Women’s Day: Be The Change You Want To See, Says Bhumi Pednekar

By Deekshita Baruah
Hindustan Times, New Delhi.

In an industry where ‘fatshaming’ is a fixation, it came as a pleasant surprise when we first saw the trailers of Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

It’s not every day in Hindi cinema that you get to see an overweight heroine taking centre stage.

Bhumi always wanted to become an actor but never thought that she could realise her dreams owing to her weight issues. But as they say, ‘What’s yours can never be taken away from you.’ This bubbly woman was meant to star opposite Ayushmann Khurrana to play the role of a fat, calm and mature Sandhya. What worked for her is that she never stopped believing in herself! Her mantra is simple, “Believe in yourself whole-heartedly and just do what you want to do. Let no man tell you otherwise. ”

On Women’s Day we caught up with the actor who wobbled her way into the hearts of viewers across the country. Here’s what she has to say on how it feels like to be an overweight, modern and opinionated woman in India…

Q: As a young professional working in India today, what changes do you want to see in the next 10 years as a woman.

A: I want women to take control. I want them to broaden their horizons and stop putting their husbands on a pedestal. Be strong and independent enough. Take charge of your own life. Why do you need a man to make major life decisions for you? Live your life the way you want; you don’t have to play by the rules and follow their advice blindly. Start thinking for yourself. The day you stop giving men less power over your life, is the day when things will change for you. What people need to realise is that change happens at an individual level. Women need to take that step. Luckily, I never had to face gender bias because I come from a family that always respected women. To be honest, it’s more like a feminist household!

Q: Your movie is set in 1995 in a small town in India. This is where women are expected to live within social mores. Having shot the film in a place like Haridwar, did you see anything that caught your eye? Do you think things are changing for women now?

A: Yes, things are changing, but I don’t know if it’s big enough. While shooting for the movie in Haridwar, I took breaks to look around the city. And during my solo escapades I noticed that it is a progressive society. I noticed a lot of women start-ups and it’s an effective change. As a woman in India I can be optimistic, right?

Q: Last year, Brazilian graphic designer Carol Rossetti’s brave illustrations got a lot of attention. It was all about celebrating a woman’s unique beauty and her life choices. In one of the scenes in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, the word lesbian was beeped out. Is it not going against a woman’s choice to live her life the way she wants?

A: I don’t know as to why the word was beeped…this is something that only the makers can answer. But let me tell you something, I am all for people choosing their preferred sexual orientation. It really doesn’t make a difference to me. I value somebody for the person he/she is and I have some wonderful friends from the community. If I am comfortable and happy being fat (because I choose to be) then, why would I have a problem with somebody choosing to live their life the way they want to. It’s as simple as that!

Q: In Bollywood, curvy women have always been scorned at. Now, there are the likes of Sonakshi Sinha and Vidya Balan who throws caution to the wind, but there are others who succumb under industry pressure. What do you have to say about this?

A: I think as an actor it is good to break stereotypes. While, Sonakshi and Vidya are vocal about their weight issues others are not. They choose to remain silent, but that doesn’t mean that they are not comfortable in their own skin. A lot of these actors put on weight for their roles. It’s the same thing as losing weight to fit your character. And, nowadays, actors are going the extra mile; they are not scared to experiment. I don’t think it has got much to do with industry pressure.

Q: We saw you as this overweight woman in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. And just a few days after the release, photos of you surfaced on the internet where you had lost tremendous weight. Is it a personal choice to slim down or are you just sticking to industry standards?

A: Before, I started shooting for the movie, I was asked to put on around 10-15 kgs for the role. And since I am a big foodie, I had the best time of my life! But after the movie got over my aim was to knock off the extra weight. So, I joined a regular gym and started eating home cooked food. To be honest my mom turned into a dietician of sorts! She advised me on what to eat and what not to eat and that’s what mothers usually do right? I drastically started shedding those extra inches after that. It’s got nothing to do with the industry as it was purely a personal choice.

Q: Be it Bollywood or real life, overweight people especially women at some point in their life have been made fun of. Were you ever ridiculed for your weight and do you think it is now time that women take a stand against ‘fatshaming’.

A: Definitely! Being fat doesn’t mean that a woman is not beautiful. I believe beauty is subjective and it’s all in your mind. I have always being overweight, but if you ask me, I always thought I was beautiful. I have a loving and supportive family and a wonderful set of friends and in the end this is all that matters. I have been ridiculed for my weight in the past, but it never broke my confidence. I always followed my heart. I ate what I wanted, I lived as I wanted and I dressed up as I wanted, even if it meant going against societal norms or stereotypes. I did all those things because I really wanted to and I did it with confidence, not caring about what the world has to say. It never affected me. Even when I came close to 90 kgs for the role, I thought I was beautiful and now, after losing weight too, I think I am beautiful.

Q: There’s a storm brewing in the country. Earlier, the screening of the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ based on the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in December 2012 was banned? Do you agree that something as eye-opening as the film should have been banned?

A: I started crying when I watched the documentary. It shook me up from inside. And it was not just me, but other friends of mine too; some of them from the opposite gender who were also stunned. I think it was very balanced yet, it showed the plight of the victim and the victim’s family. As a viewer I don’t think it should have been banned as it is a testimony to what happened and a real eye-opener of the heinous crime.

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