Richa Chadha: Democracy is when you have freedom of expression
The actor on the state of artistic freedom in India and exploring her ‘softer side’ with Lahore Confidential
Contemporary actors with a literary bent are hard to come by. An exception would be Richa Chadha, who’s often spoken about her love for Hindi and Urdu literature, and whose interests have come to cinematic fruition in her next. Releasing on ZEE5 this week, Kunal Kohli’s Lahore Confidential is about an Indian woman who’s sent on intelligence duty to Pakistan. While on mission, she falls for a charismatic man (Arunodoy Singh) who shares her fondness for Urdu poetry.
Mixing espionage with romance, Lahore Confidential is Richa’s fourth release in a short while. She was recently seen in the biopic Shakeela, the political drama Madam Chief Minister and the short film 55 km/sec.
We spoke to Richa about her frantic release spree, exploring her ‘softer side’ with Lahore Confidential, and the uncertainty over artistic freedom in India.
You’ve hit the ground running in 2021. Was it always planned this way?
I’d been working nonstop for the past two to three years. Everything I did was slated to come out in 2020 — but then we know what happened. For instance, Madam Chief Minister was supposed to come in August last year but had to be pushed. So all that backlog is now clearing. In fact, I have another big Netflix release coming up as well.
Lahore Confidential appears to follow a classic template. What drew you on board for the film?
I was excited to play the part of an ordinary woman who’s sent on a challenging mission. People keep telling me that I only play strong characters. I mostly get the smart, conniving parts (laughs). I hadn’t played someone who’s also vulnerable and confused. Sometimes when you try to do a softer part, it can backfire with people saying ‘apne isme acting nahi kiya’ (you didn’t act in this one).
Who are some of your favorite Urdu poets?
I love Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Josh Malihabadi, Iqbal, Ghalib…. There’s also Nida Fazli, another beautiful contemporary poet who passed away recently. I love that era when people could respond with a nice couplet and it would get the point across and also sting. My co-star, Arunoday, loves to write poetry in English and it was great to have someone to jam with.
Madam Chief Minister stirred a debate over Dalit representation in Bollywood. There were also threats of physical violence against you.
About Madam Chief Minister, I do think we were at fault with the first poster. I kept waiting for official communication to go out regarding that. It was only once my director (Subhash Kapoor) spoke about it that I stepped in and expressed my thoughts.
I do feel some of the anger over the poster was valid. But the other stuff like tongue-cutting and death threats don’t rattle me. They were really from two-bit politicians seeking publicity. A dangerous precedent of that was set some years ago when someone got a lot of publicity on Deepika’s behalf. So I did not pay any heed to that.
You’d also tweeted about the Tandav situation. It seems certain subjects and characters are being deemed off the table for actors/storytellers.
I haven’t watched Tandav yet because I’ve been shooting. But it is true that there is a growing sense of stifling of artistic freedom. Today, people can get arrested for a joke they are about to crack. I think stuff like that reflects poorly on us as a society. What is democracy if not a battle of culture? Democracy is when we have freedom of expression. When we don’t, it leaves us in a tricky space.
What are your upcoming projects for the year?
Besides the Netflix film, I will start shooting for a new show (Candy with Ronit Roy). We’ll also go on floors with the third installment of Fukrey. Then I’m doing another show which has not been announced. There’s a lot of work lined up till September-October.