Bhumi Pednekar: I’m an ardent fan of spine-chilling thrillers
The actor, along with co-stars Arshad Warsi and Mahie Gill, takes us through the journey of Durgamati, a murky horror-thriller releasing on Amazon Prime Video
It hasn’t been a particularly thrilling year for remakes. Just last month, Raghava Lawrence’s Laxmii crashed and burned, assailing audiences with its scattered plotting and a shrieking Akshay Kumar. Now, another remake of a bonafide Southern hit is upon us. Durgamati, an adaptation of director G Ashok’s own 2018 Tamil-Telugu film Bhaagamathie, is releasing on Amazon Prime Video on December 11. Like Laxmii, it’s another violent horror story centred on revenge: Chanchal (Bhumi Pednekar), an imprisoned IAS officer, is shifted to the infamous ‘Durgamati Haveli’ by a team of cops, who wish to interrogate her about a local politician. It doesn’t go as planned, as Chanchal is possessed by an ancient spirit and old secrets are unveiled.
“I am not usually up for doing remakes because the expectation is high and we’ve seen remakes go horribly wrong,” says Bhumi, who’s stepping into the horror space for the first time. “Having said that, I’m super excited about Durgamati and it was an honour to play the lead in a conspiracy thriller. Being an ardent fan of spine-chilling thrillers myself, I was delighted to be a part of such a gripping story.”
Durgamati, as evident from the trailer, falls in the tradition of recent Indian female-led horror films — other examples from this year would be Bulbbul and Kaali Khuhi. These films may begin dark and grotesque, but they often end on a note of moral uplift — with a much-wronged character exacting revenge or restoring order to society. Without spoiling anything, Bhumi assures Durgamati is firm on its messaging.
“I have never been part of a film I felt is not correct,” she says. “There is a lot that needs to change and if I can use my craft, my voice, and my medium to bring about a positive change around me, I will be a lucky person. The priority is to entertain the audience, but I always make sure I leave them with more than a couple of laughs.”
Given how often she plays women from the heartland, with accents and demeanors different from hers, Bhumi has a long preparatory process for each film. Not for Durgamati, though. Chanchal — originally played by Anushka Shetty in Bhaagamathie — was a protagonist she could relate to and chose more to focus on her mindset than anything else. “Because Chanchal is an officer, there is a certain air about her, her job, and a certain pride that she has for the same. That’s one reason I could connect with her because I’m proud of being an Indian.”
In the film, Arshad Warsi plays Ishwar Prasad, an influential politician who comes under the CBI’s radar. The character was originally portrayed by Jayaram in his Telugu debut. Arshad admits it was fun to step out of his ‘comic zone’ and try something different. “For me, doing a serious film is like a vacation,” Arshad says. “I was initially reluctant to see the original film but my director insisted. Still, I made sure I did not watch the whole thing. Mr Jayaram is a terrific actor and I did not want to get influenced by his performance.”
Equally, he wanted to escape the clichés associated with politician roles. “When I did Circuit (in the Munna Bhai series), I wanted him to be different from other tapori characters people had played. Similarly, on this one, I’ve tried to make Ishwar Prasad more novel and watchable.”
The project was just as clutter-breaking for Mahie Gill, who has traded up her flowing red sarees for the slick power-wear of a CBI officer. “A lot of people complimented me on how I look completely different,” Mahie laughs. “In that sense it was a great opportunity for me to break my image.”
Coming from an army background, Mahie was attuned to the tough officer talk in the interrogation scenes. Most of the scenes were filmed in actual mansions in Bhopal. “There were multiple long interrogations we shot,” Mahie reveals. “It was exhausting for both me and Bhumi, but we had great fun doing it.”