When one of the interviewers asked maverick actor Radhika Apte to describe herself in three words, she replied “ordinary human being.” If you have followed her journey till the recent release Raat Akeli Hai, you can see that she is a contrarian among actresses who believes in breaking the age-old industry rules and conventions for women. Radhika declares that she is not in the industry for fame alone and that she doesn’t take success and failure seriously though she likes the perks that come with success.
Radhika Apte is the latest entrant to the league of Bollywood actresses who made a conscious effort to walk away from the beaten path and leave their mark. A trait that we had seen in a few actresses such as Nargis, Nutan, Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi.
Bollywood’s rules for women
Indian cinema conveniently locks actors into specific boxes as per the age-old industry stereotypes. The careers of many had peaked and ended while travelling on a straight track, playing by the rules of the category, which dictates even their lifestyle and diet. Those who dared to try something different were starved of opportunities in the popular cinema.
Fresh out of the year-long contemporary dance course at London's Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Radhika Apte was first signed for and was then “kicked out” of a big-budget Bollywood production upon her completion of a dance course in London. The reason: the makers felt that she was “too fat” for the role!
Versatility is the name of the game
Radhika Apte has made a career cherry-picking roles that have fire, without ever trying to repeat herself with any particular roles, especially the loud and outspoken ones that some actresses repeatedly fall for. She reasoned that she doesn’t entertain people who tell her that they want her to do a film because its central theme is feminist or it is a national award-potential role because she just can’t work with people who have this approach.
How do actresses make such choices when the roles with potential are really limited? Radhika Apte makes it look simple: pick a role and gives it your best shot if your instinct tells that the screenplay has something different from the usual and it can help you grow as a person and as an actor. This instinct to pick roles that “different” from one another has given filmmakers a star to bank on when they conceive projects that don’t tick all the boxes of commercial formula.
OTT revolution has shaken up the industry. When the audience has exposure to “global content” that emanate from the best creative minds from all corners of the world, the creators back home have no choice but to think differently and be competitive. The stories that are inspired from this exposure to global content require the right acting talent to pull it off—actors who have different skin tones, features, acting styles and voices.
Face of India’s global content
When OTT was in its nascent stages in India, Radhika Apte became its ambassador and travelled through the journey that has now reached a stage where films are being released exclusively on those platforms.
2018 was a watershed year in Apte’s career. She signed three Netflix productions—the anthology film Lust Stories, the thriller series Sacred Games, and the horror miniseries Ghoul and was was nominated for an International Emmy Award. Her popularity brought her earlier television works to OTT. Netflix released her 20-part Bengali TV series Stories by Rabindranath Tagore, created by Anurag Basu for EPIC channel.
Much like Golshifteh Farahani, the France-based Iranian actress who is recognised by cinephiles the world over for her notable work on Indie films, Radhika Apte is our best bet on anything that has an international appeal. Her works for Netflix, such as Sacred Games, are now being binge-watched the world over and many of her films doing rounds in international film festivals. To reach such a position, it takes thinking and truly global perspective and approach that covers creative spaces beyond Bollywood.
When Netflix released her films and web series back to back, the joke on the internet was that Netflix should be renamed as Radflix.
Process of making ordinary outstanding
That the actor in Radhika Apte gets under the skin of the character is an understatement. Take the case of Anurag Kashyap giving her writing credits for his anthology Lust Stories. Though Radhika dismisses it as a joke between the two friends, the story of her name appearing in credits tells a thing or two about her commitment to the role. Radhika had said she could not figure out her character Kalindi and her motivation for doing what she did from the monologues that Kashyap sent her. So, she wrote her own monologue so that she knows where she is coming from, with the director’s permission. Though Kashyap removed it from the final film, he included Radhika’s name as a writer in the credits despite her insistence in writing that she would not be named as a writer.
Anyone who is reading this can guess the motivation behind Kashyap making her do the monologue even though he did not want the audience to know Kalindi’s justifications. Thinking as Kalindi and imagining a coherent monologue must have made his job as director easy and elevated Radhika’s performance.
To Radhika’s credit, she travels from one role to another across many languages, including Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu, at ease without any Indie-mainstream divide, also from the big screen to OTT and TV. Fresh from her riveting performance in Pavan Kirpalani’s Phobia as an artist suffering from agoraphobia, she went on to collect the Best Actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival for her role in Clean Shaven, directed by Anurag Kashyap (it is a part of Madly, a six-part anthology film about love), and then became Kumudhavalli, the wife of the lead character with tremendous inner strength in Rajnikanth starrer blockbuster Kabali.
If you haven’t watched already, check out her amazing short films on the Internet, especially Anurag Kashyap’s That Day After Every Day, Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya and Shirish Kunder’s Kriti.
Now that you are read this far, here is a disclaimer: As you would have rightly guessed, this writer is a fan of Radhika Apte. If you aren’t one, it’s time to watch some of the films mentioned in this piece.
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and film enthusiast. Read his past works here.)