This has been a busy year for Radhika Apte, who was seen in big-banner films like Padman and Andhadhun, as well as in a whole host of Netflix specials, including Sacred Games and Ghoul. She tells Bhumika Popli why she considers acting to be a means of self-discovery, and how she uses criticism as a tool for self-improvement. 

 

“Whatever the role, Radhika apt hai.” This was tweeted by Netflix India’s official handle as a response to those who had been trolling the video streaming platform for its Radhika Apte fixation. Three of the biggest Netflix India specials, released consecutively this year, have all featured Apte. We saw her in Lust Stories as Kalindi, a liberated woman exploring different notions of love. Then, as the RAW agent Anjali Mathur in Sacred Games. And as Nida Rahim, a soldier, in Ghoul.

Post-Ghoul, Apte was yet again chosen for another big-ticket venture by Netflix, a film titled Omnipresent. After the film’s trailer was released, the usual Apte-lives-at-Netflix memes started doing the rounds. In a video response, posted with the tweet mentioned above, the executive producer of Omnipresent, Vikramaditya Motwane, said, “We had to have Radhika in this film. What would you have? The success we had with her in the past… It had to be her. The only thing we had to do was to make it more exciting for her because…(it’s) Radhika!”

Apte was recently in Delhi to promote her latest film, Baazaar. When asked about the unending stream of online jokes on her association with Netflix, she said, “I didn’t read the comments at the time, when they were freshly tweeted. I was on a break in London. Only much later, when I went through those, was I surprised. I thought, how can you be trolled for ‘working’? The memes, nevertheless, were very funny and I didn’t take them badly. I thought of them as really good.  And what Netflix did [by responding to the trolls in the same vein] was amazing. I think it was very smart.”

Radhika Apte with Ayushmann Khurrana in a still from Andhadhun.

Now in her early 30s, Apte has already earned the kind of reputation that takes decades to consolidate in Bollywood. She comes from a non-film background and her family has no connections to showbiz. On the strength of her talent alone, Apte has made a name for herself in the industry. Today, she is among the most sought-after actresses in Indian cinema. Two of the biggest hits of the year, Padman and Andhadhun, featured her. And there are certainly more to come.

But her road to success hasn’t been all that smooth. There were many challenges on the way, difficulties to be negotiated. In her past interviews, Apte has talked about her early days of struggle in Bombay, when she was earning very little doing theatre.

After those difficult years doing theatre, acting became second nature to Apte. More than a means to earn a living, it became a workshop where she learned about herself and about life. She says, “I think it is teaching me empathy, it is teaching me how to not be upset and angry and understand where people come from and let them be. That’s what is happening in personal terms if you ask me. On another level, I feel this is one of those very gifted professions in a way because the number of people you meet and the amount of stories you come across every day are enormous and there is nothing more challenging than having one’s creativity challenged.”

Apte in a still from Ghoul.

She responded to this challenge by taking up different kinds of roles, even if they made her feel out of her depth. She says, “It’s so funny how you sometimes come across certain parts that are somehow in sync with what’s going on in your personal life. It is like you attract certain stories towards you. And often, you have to play a part which probably resembles people you don’t appreciate in real life. And then you have to play those roles convincingly and actually step into their shoes.”

One glance at Apte’s filmography should be enough to convince anyone of her versatility. Unconventional roles remain her default choice even today. “You have to select from what you have been offered. And you choose whatever is more exciting among the roles you have been asked to choose from. I come from a non-film background and maybe that’s why what people call ‘unconventional’ roles are the most normal ones for me, because such are the people I can relate to. Those are the people I see around. I find that these roles are easier to pick from the ones which feature people I can’t relate to at all. My roles that people think of as unconventional are actually quite conventional if you ask me. Those are the kinds of characters I see around me,” she says.

Besides being an expressive actor, Apte is also known for her vocal and upfront real-life persona. She once slammed a journalist on being asked about a leaked ‘sex scene’ from her movie Parched. She said, “I am not ashamed of anything.”

Apte at a promotional event for her recently released film Baazaar, at DLF Cinépolis in Delhi.

About the #MeToo movement as well, Apte has been characteristically forthright. In a BBC interview, she had said, “I have started talking about it openly… I do understand and empathise with a lot of women in the industry who are scared to talk about these things.”

Apte likes to go with the flow. She stopped worrying about work a long time ago. “I have stopped wondering what’s going to come,” she tells Guardian 20. “Whenever I have looked forward to something, a better thing has come up.”

Nevertheless, she constantly works on her acting skills, without taking the criticism to heart or letting the praise go to her head. She says, “I never remember compliments. I remember the criticism. To that, I listen more carefully. You are always judged for your performances and I make sure to listen to constructive criticism.”

Acting in Bollywood is not an easy career to sustain. There have been many who lost the plot right after a couple of massive hits. It remains an industry where an actor’s survival depends on how he or she copes with competition. So for Radhika Apte, what is the most challenging thing about being an actor? “To not lose yourself to insecurity,” she says.

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