MUMBAI — She is finally in a zone where she has no competition. A slew of powerful performances (never mind the films’ qualities or where they went commercially) has led to Richa Chadha, best known for her “Bholi Punjaban” acts in the “Fukrey” franchise, become someone who has her own distinct niche in both mainstream and the ‘other’ kind of cinema.

We meet the charming and naturally warm-natured lady at J.W. Marriott on the eve of the release of “Love Sonia.” She said that her character has the best arc in the film, and after watching it we agree. Chadha has “exterminated” everyone else histrionically in the film, including the protagonist!

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: What was your research like on this film?

A: I normally like to research every role. Here I met actual sex-workers in Mumbai and saw their living conditions. My character is a mix of two or three such women. Their lifestyles are awful, as they wake up only around 4 p.m. and also their issues like sending their illegitimate kids to school and so on, their diseases and the conditions they live in.

Tabrez Noorani’s research was extensive — Rajkummar Rao’s character in the film is modeled on him, for Tabrez actually did all the things Rajkummar does as a social activist in the movie. And the girls’ back stories were very upsetting. One girl was rescued but could never find her way home as she only knew it was located after a turn from next to a peepal tree — she never knew her village’s name!

Another 12-year-old was sold by her 16-year-old male cousin who told her people that he had sent her to a good school. He just wanted money to buy a bike! And we talk about Rakshabandhan! I spoke to almost 200 girls, and not one was in the profession by choice!

These girls were caged, tortured, kept hungry till they agreed to do what they were told. Their babies would sometimes be kept under a bed on which they were with a customer! And some serviced 30 to 40 customers in a day!

Q: You had to take therapy to get out of your character.

A: Yes, such roles get to you. Trauma ho jaata hai! I work hard on my characters as I do not want to be superficial, whether it is “Gangs Of Wasseypur,” “Fukrey” or this one. Here, too, I had to take care of my body language and my voice modulation. I had to look what I was in the film.

When I went back home, I would watch “Comedy Circus” or some light show to unwind.  Today, I think that switch-on switch off is very important. This film was the most traumatic psychologically. I would get nightmares all the time. And finally, yes, I had to take therapy.

Q: Your film does not offer a solution. Do you suggest anything?

A: Look, we all are equally guilty. We cannot just point fingers at those who sell the girls in their family, those who bring them here, the brothel people, the corrupt officers, the clients…everyone shares the blame. It’s in the way we look at a girl. Even when a nun is raped, we blame the woman!

Q: You can never be slotted. What attracts you to a role?

A: Let me put it this way. If you offer me a role in “Batman” I will opt for the Joker. Here too, I think that my character has the best arc.

Q: How were you cast in this film?

A: Tabrez watched me in ‘Masaan’ and then saw me somewhere and was struck by the difference between the character and me.

Q: You are now doing the biopic of the South star Shakeela. How do you see the role?

A: I have greater responsibility when the character is alive.  It is not like ‘The Dirty Picture’ where the film was made after Silk Smitha’s death. I loved Shakeela’s exciting and controversial story.

Q: You have met her. Is she happy with the script and the way the film is shaping up? And with you playing her role?

A: She is, though I look completely different from her! She is a very honest woman, an elder sister or a mother was how she came across to me. And she was so particular about small things. I was wearing green lenses and she saw them and said that I should wear Sterling Gray because she wore them and never touched green ones! At the same time, she is such a carefree woman.

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