Radhika Apte talks Diversity & Unusual Choices at LIFF 2019

Radhika Apte participated in a special screen talk at the 2019 London Indian Film Festival, where she spoke candidly about her cinematic experiences.

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“My father disagreed with me acting.

An evening with Radhika Apte was an insightful event of anecdotes and film clips during the 10th London Indian Film Festival.

The actress shared with the audience her journey into her stunningly varied career. She honestly spoke about her struggles and future aspirations.

The special screen talk took place on Sunday, June 23, 2019, at Cineworld Leicester Square in London. The Q&A was conducted by British filmmaker Peter Webber.

The 90-minute screen talk included famous clips from a variety of Radhika’s unconventional work portfolio. This was across the independent, commercial and international sectors.

Clips included from box office successes like Padman (2018) and Andhadhun (2018), the critically acclaimed Parched (2016) and Netflix originals such as Sacred Games (2018) and Ghoul (2018).

The media, Bollywood fans and aspiring actors were in attendance to hear about the career of Radhika Apte at the London Indian Film Festival.

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Radhika’s Journey into Acting

Host Peter Webber began proceedings trying to find out what influence Radhika Apte to be an actress. The response from Radhika was that she always had two career choices and gave reasons for them:

“I either wanted to be an actress or a prime minister, as the street that I lived in wasn’t clean.

“I was fascinated by films and by Bollywood. I used to be a huge fan and get tickets for the first day first show.”

During her schooling years in Pune, Radhika was very active with the arts. After regularly attending the theatre, she later had some involvement with a theatre company.

In school, she wrote several plays and was also trainee kathak dancer. However, she, like many actors, faced resentment from her family:

“My father disagreed with me acting. He said, this is a dumb profession and you’re very intelligent. You’re wasting your time.

“I wanted to take arts in college but he pushed me to take sciences. This was the only time I listened to him. I took one year of sciences but did not even attend, as I was always in theatre.

“After I finished my BA, I made the move to Mumbai. My father said, I promise you that you will get depressed by thirty and then you’ll come crying, which wasn’t the most supporting.

“Till date, my father has not really watched my work.

“Now we talk about how my film pays more than five surgeries he does. He says, ‘it’s ridiculous you’re getting so much money when I’m the best neurosurgeon in the country’.”

Radhika describes the seven months that she was in Mumbai for the first time as being “difficult.” The 33-year old-revealed:

“At that point, my best friend was whiskey. I got very depressed the first time I went to Mumbai.

“I had no money as I’d stopped taking money from my parents since I was sixteen. I used to barely make any money with theatre, as theatre in India doesn’t pay at all.

“I had no contacts. I did not know where to start from. I was alone every day trying to figure out who to contact, or where to start.”

After returning back home and resuming theatre, she caught the eye of Mumbai casting directors. Hence, she had three films all at once.

However, at this point, Radhika had a change of heart:

“By the time I got those three Bollywood offers, I wasn’t interested. In fact, I used one film to go to the Zanzibar music festival.”

It was indeed the financial aspect that attracted her to keep doing films.

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A Multilingual Talent

Radhika Apte is the only actress that has worked simultaneously in six languages. This includes Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Bengali. She later also signed some English crossover projects.

Despite not knowing many Indians languages, Radhika made her entry into the South film industry because it paid well.

One of her South films even paid for her fees to study in London.

This was to study contemporary dance for a year at the prestigious Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Radhika recounted some hilarious experiences whilst shooting for these South films. One of, which included shooting in Kashmir without any security.

Radhika also went onto reveal about how she had to leave a South film after gaining a mere four kilograms.

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Path-breaking Work with Anurag Kashyap

Radhika Apte also talked about her pioneering work with Anurag Kashyap, describing it as one of her best collaborations with a filmmaker.

Radhika elaborated on the critically acclaimed director,  with whom she has done several projects:

“With Anurag, there’s never a script. When he pitched Lust Stories to me, I didn’t like it. I said that I was doing it but this is not good. He said, ‘we’ll change it and we’ll figure it out.’

“The night before we were set to shoot, I went to his house to ask him, ‘who am I playing, what are we doing.’

“He said ‘it’s a character study’, ‘I said what character, he said ‘you don’t need to know that.’ I was wondering how to make sense of that.

“We also did a film called Clean Shaven, which went to Tribeca and I really enjoyed doing that film. It was a short film. It was about pubic hair, which is a sensitive issue.

“I said ‘I really like it, but I don’t like the climax’. There was something off about it. I said ‘please can we talk it’, but he kept refusing despite knowing what my issues were.

“We shot for three days and I was nervous about what was going to happen about the climax. I really wanted to hit it right.

“Then he decided the last six pages, the climax, we would go on handheld and do it entirely as an improvisation with no dialogue. I trusted him and he trusted me.

“We did it and we were both so happy. Essentially in the first take, we got the gist of what we wanted and there is no dialogue in the climax. I think it’s a great collaboration.”

Radhika won the Jury Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. This was for her outstanding performance in ‘Clean Shaven,’ a part of Madly (2017).

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Breaking the Stereotype

Despite the diversity of work that she has done, Radhika exprsses that she had to work hard to avoid being yet another typecasting actor:

“Initially, I was typecasted massively. Particularly as a village women. They were saying, ‘we don’t know how you would look as an urban girl’ when I was dressed like one.

“You just have to keep saying no and convince them that you can do something else.

“When I did Badlapur, there was a scene where a guy comes to kill my husband and he says, ‘if I can sleep with my wife, I will let you go.’

“He asked her to strip, and she started stripping into her underwear. Then he’s saying, ‘why are you doing this, your husbands a killer.’

