Richa Chadda doesn’t mince words or beat round the bush. She is direct… just like the characters she plays with unblinking conviction. The award-winning actress speaks straight from the heart on movies, men and more…
It’s a cliché, but you really do think you know Richa Chadda from the troubled characters she plays. You’ve seen her play a 42 year old firebrand (when she was barely 23) in Gangs Of Wasseypur, a petty criminal in Tamanchey, hurl abuses with ease in Fukrey and tug at our heartstrings in Masaan. And then you meet her in person, and she talks, gushes, and bubbles with enthusiasm. The 30-year-old actress has just come from the swimsuit shoot, which she raves about not only because the loves working with the photographer Ashish Chawla (“I like his aesthetic sense,”) but also because it involved a pool (“Did you see how happy I was just splashing about in the water?)
Richa likes to talk. She answers questions directly and substantively. At times forcefully. But always affably. If she doesn’t understand what you’re getting at, she will give you the side-eye, but it comes off as genuine, not derisive. “I don’t take bullshit anymore. I don’t even entertain it.” What she’s talking about is the deep-rooted insecurity that actors face in the industry. It erupted suddenly, while narrating a recent incident. “Just yesterday I caught a fellow actor giggling during an intense scene. He was just trying to make me forget my lines. I called him out. I said ‘you can find other ways to express your insecurity. I am not going to budge. I may probably do the scene a little better. So you might want to back off.”
I also expected her to have a voice that you could hear over a jet engine, but it wasn’t. Her voice is almost meek. It cracks. It’s a kind voice. And possibly a little tired. Until she gets going. Talking to Richa is pretty straightforward. On one hand he is unfailingly polite, courteous, engaged and charming. So much for appearances. It’s been a busy career so far for Richa, but its trajectory is perhaps not unusual for a talented actress who has a couple awards and a standing ovation at the Cannes. What is unusual is the story of her life before her debut film Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! A history graduate from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Richa landed in Mumbai to be an actor.
While theatre and TV commercials kept the kitchen fires burning she kept auditioning for movie parts. Incidentally she also auditioned for Dev D a part which eventually went to Kalki Koechlin. Unfortunately for Richa Lucky Oye released to a concoction of ill luck and bad timing. The film which was Dibakar Banerjee’s much-awaited follow-up to his critically acclaimed and commercially successful debut, Khosla Ka Ghosla would have become one of Hindi cinema’s best had it not released just two days after the 26/11 attacks on 28 November 2008. It took several years for Richa to bag her second film Gangs of Wasseypur which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. And though the film earned her rare reviews it led to a string of similar roles – middle aged, angst-ridden woman. Until Mrighdeep Singh Lamba’s comedy drama Fukrey where Richa startled everyone with her performance as a crazy, foulmouthed and manipulative don. Then things took a gritty turn with a meaty role in Masaan. “People advised me not to do it as it was yet another ‘deglam’ role with no songs which could lead to shows and more money. They were only looking at the commercials of it. But I know a good script.”
Disappointments (read Tamanchey, Ram Leela and Sarbjit) haven’t deterred Richa from pursuing weirder, wilder and more interesting independent releases like Love Sonya a film on sex trafficking where she shares screen space with Demi Moore and Frieda Pinto. The making of the film affected the actress so much that she is now involved in rescuing and helping girls caught in the flesh trade. Richa even helped the girls lease a bungalow to stay in. But if you really want to see her face light up, ask her about her future plans. “I want a full life. I also want to set up a business which will be self sustaining. I can’t help people if I am broke. I don’t want to be an Ambani. Money for me is a unit of not working and surviving.” Richa also habours ambitions of turning a producer. Not the gold chain wearing, fat, hairy producer. But a producer who can put a good script and great talent together. Given her eye for staging, costuming, script and characters, it will be no surprise if she’d helm a great film on her first outing.
On the personal front, Richa is more than private. It is her job to invite attention, but she is not always happy with the consequences. She doesn’t mind being in the limelight for her films. For the rest of the year, she has defenses like a castle. “I have no time to socialize. On a day off I just vegetate, watch TV, meet family, relax with friends… I don’t see the point in being in the news all the time. Making a film is a lot of work – script readings, set making, look tests, fitness… where does that time come from? It comes from the time you save socializing with idiots.”
She likes her boundaries and dissents the paparazzi culture. “I was travelling for a family emergency to Delhi. Some photographer clicked a few pictures and the caption said “nailed the airport look.’ My aunt was shocked that I had all the time to dress up when there was a calamity at home. I had to make them understand that there are always photographers at the airport these days. It’s quite sad. I know it comes with the territory. But we don’t have to become like America.” Richa is turning more spiritual these days. A far cry from the gullible and pushover Richa in the initial years of her career. “I was young and flippant. Mad in the pursuit of some dream you think you have. I am a better person and a better friend now.” It shows. Richa is constantly checking on her staff so see if they are comfortable and have eaten.
Richa has long had a reputation of being uninhibited and brutally honest. She gets away with telling the truth which is quite unusual in an industry where even the top actors play it safe. “I don’t want to play that game or be among a bunch of loonies in a room. I don’t care about their approval and I don’t want to be them. I don’t think they want to be themselves either (laughs). I don’t think playing the game helps either. Only your work, capability and skill helps.” The last of which she has in abundance. The industry is making and dismantling stars too fast she believes. “The toast of town today is gone within two months. Actors these days are like porn stars who have the shortest shelf life.” She is referring to the concept of success in the Hindi film industry. The pretense is another thing get gets her goat. Especially at film screenings. “No one is going to tell the director that he made a shitty film. Or that he needs to spend more money to fix it.” Richa realizes that it stems from sense of insecurity. But she is not jaded or cynical. If at all she is now better at reading people, she confesses. That, after loosing projects, money and reputation in the early years of career.
Apart from loads of chutzpah and talent Richa is beautiful in person, even unprimped. Some actresses, I’ve noticed, look surprisingly androgynous off screen, gangly and curveless. Put baseball caps on them and give them badges and they could be scouts. Richa is different. She looks like a woman. She exudes womanness. No wonder she is oozing oomph in her next release Cabaret where she plays a bold cabaret dancer. The film is rumoured to be based on the life of Bollywood’s cabaret dancer Helen. “Cabaret is a different school of cinema and a different style of filmmaking. It needed a strong actor. It’s the story of a girl on the run,” she reveals. Richa is optimistic that the movie business is going to change. Better content will rule, she believes. “Big studios are going to run out of patience and money in dealing with the fraudulent Indian producer studio nexus. It’s going to come back to the single producers like Dharma and Excel. In 2013 Aamir Khan did Dhoom and in 2016 he did Dangal. I am happy to be a part of the change. Somehow the films we choose like Gangs of Wasseypur and Masaan and the risks we took is finally paying off.”
Matters of the heart
Richa who was in a fleeting relationship last year is currently single. This die-hard romantic wouldn’t mind wooing a man. “True liberation is when you stop expecting someone else to go down on their knees. I feel really bad for men. They have to buy diamonds, make the story special and are burdened with the belief that they have to make money.” The vegan and animal lover is looking for intelligent and liberal men. Money or looks don’t matter. Companionship, friendship and some amount of care do. “I can’t stand selfish men with huge egos. Or the ones who don’t read and are unaware of what’s happening in the world. I dated one such man and it was a nightmare. He never read a single book in his life but had an opinion on everything.”
Some More Richa
I am: Happy and content. Finally I am working with people I want to. I am at peace with my body, heart and mind.
Single or taken: Single and want to very taken. Maybe after the swimsuit cover!
Idea of fun: Being in nature, dancing, take pictures on my DSLR.
What touches my heart: A genuine heart felt compliment.
My man: I want someone who can understand me, look inside my soul and know that I can be vulnerable, weak and completely imperfect.
Advise to men: Stop being competitive with your woman. Appreciate her success. Don’t resent it. And if you want to compete, let it not be on the grounds of gender.
I love: To read, write and just lie on my bed with a book and the beautiful sea view from my home.
I hate: Creating an aura. It’s so fake and draining. I want to have fun while I am working and I want people around me to also have fun.
Diet Mantra: I am a vegetarian and mostly eat dal rice with ghee. On days when I am unable to stick to my diet I have a spoonful of ghee and gulkand before I leave. Ghee is good fat, great for the skin and clears your stomach. Gulkand is a natural antacid.
Fashion is: Important but how about appreciating originality? Everyone’s choking on choker necklaces. There is a lovely quote by Karl Lagerfeld – Trend is the last stage before tacky. It makes so much sense. You can buy a trend. It’s not necessary that you can carry it off.