Richa Chadha on 'Heeramandi' role: Risk that it'll get lost in eight episodes, glad it didn't

04:18 PM May 22, 2024 | PTI |

New Delhi: Dancing with a 10-kg vest, 99 takes for a shot never used and the danger her small role would go unnoticed in an ensemble cast. The memories were many and so was the risk, and it all paid off, says Richa Chadha about her role as Lajjo in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s lavishly-mounted ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’.


Chadha said she was initially worried her role as the lovelorn courtesan, who features in only the first two of the eight-episode series, would get lost. But she has always believed in “quality over quantity” and that didn’t bother her.

“I’m really happy that the risk paid off because it was a risky part to play. It’s so small and there’s always a risk that it’ll get lost in the eight episodes with all the actors that are there. (It’s a) big star cast and other people are also getting a lot of love. So for that reason, I was afraid a little bit that it might get lost, but I’m really glad it hasn’t,” Chadha said.

The 37-year-old star went through a rigorous process to bring out the tragedy of a courtesan, who dreams of a romantic future while drowning out her reality in alcohol. “Women like Lajjo are all around us. I think that’s why there’s so much love for this character even though she is from the 1940s and we are in 2024 now… There is this feeling of sympathy because everyone’s had their heart broken in some way at some point. I’m yet to meet someone who hasn’t liked the role because everyone can relate to a wounded soul,” she said.

The actor said she was confident people would connect to the feeling of heartbreak, but did not expect the praise to be “so unanimous” and come from not just critics and fans but also from the industry peers.


“I also wanted to drive the point home that the industry tends to pigeonhole you. After a point, it’s up to the actor to break that. Had I done another character in the show, it’s possible that I would have been throughout the eight episodes and I would have still brought something new to it, but there would have been no element of surprise.”

The challenges along the way were many. The actor, who learned kathak from a young age, rehearsed with a weighted vest of almost 10 kg for her final dance where, at one point, she is just whirling. Chadha said it was difficult to pull it off because Bhansali changed the choreography at the last minute to keep things fresh.

“I had to ensure that my feet don’t drop the autopilot of the dance because she’s having an emotional breakdown, she’s not going to stop dancing. She has learnt it from a young age and it shows that someone who knows dance is doing this. It was important to not miss the beat, the footwork and to match the emotional turmoil with the camera movement.”

Chadha remembers giving 99 takes for a shot that wasn’t even used in the series. Bhansali wanted the ‘sehra’ (headdress made of flowers) that she’s wearing during her dance to fall on her face in a certain way and they kept working on it for take after take before he decided to drop it.

“This is the thrill of working with a director like Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In the moment, he is so alive that he doesn’t remember who he is or who you are. He wants that memorable shot and he’ll go to any length to have it. So between the both of us, we were able to bring our emotions to that moment and hold it till we got the perfect shot.”

The actor is happy to have worked with Bhansali again after ‘Ramleela’. ‘Heeramandi’, which marks Bhansali’s streaming debut, premiered on Netflix on May 1.

Meanwhile, Chadha is expecting her first child with husband Ali Fazal and plans to take “a well-deserved break” after promoting ‘Heeramandi’ to prepare for the next phase in her life. “When I first heard of the release date, I was a little concerned about just sitting for interviews or travelling for promotions but I guess life has its own plans. So this is what it is. I just go with the flow. And, of course, I’m about to enter a very exciting phase. I think I deserve a well-earned rest and focus on my health.”

Other than acting, Chadha and Fazal have turned producers. Their first project, ‘Girls Will Be Girls’, has already won two awards in the Sundance Film Festival and is now slated to be screened under the Cannes Écrans Juniors at the 2024 edition of the Cannes Film Festival.

The actor, who made her debut with ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’ and has featured in films such as ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Masaan’ and ‘Sarabjit’, said she and Fazal are striving to “make small changes” in the industry to make it more inclusive.

“When we enter the industry, we know what it’s about. Questions about a level playing field don’t bother me… There is no level playing field in life and the industry is nothing but a microcosm of that. I don’t think we’ve consciously tried to do anything extra or be an evangelist for any kind of change. We’ve just taken from our own experiences things we wished were different about the business and we’ve tried to see if we can make those small changes.”


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