Be it the roles she chooses to portray on screen or the projects she wants to back as a producer; be it the song she has crooned or speaking her mind, Richa Chadha always manages to make a point, says Shillpi A Singh
Her films have been recognised across the world: an award at the Cannes Film Festival, an Emmy nomination and numerous trophies in India. Yet when you speak to actor Richa Chadha, she labels herself as a person who is still learning the ropes. Actor, producer and now a singer, Chadha has been in the news for the last few months, especially since the critically-acclaimed movie Love Sonia was screened at the United Nations headquarters in October.
Chadha has collaborated with Dr Zeus and Zora Randhawa, Punjabi pop stars who are quite popular in the international circuit, and released her first single, Gwandian, in September this year. The video already has more than five million views online. “This is an old Punjabi song that has been remixed, keeping the important beats and notes intact,” says Chadha, who croons and dances in the video and has nailed both the traditional look and rockstar avatar.
“It is a fun-loving song. I happened to visit my brother’s friends one day, and they were in search of a female vocalist. They asked me if I had sung before. I went into their studio in the evening, hummed a little, and they liked my voice. We started recording at 11 pm. There were a couple of retakes for perfecting the pronunciation and pitch, and the song was recorded in just a few hours. By 3 am, we were done,” she recalls. The song features in the pop album Global Injection by Dr Zeus.
The video has Chadha sharing screen space with her co-star from the film Fukrey, Varun Sharma whom she fondly calls “the glam quotient in the song”. The invaluable lessons in dance and music that she had picked up while growing up came in handy and so did her theatre exposure. “I don’t know why people make such a big deal about being multifaceted. As artistes, we should all explore avenues that are different from our profession. If somebody sees me just as an actor, then I should try to show them that I am more than just that,” she quips.
Woman of substance
Chadha has proven her acting prowess time and again, ever since she announced her arrival into the cine world with a bang in Anurag Kashyap’s two-part gangster drama, Gangs of Wasseypur. (GoW) The actor, who was in her 20s then, took on the role of foul-mouthed, sickle-wielding, and feisty Nagma Khatoon, who matures from being the unforgiving wife of gangster Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) to a widowed matriarch. Chadha perfectly essays the character of a woman who loses her elder son, yet holds on to her clan in the sordid saga of rivalry, revenge and retribution between the film’s warring families. The role won her critical acclaim, and she went on to bag her first Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress. From there on, she perfected every role that came her way. The actor’s strong performance made her stand out even in an ensemble cast, be it as a local gangster Bholi Punjaban in Fukrey and its sequel, Fukrey Returns, the legal eagle Mira Sharma in Main Aur Charles (based on the life of convicted criminal Charles Sobhraj), vulnerable yet strong Devi Pathak in Masaan or Sarabjit’s wife Sukhpreet in the biopic on Sarabjit Singh (an Indian who strayed across the border into Pakistan). She has reaped rich rewards for the dalliance with different genres, adding that “comedy has become my favourite genre, almost by default.” Her three cinematic outings this year – 3 Storeys, Daas Dev and Love Sonia – were all multi-starrers yet she stole the limelight.
The actor’s latest big project, Love Sonia, was inspired by real-life events and was screened at the United Nations headquarters in New York on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child, marking its first screening in the US. David Womark’s Indo-American production has been directed by Tabrez Noorani and tells the story of a young Indian girl’s journey through the world of international sex trafficking. “Art is a powerful advocacy tool to raise awareness, and as an artist, I feel humbled to be able to contribute and do my bit towards this endeavour,” she says. This is not her first international project, though. She had bagged a role in Mira Nair’s short film titled God Room in the 2014 Mexican-American anthology film Words with Gods. It featured eight films from eight countries by different directors who put forth their cultural experiences.
Cannes do it again
The actor, who was last seen at the French Riviera in 2012 when Gangs of Wasseypur premiered in Directors’ Fortnight (a section of the Cannes film festival), marked her presence for Neeraj Ghaywan’s directorial debut Masaan, that premiered at the 68th Cannes International Film Festival and won two awards too — FIPRESCI, International Jury of Film Critics prize and Promising Future prize in the Un Certain Regard section. “It was an unforgettable moment to be back at Cannes and what a rousing welcome we received — a five-minute-long standing ovation,” she says, fondly recounting her second outing. In the film, she essays the role of an educated girl from Varanasi whose boyfriend commits suicide after being caught by the police in a hotel room with her. Her character fights social stigma, police apathy and personal turmoil to rise above the odds and overcome the anger and shame that beset her after that incident. Chadha recalls how her camaraderie with actor Pankaj Tripathi goes back a long way, with Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Panga being the duo’s eighth project together. “We are very respectful of each other. He gets me home-cooked food and I am good friends with his wife and daughter. It feels quite like home,” she says, talking about sharing screen space with Tripathi in GoW (1 and 2), Masaan, Fukrey and Fukrey Returns, Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai, Shakeela and now Panga.
Role Wise Chadha, who played an actor in cricket-themed Inside Edge, a video on demand (where viewers choose their own filmed entertainment) series for Amazon Prime produced by Excel Entertainment, has just completed a shooting schedule for its second season in Georgia. This web series has been nominated for the Emmys. Excited, she says, “The second season will be bigger and better – the script is crisp and the look and feel is refreshing. My character of Zarina Malik remains the same. I am proud to be a part of India’s first original series. Its nomination for the International Emmys is a big thing for the entire team. I am keeping my fingers crossed.”
The actor enjoys delivering a good performance everywhere, be it films, theatre or any other platform. “Doing my work well gives me the utmost happiness,” says the actor, who is currently working on Anubhav Sinha’s Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai.