Richa Chadha: ‘Shakeela is a loveable personality’

Actor Richa Chadha talks about playing a subject who rose to fame by sparking the revival of ‘B-grade’ Malayalam films during the ‘90s

It is wrong to stereotype Richa Chadha as an “arthouse actor”, but it is a term she claims to have picked up from the media’s description of her choice of films.

“[When I started in films] I wasn’t only going to do ‘a certain type’ of film because it was not practical. But good scripts don’t come very often into our lives, and we won’t always get to perform with people we love. Something like Masaan won’t happen again, soon. So for me, it is a balance between monetary consideration and the films I like to do. For that purpose [acting] is ‘a job’ that I love,” she explains.

Richa connects over phone from Mumbai where she is expecting the release of Shakeela, in which she plays the titular role. Scheduled for a theatrical release on December 25, the film is a biopic of South Indian actor Shakeela, whose claim to fame was via the many ‘B-grade’ Malayalam films she was a part of in the ‘90s.

“I found Shakeela to be an interesting figure who was foolish in taking panga (clash) with the big fish in the sea. Her personal life is so full of tragedy. It is also a classic tale of a family exploiting a girl in show business,” she says.

Richa Chadha | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Hindi language film is being dubbed and released in the four South Indian languages as well. Comparisons, says Richa, with The Dirty Picture are inevitable.

“The era [in which both the films are set] is similar. The characters are also cult-like in the South. So there will be comparisons but I am grateful it is not with somebody I don’t respect. I like Vidya Balan and everything she does,” the actor adds.

She does point out a key difference between Silk Smitha, on whose life The Dirty Picture was based upon, and Shakeela.

“In [Shakeela’s] case, she was not tremendously ambitious as Silk. She was just going with the flow and doing whatever her mother told her in order to survive. Silk, on the other hand, was quite a personality. She was part of many dignified projects; she did films with Kamal Haasan and the likes, and so she was very respected. I think Shakeela’s career only started because of Silk’s untimely demise,” Richa explains.

During the course of filming and in the pre-production stage, Richa’s interactions with Shakeela refined her perception of the actor’s personality.

Richa Chadha | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Shakeela is a loveable personality. I have had very real conversations with her. The treatment she got from her family, and her mother… you know, these things can scar you forever. But I did not find her bitter. It is as if she understands why they did what they did. She doesn’t think of her life as tragic. She has never cut a sorry figure and has always been proud to stand by the things she did. She knew the consequences of being upright and didn’t shy away from them. It was not a happy ending; she suffered… but that attitude is unique,” she says, adding, “I would like for her to have a good life and to be able to move with her head held high.”

The success of Shakeela’s films in the ‘90s brought about a revival of sorts to the ‘B-grade’ industry. Films featuring her often returned a profit. Whilst so, Shakeela decided to switch to mainstream films in the early noughties. Her characters in Tamil cinema, however, only served to leverage her earlier fame. Ask Richa what she makes of this, and she responds: “It says what it says… that we are hypocrites.”

Richa, however, is looking forward to the New Year; the actor has a series of projects lined up.

“I have a new web thriller series whose announcement will be made soon. There are other web series too that I will be a part of in 2021. Besides, I will be starting work on Fukrey 3, and then there is a film called Madam Chief Minister that I expect will release next year,” she adds.

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