March 24, 2023

Bhumi Pednekar: Sexual identity or a gender that I relate to cannot be the only thing that defines me – Exclusive! – Times of India

Bhumi Pednekar is vocal and proud about subjects like inclusivity, freedom and acceptance. That’s why she instantly struck a chord with her character Sumi in Badhaai Do, a woman who opts for a lavender marriage to so she can navigate society while being homosexual. In a candid conversation, Bhumi tells us about all there is to love in Badhaai Do and her newfound friendship and respect for co-star Rajkummar Rao. She also talks about taking a stand for Shah Rukh Khan and spreading love with her viral saree, too. Read on…

Having played Sumi in Badhaai Do and having watched her on-screen now, how do you feel about playing this character and what has been your biggest takeaway?

I was really lucky that I got to play ‘Sumi’. She’s so vulnerable, headstrong and fiery, she has lived her whole life in claustrophobia but she has survived it. So I loved her survival spirit. I think she’s funny, witty, she keeps Shardul (Rajkummar Rao’s character) in his place, she really gives back to Raj and I feel like our relationship is like Tom and Jerry in the movie, so it becomes refreshing. You always see a hero and a heroine romantically opposite each other but here, we are friends, we are companions, roommates, we are husband and wife, but by the end of it they are just two human beings in a similar situation and they are so connected to each other. What I loved most about Sumi is the fact that she’s fearful, she’s not always right, she’s not always full of courage, she’s scared, yet she does bold things in the film.

There’s still a lot of stigma attached to how homosexuals are perceived and accepted by society in India. Were you apprehensive about receiving similar reactions to your performance?

I have had many scripts in the past where I have had an opportunity to play a character of the LGBTQIA community, but the politics of the film never worked for me. I always felt like they are desensitizing the subject, at the end of it, it just becomes about convenience and pleasing the audience. What was beautiful about ‘Badhaai Do’ is that it’s not a film made to please or to make the audience feel comfortable, it makes you think, but you’re thinking while you’re laughing. There are so many things in the film that will make you laugh and then you’ll think, ‘Should I be laughing at this?’. Anybody who’s woke, sensible and sensitive has had that moment. This film is very personal to me and the politics of the film had to be very correct for me because I have so many friends and family members who are from the LGBTQIA community. I have lived a life with them very closely. I have been a part of many coming-out love stories, I have been a part of people feeling discriminated against or my friends having nights where they have cried, or moments of joy when they come out to their families and their families have said, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s okay! We still love you!’. There have also been many who were completely not accepted. So when anybody who’s going through this dilemma sees Raj and me in this film, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that is my story, that has happened to me’. Obviously not everyone will connect like that, but there are moments.

How difficult or easy was it for you to transition into your character?

I was very conscious even while playing her, I did not want people to feel like there’s a heroine who’s playing the role. I wanted it to be as raw as it can be, the lack of make-up, the pimple that you see on my face, the dirty hair, I just wanted to be as relatable as possible.

Were you able to relate to the fact that our family and parents are the first people who have to deal with the problem of acceptance towards our sexuality?

Not just the parents but even the younger generation struggles with it at times, because it is about social conditioning, it is about what your parents teach you. So if your parents teach you that this is not normal and that a woman loving a woman is wrong or it’s a ‘paap’ or whatever silly stuff that people say, definitely there’s a generation that completely believes in not accepting, but there’s a large part of society that irrespective of their age, also believes in it.

Did you at any point during the making of Badhaai Do get overwhelmed and emotional because of the emotions and feelings of your character?

There are many moments where I got emotional because there were so many times that I went back to a memory of a friend who was suffering, a family member who was suffering. The narrative of the film is comedy, it’s a film that really makes you laugh but you really don’t realise when the ‘sur’ of the film changes and it just hits you. I think that is the only experience that I had when I watched the film. There were many emotional moments during the making. There were days when, Raj and I were doing a comic scene and the entire set would laugh and when we were doing an emotional scene, the entire set would cry.

Your film speaks of a right for inclusivity and it reflects on the fact that we still have a long way to go till everyone opens up and accepts individual choices. Of late, we’ve had so many conversations about marriages, adoption, freedom of choice and speech. Do you feel we are slowly and steadily heading in the right direction?
I feel like as individuals, we need to have the freedom to live the life that we want. It can be the freedom to love a person, but sexual identity or a gender that I relate to cannot be the only thing that defines me. Definitely it’s a long fight, just acceptance among your family is the first step out of the closet, then the closet becomes bigger, then it is the people around you, the neighbour, society, system, laws… it feels like the closet just keeps getting bigger. When does the closet break open? When there’s no kind of discrimination and there’s a long way ahead for that.

Was it difficult for you to do romantic scenes with your co-star Chum Darang?

Not at all! Look I was playing a character, even when I’m playing a straight girl, by the end of it the man opposite is an actor who I’m performing with and these are two characters that are together. So I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. In fact I feel that my chemistry with Chum is really special.

Have you ever had a woman falling in love with you?

Not yet. Not that I know of. Even if that ever happens, I’ll be extremely flattered..

How was the experience of working with Rajkummar Rao in this movie?

I think our chemistry in Badhaai Do is good because I feel Sumi and Shardul were written that way. Raj has become one of my closest friends. We have done two films together and I’m so thankful that ‘Badhaai Do’ was the first film with him because, I don’t know if it’s Sumi and Shardul’s chemistry that translated into me and Raj being such good friends or Raj and I became such good friends that it came into the chemistry our characters. He’s a phenomenal co-star, he’s a phenomenal human being, he’s one of the closest people in my life right now. Badhaai Do has been such a special film. I think Raj will always have such a special place in my heart like Ayushmann does, because he was my first hero. I feel like Raj has elevated my work as an actor and I hope I did the same for him.

Badhaai Ho, the first movie in the franchise, was with Ayushmann Khurrana, one of your favourite co-stars. And now Badhaai Do, features you with Rajkummar, another one of your favourites. Do you feel you have a special connection with this franchise?

Absolutely! ‘Badhaai Ho‘ is a film worth celebrating. The Badhaai franchise is about celebrating and making films in a way that is meant for a family audience where an entire family can sit together, watch a film, enjoy it, laugh, but these films also leave you with a message. It is about de-stigmatizing a lot of things from society as well. ‘Badhaai Ho’ is one of Ayushmann’s most loved films and I really hope that kind of love gets translated to our film as well.

Recently you also spoke in support of Shah Rukh Khan blowing a dua at Lata Mangeshkar’s funeral. Even though you, too, got trolled by some netizens, was lending support to SRK and his gesture the important thing to do?

I did not know about the trolling. I just shared that image because I feel like this is what India is. India is about all of us coexisting together without any discrimination or bias. As I said, love is love and equality for all is what I believe in.

On the subject of love, your saree with inscriptions of the word love in different languages became quite the internet sensation. Can you tell us something about it?

Well it’s a great saree made by Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, it was from their prime collection and the day I saw that collection I told them that I’m going to wear this saree when ‘Badhaai Ho’ comes out. I feel that the concept of that entire collection is beautiful because it has love written in different Indian languages and it is something that really moved me and it is exactly what ‘Badhaai Do’ represents, it is about celebrating love, love for yourself, love for your partner, love for humanity.

Do you have a message for your fans for Valentine’s Day?

The message to my fans for Valentine’s day is that, my plan is to go watch ‘Badhaai Do’ and you must do the same. Make your Valentine’s day special by going with your partner, your family, loved ones, go celebrate this film. Go celebrate the month of love with ‘Badhaai Do’.

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