Richa Chadha gets political with 'Madam Chief Minister'
The actress opened up about her latest film that releases this weekend in the UAE.
When Bollywood actress Richa Chadha went from playing a glamorous adult film star (Shakeela) to a tough-as-nails female politician in her latest, Madam Chief Minister, you’d think the transition would have been extremely challenging.
But Richa, who survived pandemic-hit Bollywood last year with impactful parts in Panga, Ghoomketu, Shakeela and the anthology Unpaused, is not one to let the intensity of a character get in the way of her real life, or her next role.
Over a Zoom call she revealed how she kicks back in between films and ensures the journey from one role to the next is smooth. “I had time in between (Shakeela and Madam Chief Minister). It’s just that films are releasing back to back because of the Covid lockdown and how there was nothing in the theatres for a long time. It was challenging, yes, but I actually don’t do method so I don’t get terribly impacted by my characters. I do the prep work, I do the shooting and then I take some time off and do fun things and live a normal life; I play with my cats. I don’t let the characters I play affect me or get to my head a lot.”
However, the Fukrey actress does admit that Madam Chief Minister, the story of a gritty female politician who battles caste politics as well as gender biases, was “her toughest role till date”.
“The character is a fighter and a survivor. She is someone who battles the double whammy of caste oppression and gender misogyny in the politics of North India. And despite her background, and almost being killed several times, she rises to the top and becomes the chief minister of a populous state. So that journey excited me; the nature of the character and what an oddball she was really excited me. I hope people can see that and (I hope) they watch the film because it’s both exciting and entertaining.”
The trailer showcases Richa’s character Tara as extremely determined and strong-willed, a woman who doesn’t let even personal tragedy stand in the way of pursuing what she believes in. Does Richa feel Madam Chief Minister will convey a message to viewers, especially women?
“There will be a comment on caste-based discrimination. There will be a subtle comment on the nature of power and what it can do to individuals, even well-meaning, well-brought up, good, noble people. And like her, I think the only thing in life all of us want to do is survive, tide over the bad and enjoy the good. And that’s exactly what this character does throughout her life. The only message would perhaps be to not be afraid of anything and go after what you want, and do so while benefiting others, not just for your own selfish reasons.”
How much of herself did Richa invest in her Madam Chief Minister character and what has she learned in the process? “I did a lot of prep work both internal and in terms of reading and learning new things, learning how to ride the bike, the physicality of this tomboy character, her diction. Of course when you have to play a part as strong as this, you have to draw a lot from yourself and put it into your work. I think there is a lot of me in this character but that’s only because the character is using my instrument, my body, my voice. She (Tara) is a really smart, confident and completely fearless person, I think much more fearless than me. I think the character has given me a lot and taught me a lot.”
Richa who believes a film that revolves around politics will always cause a stir, recently addressed a controversy regarding Madam Chief Minister’s first poster which was released on January 5 and criticized for allegedly stereotyping the Dalit community. As someone who has spent over a decade in the industry (she made her debut with Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! In 2008), does she feel better equipped to deal with controversies now?
“In the beginning I didn’t have to deal with any controversies at all. When you make a political film things are bound to happen and get spoken and written about. So I wasn’t surprised that there was controversy but obviously I think there was an oversight from our side; that’s what we realized and we made amends the very next day (the poster was retracted). I even put out a statement.”
She admits that one is never “well-equipped to deal with anything like public shaming or trolling” adding, “Sometimes it can startle you but I definitely don’t let it affect my mind space or mental health or work.”
Bollywood stars are often subject to trolling and when asked if there are ever phases where she switches off from social media, she said, “I routinely do that. I make my account private - both Instagram and Twitter. When I feel like I have gotten into a zone where I am scrolling mindlessly, then I stop. But it’s never because of trolling. It’s always because I don’t have the time to invest in, or waste time in mindless scrolling or useless engagements or fights with people. So it’s only for my focus and for me to do work in the real world and not just in the online world.”
While Bollywood was adversely affected by Covid-19 Richa believes the industry will bounce back soon. She spoke of both personal and professional lessons learned during the lockdown and ongoing pandemic. “Personally this lockdown period only reminded me of how little we actually need to stay happy in life. Of course I am again speaking from privilege, I didn’t have to worry about the basic necessities of life, I had a home, I had food; but you realize you don’t need to be a consumer all the time, you don’t need to be surrounded by people all the time, or be at parties to enjoy yourself. The little things of life can give you as much joy and make life wholesome and meaningful.”
“As far as our industry is concerned there is already a lot of introspection and changes underway. Some incoming changes have just been accelerated due to the pandemic like the growth of OTT networks. So I think the industry is kind of in flux right now and we will find our feet sooner or later.”
Richa hopes to continue doing work that she believes in and remains thankful for love and support both within India and outside it. She gave a shout out to her fans in the UAE saying, “The UAE is always special! I just want to say to all the people living outside the country, I know that films become a really important part of your life when you are away from home. That’s something I notice when I travel abroad or when I attend a function like IIFA or an international film festival. You see how much people value Hindi cinema and it always makes me proud to belong to this industry which at least so far had the legacy of being inclusive, being secular, and I hope that we can continue that way.”
“We are very humbled by your love. I don’t want to make a plea for you to watch my film because you’ll watch it if you have to, but genuinely I am always grateful when I travel outside the country and hear stories about how films become such an important part of expat culture.”
Madam Chief Minister releases this weekend in the UAE.