There’s going to be a lot of Radhika Apte on screen this year. Her first release of the year was Padman starring Akshay Kumar which was a big success. Through 2018 she’ll be seen in Netflix’s first Indian show Sacred Games, Sriram Raghavan’s Shoot The Piano Player, Bazaar with Saif Ali Khan, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi, and a foreign film called The Ashram. She has also completed Ghoul, Netflix’s second Indian show, and is currently shooting for Michael Winterbottom’s next with Dev Patel.
We speak to the actress about how she finds time to find inspiration for so many varied characters as well juggle her parallel life in London, where her husband is based.
You’ve said for an actor it is necessary to vegetate and look for inspiration. And yet when I tried to count the number of films and shows you have that are up for release, I wondered when you had time to vegetate.
Somebody in my personal space is going to love you for saying that. I keep getting criticised for taking on so much work. But actually I do feel that vegetating is very important for an actor, or else you get drained. You need to find inspiration somewhere and the whole of last year was so tiring. Actually I had planned it very well. If you see my contracts, every thing had its space and breaks but our industry is so amazingly efficient that nothing finishes on time. The whole of December and January which was supposed to be a holiday, I was shooting for four projects, all spilled over from the whole year. I’m not somebody who can put my foot down and say ‘sorry holiday time. I need to go. You can postpone your release’.
Even this March I was supposed to be on holiday but a project from two years ago has come back. You really do need a break. I’m doing another project in April for which I will need to learn a foreign language and I need that space to do that.
I just finished another project which was again a foreign film as well. Because I was not in India, it was the first time where I didn’t have to go for a single event, a single appearance, there wasn’t a single day of work from another project. It was such a strict contract that even on an off day you had to take the day off. I could read, watch a film, go for a walk, exercise, and give love to myself and go back for work for the next 5 days. I would love to be able to work like that.
How do you live this hectic professional life and shuttle between here and London – where your husband lives? It can’t be easy.
I try and visit every couple of months and he also comes so we’re not away from each other for more than a month. It’s exhausting and very expensive also. I remember sometimes people meet on an aircraft and they ask why are you flying economy and I’m like what the hell does that mean. Imagine making three trips in two months, and that too last-minute ones because suddenly I got a week off. It’s such an expensive lifestyle – two houses in two of the most expensive cities in the world and 2-3 tickets a month to travel back and forth every month. That’s why I’m not vegetating!
What stands out in all the work you’re doing is the diversity – the characters, the stories, the kinds of filmmakers you’re working with. What has it taken to come to a stage where filmmakers and producers can imagine you in various roles?
It’s taken a really, really long time. After I did Shor In The City and Rakhta Charitra, people were just refusing to cast me in so called glamorous roles. I did Badlapur and Hunterr and it still wasn’t glamorous enough. I remember Nikkhil Advani was the first person who came to me and said I’m going to put you there. I’m so grateful because I go and meet people in the most urban outfits because I am an urban girl. And they still ask me questions like will you look like this. I feel like saying you can put a wig on a dog and make him walk a certain way. What I mean is that it is so put on. You can put layers of make-up and get a blow dry and put five different extensions in your hair and become someone else
Kalki Koechlin has said that once they realised that she was open to doing ‘bold’ characters, that’s all she got. Does that happen to you?
I get genres. And, of course, this whole trend of women empowerment characters is so depressing. The women I’m portraying, there is a lot of empowerment in that. But then I get these women who are constantly being beaten and even though that’s what the situation of a lot of women in the country is, the way they have written the script is so depressing. I’m just like guys, if you want to show empowerment, think of it from the woman’s perspective. When men want to show empowerment and think this is something they want to do for women, it’s very scary.
I also used to get a lot of people tell me ‘madam this is National Award-winning role’ for you. I get very irritated. Someone recently told me I need to be less rude to people which is very true.
Are you in a better space in terms of what is being offered to you?
Honestly, right now I’m not signing anything here and nothing that has been offered to me right now is something that interests me. I think I’ll have to wait for something good to come.
I’m getting better scripts than say four years ago. I have more choice. But I’d really like to have more. I don’t have to do a film that I completely don’t believe in anymore. At one point I did because otherwise I’d have no money to survive. But it’s not necessary that everything I’m doing makes me go like ‘oh my God, I was waiting for this to happen’.
You’ve got writing credits on a film with Anurag Kashyap. You’ve said you like to be deeply involved with your characters right from the script level. Do films like a Padman, Kabali or Bazaar also allow you that freedom to collaborate, when you know that it’s spun around the hero?
It’s only some films that you can do it with. But I’m very open and flexible. I don’t go like – if I can’t collaborate, I’m not going to do it. I also like to completely surrender for absolutely different kinds of directors and embrace their working process. Throughout my career I’ve been in a situation that is vulnerable or unknown to me and then see what comes out of it. The process of each film is different. In Anurag’s film, the first day on set I was like what is the script? Who am I playing? He said you’ll find out in 10 mins. But I trust him blindly.
If you want to show empowerment, think of it from the woman’s perspective. When men want to show empowerment and think this is something they want to do for women, it’s very scary
You said in an interview that a filmmaker that you thought was very liberal asked you to keep your marriage a secret and you said no. You’ve been in meetings with filmmakers where they’ve asked you to fix your face and you’ve said no. What is the fall out of constantly saying no? Do you end up upsetting people?
They upset me by asking the question. I don’t care if I’m upsetting them. It’s just too bad for them. I hear no every day and nothing will happen if I don’t do a nose job, so its not like they’re losing out on anything.
It’s funny that people have this impression that I keeping saying no and that I stand my ground. The people who really know me will say that I cannot say no. I put up with a lot of things that I don’t agree with – people coming late, extending shoot days, people going against contract and not paying for extra time. Exploitation doesn’t have to be sexual. And I don’t say anything, I just do it. I don’t think that me putting my foot down is going to change anything. It will only ruin my career. If Akshay Kumar puts his foot down it changes things because he’s reached that level. It was amazing working with him on Padman because he would work for 8 hours and that’s it.
How much of an actor’s job today is to do things that are not related to acting but equally important, like making appearances for brands, being active on social media, etc?
I really struggle. I do social media largely for work because I want to be a part of different activities. In India that’s how you make money so I do it as my job. But wearing airport outfits, etc I don’t think that necessarily a part of my job. I mean it adds to it, but doesn’t take something away. Rajinikanth doesn’t wear a wig when he steps out, he’s Rajinikanth anyway. Of course, I know I’m not Rajinikanth!
Even with selfies, I do feel that it’s an obsession and my job is not to give selfies from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep. Luckily I’m not that famous. But I remember last week, I was in a hotel and I had an 8 AM call time. I called for breakfast and when I opened the door in my bathrobe, there was the guy who had come to deliver the food and the chef, to take a selfie at 7 am. It’s extremely agitating. I was like do you understand that you’ve not bothered to ask me if you can come to my door.
What’s the hardest part of being an actor today?
Rejection. What you want to do and what you end up doing sometimes can be different. You get rejected every day. Sometimes you can see a director’s face and know that he’s absolutely not liked a shot but he’s had to go ahead with it. That’s also rejection. I still audition for parts – not so much in India – because it’s a part of the job. And I want to mention here that Mukesh Chhabra is so good at taking auditions. I was so scared of auditioning and then he once told me to just trust him. He auditioned me for Badlapur and then for Netflix’s Sacred Games which he made so easy and fun.