes you feel bad at some level. She can’t make her own decisions because of the ecosystem in which she’s been raised. 

CI: The one thing everyone wants to know is how does Lajjo exactly die? 

RC: She passes away due to heartbreak and chokes on her own drink. 

CI: Everyone has appreciated your remarkable performance in the song Masoom Dil Hain Mera. What was it like to see the song for the very first time after improvising the steps and the 360 camera pan that everyone’s now talking about? 

RC: I was at home and got a call from Mr Bhansali, who was editing the scenes. This was around nine months ago. Ali (Fazal) and I were in a meeting and he asked us to come meet him. I reached and he asked me where Ali was. He asked me to call him as well as he wanted him to see it as well. I’m not the actor who will go to the monitor a million times to see. It was beautiful and tragic at the same time. I was very happy that the entire team was able to achieve what we wanted to with respect to the grief and heartbreak of a courtesan. 

CI: What’s the difference between working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali the first time and now? 

RC: He was a legend back in 2013 during Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela and he’s a legend even now. There’s been no change from my perspective. He’s only grown in status and stature as he’s made gems like Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat. I feel that I’ve evolved as an actor and he was able to get the most out of me. 


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CI: Ali’s busy with his films, you’ve been promoting Heeramandi non-stop, how are the two of you finding time for yourselves and the baby that’s on its way?

RC: We find the time, we’re very good like that. He’s a great partner to have who is a very hands-on person. I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s kind of perfect when it comes to the amount of time he gives the house. I think we’re both excited to enter this phase together. 

CI: How are you embracing motherhood and the changes that it brings with you every single day? 

RC: Right now, there’s not much change in my schedule. I’ll embrace it when the child is here. It’s a very natural process and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. 

CI: With people telling you a lot, and offering advice, how are you shutting out the noise and enjoying your own journey? 

RC: I’m listening to my instinct, my experts, and my mother. The rest, if people talk, I hear them, but it’s not important for me to listen and adhere to what they say. 

CI: While we’ve seen you and Ali in the same movie, when do we get to see you two paired opposite each other?

RC: I would love that. Not just romantically, but even as a thief and police officer or a lawyer and judge. I think he’s a very gifted actor who is so versatile. I don’t think anyone can do a Hollywood action film or a film like Victoria & Abdul and then come back to play Guddu Pandit in Mirzapur. I’d love to work with him. 

CI: We also have to speak about Girls Will Be Girls, which has earned global recognition. This was your joint production. When such two minds come together and believe in a project, what kind of content do you want to make? What does Pushing Button Studios have lined up?

RC: It’s great to work with him as a co-producer. He’s got a great mind for cinema and has great screenplay sense. His instinct is bang on. Girls Will Be Girls is our first project and we’re delighted with the validation it’s received at international festivals and we hope to show it to Indian audiences. I wouldn’t produce something with him if we weren’t on the same page. 

I have a break till November. I’ll start shooting something which gives me enough time to get my logistics in place. After that we have a lot of content coming up. They’re in different stages of production and I’m looking forward to bringing those stories to the world. 

All images: Hardly Anonymous Communications

Also read: Sonakshi Sinha on playing an antagonist in 'Heeramandi' and working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali

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