Bollywood: Sonali Bendre on her acting comeback and a change in perspective post battling cancer

The actress is making her OTT debut with new series The Broken News.

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Tue 7 Jun 2022, 1:59 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Jun 2022, 3:29 PM

Actress Sonali Bendre, whose last major appearance on screen was in the popular television series Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Ye (2014-2015), is marking a return to full-time acting with her OTT debut in The Broken News, a ZEE5 Global release.

Sonali, a former model who made her acting debut in 1994 with Aag and has been part of many major films in Bollywood as well as Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Marathi cinema, is excited that her comeback series, The Broken News, is “a big reflection of our society today”.

In a Zoom chat with City Times, the Sarfarosh star who battled metastatic cancer in 2018 shared why it was important for her to be part of projects that reflected her evolution as a person as well as an actress.

The Broken News, an official adaptation of the 2018 British series Press that starred Ben Chaplin and Priyanga Burford, revolves around two rival news networks - Awaaz Bharati and Josh 24/7 News - and the private and professional struggles of a group of dynamic journalists.

Sonali plays Amina Qureshi, editor-in-chief of Awaaz Bharati, described as an “ethical and credible news channel”, while Jaideep Ahlawat essays the role of Dipankar Sanyal, head of Josh 24/7 News, which is “India’s No.1 news channel as per TRPs but believes in brash sensationalism and invasive journalism”. Shriya Pilgaonkar plays Radha Bhargava, an idealistic but disillusioned scribe.

Many news channels in India have drawn flak over the years for their sensationalist approach to the coverage of key events and issues, often polarizing audiences in the process. The Broken News may well be a case of art imitating life as it delves behind the scenes of how two conflicting networks run, and raises questions of ethics, business, politics and integrity.

Sonali shared that her OTT debut with this timely and socially relevant series was “a long time coming” and that she feels “great” to be a part of it.

“I was waiting for the script, I was waiting for that role, I was waiting for a story that I would enjoy coming back with.”

Sonali, who was last seen on the big screen in a cameo in 2013's Once Upon A Time in Mumbai Dobaara, said The Broken News was about “fact versus sensational news”. She was drawn to the show because it was “so relevant today”.

“You can identify with it and you can see it happening. I also think it’s a conversation which is so ripe and needs to happen, and it’s not really happening as much. Stories, whether in book form, or as movies, series or whatever (else), are a reflection of society. I think this is what society is today, and I found that The Broken News was a big reflection of it; that is what attracted me to the story. Of course, I have to add that my role was important! I love the character I am playing.”

Behind the ‘news’ scenes

She hopes viewers upon watching The Broken News “kind of understand how the whole process - news media and business - works, behind the scenes".

“What are the compulsions, what are the choices. How do the wheels kind of move. I think once you start getting an idea of this, you will be able to identify… is it knowledge or is it information? The difference between the two is very important to understand, because we are all very confused about information being knowledge; it’s not!”

How much of a ‘news’ person is she in real life? Does she ever get drawn into the sometimes infamous ‘debates’ that occur on TV? Sonali remarked she was “one of those people who still reads news”.

“I am a bit of a reader, so I still like to read my news! But you have a similar equation here, because The Broken News is based on the BBC series Press, which was about two newspapers and their values. So the series has been adapted to today’s times, but that’s what it stands for.”

The Broken News also features Jaideep Ahlawat (Paatal Lok) and Shriya Pilgaonkar (Mirzapur), two rising stars on the OTT scene. Sonali said she looked forward to working with “new voices and new age actors” in her return to mainstream acting, emphasizing that it was “the beauty of working today”.

“It’s so exciting to know what is happening today; the way they work, the way they think and interpret something. And that applies to directors, writers and the creative people involved also. There is a different kind of thought process and (there are) different voices, and that for me is very exciting. So, I want to tell newer stories - that’s what I am looking forward to.”

Working through new challenges

When asked what the challenges were of shooting again after such a long time, Sonali, who has spoken earlier about the effects cancer therapy had on her memory, told us about the “brain fog” she experienced when trying to memorize her lines.

“At one point of time I could read my dialogues once or maybe twice and I knew them. I never forgot them; I never had that issue. So with the brain fog, how I was going to remember my lines was a bit of a challenge, till I realized there were enough people who never remembered their lines in two readings in any case! And they definitely had a way whereby they worked on it and did remember their lines eventually.”

The actress commented on how she felt the need to change and understand that she was not the same person anymore. “I have grown, I have evolved and with the growing and evolution, there are certain good things and certain not-so-good things. So I don’t remember my lines, but hey, so what? I will work around it, form a new pattern of working and figure it out. I think by the end of the series I figured out how to navigate that process and it was exciting!”

Did the experience of battling cancer and inspiring so many with her grit and courage change who she is as a person? Does she look at life and work differently now?

“It’s not just me. Anybody who has been through a life-altering incident has to change, and would be a changed person. I think it happens because when you have limited time and don’t know if you are going to make it, there is an immense amount of clarity that happens at that point. All your life you spend not being clear about things and suddenly it’s like a flash of clarity that happens and you’re like, if I make it, I want it to be like this…

“I’ve just stuck to that. Every time I start forgetting that visual, I just remind myself, what was that clarity, what was it that I promised myself, what was it that I wanted to do if I had a chance? And I think that has been the single biggest life-altering thing. Getting that clarity.”

Sonali hopes The Broken News expands her acting opportunities. “It really depends on what scripts are going to come my way. I’ve taken my time, chosen my subject and I hope I’ll give various storytellers an opportunity to see me in a different light and come to me with interesting stories.”

'The Broken News' will premiere on June 10 in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada on ZEE5 Global.

More news from OTT