“Because I did this stripping scene in this context, I was offered sex comedies. I got the biggest sex comedies offered to me. I really didn’t understand the thought process.

“I did Ahalya, a film based on a mythological story about her seducing people and made dolls of them.

“And then the media went crazy and were saying, ‘why are you doing seductive roles in Ahalya and Badlapur’.”

“I said, if you call stripping because this man is going to kill my husband seductive, then I don’t know what to say.”

In reply to a question about comparisons made with other Bollywood contemporaries, Radhika said:

“It is hard to get into that A-listers group. Sometimes it does frustrate me, but do I want to do it? Do I want to do those Bollywood films?

“Sometimes they get those films that I want because they’re big and will get box office numbers. But I try – I approach those directors or casting directors that I would like to be considered.

“I also try to keep myself busy with something more creative like reading, so that I’m not consumed with what I’m not getting.”

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Radhika and Digital Platforms

2018 was a new turning point for Radhika Apte, starring in three Netflix productions. These include the new age film Lust Stories (2018), the thriller series Sacred Games, and the horror miniseries Ghoul.

Speaking about this, Radhika commented:

“It was coincidental that three projects came at the same time. Netflix was just launching in India so they needed an extra boost.

“When Ghoul released, there were trolls on social media saying that I’m doing too much work on Netflix.

“So Netflix said, ‘why don’t we use it to our advantage.’ They did a promotional film called Radflix which was hilarious.

“It was where I become the writer, director and actor for the next Netflix series. The trolls made a page on Radflix so they did a lot of publicity. I enjoyed that for a couple of weeks.

“Even now, I get asked a lot about Netflix and if they give me another good series, then I’ll again be their brand ambassador otherwise I’m not.”

Radhika Apte also had a discussion with Peter about the importance of social media.

“It’s Immensely important. In India, we don’t get paid as much for film work as we think. But living costs are very high. Digital promotions and advertising are how we make money.

“If you have a great following, brands will come. Also, it’s a way of staying connected to people and actually it’s a great way of influencing people in the industry.

“They are constantly on social media and watch what you do.

“It’s really good for changing the minds of this director or someone in the industry who may think I can’t pull this off.

“For example, they may think I’m not into sport, then they see a picture of me diving and say; I didn’t know you’re into diving, want to have a coffee?”

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Radhika and World Cinema

During the in-conversation, Radhika stated that it has been her dream to work in world cinema.

“The day I watched my first non-Bollywood film, I knew I wanted to be part of world cinema. I didn’t know that films could actually move you or can disturb you to that level.

“The first one I watched was, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, and I remember choking. I didn’t know a film could make me feel like that.”

Having worked in three films with a foreign crew, she compared the differences with the Indian film industry:

“The two fundamental differences are that everyone comes on time and you get paid on time.”

“When it comes to the director, each have their own process. Only the work ethic that changes with different industries.”

Radhika also has a role in the Hollywood film, Liberte: A Call to Spy (2019).

The Vellore born-actress also made an appearance at the Edinburgh Film Festival during the same week of the screen talk, where the film had its world premiere.

Radhika plays a British Muslim World War II spy, Noor Inayat Khan.

She was the first female wireless operator and British spy who parachuted into Nazi-occupied France to aid the French Resistance. Radhika told the audience more:

“Noor Inayat Khan fascinates me even though I play a smaller part.

“There are so many contradictions and the beauty of her character to have so much compassion and empathy, and work with people with a polar opposite point of view.”

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Preparations Behind the Scenes

In terms of the preparation she does for her role, she recounted two different experiences.

“In phobia, I had eight panic attacks and eleven after. Apart from doing the research on PTSD, phobia. I thought if I had so many panic attacks, it’s going to monotonous so I need to make them different.

“I watched so many clips of panic attacks. I went to psychologists and talked to them a lot. I empathise a lot for those who have panic attacks.

“I actually had a phobia of water for twenty-five years since I had an accident as a child.

“Since Parched, I’ve also created a memory bank for every character, which are not my own memories. This helps to make a more well-rounded character, and have their emotional connect with things.

“I want them to have a fictional memory that they remember. Like if she sees something, she starts crying. I’ve not exhausted my own memories then.”

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Plans for the Future

Radhika will be appearing alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the crime thriller Raat Akeli Hai. The shooting for the film came to a wrap up in April 2019.

Radhika also mentioned her aspirations to produce films:

“I do want to produce. I’m not happy with the kind of work coming my way necessarily. I want to work more. I don’t want to work for just 1 film over 20 days and feel satisfied for 2 years.

“I want to work six months, eight months, whatever it takes to go there to feel satisfied and challenge myself.

“What is happening in India right now is that everyone thinks we’re being more liberal and progressive. But I think it’s convenient progressive. I understand why but as a person, I want to grow.

“I want to be challenged in the subjects and the emotions we explore.”

“This convenient progressive is not changing me as a person.”

She also hopes to see more change coming into the industry in terms of diverse casting. Radhika expanded:

“If you see new people getting launched in mainstream cinema, they are all fair skinned, extraordinary thin and very young paired with older actors.

“Unless they are born in the film industry, I have not seen a dusky girl being launched.

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An Evening with Radhika Apte, organised as part of LIFF 2019, was an engaging screen talk.

Learning about the journey, successes and struggles of Radhika Apte through a Q&A and a range of clips was insightful for the audience.

It will be interesting to see where her path continues forward and whether she ventures into new avenues, such as producing.

Sonika is a full-time medical student, Bollywood enthusiast and lover of life. Her passions are dancing, travelling, radio presenting, writing, fashion and socialising! “Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths taken but by moments that take our breath away.”

Images courtesy of Darren Brade Photography.

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