Radhika Apte interview: 'The female body isn't just sexual'

A candid chat over consent, nudity, Kabali and the typecast trap.
Radhika Apte interview: 'The female body isn't just sexual'
Radhika Apte interview: 'The female body isn't just sexual'

The door of Room No.122 is slightly ajar, and a makeup suitcase is wheeled out hastily. Photographers are pacing up and down the lobby, muttering about the confusion over when and where the photoshoot is scheduled to take place. Fresh off the success of Kabali and now awaiting the Indian release of “Parched”, Radhika Apte pauses to take breaks between quick bytes and quicker interviews. Her entourage is tense, but she remains collected, in a light pink and grey cutout dress and wears a reserved smile.

The actor was in Chennai for the launch of the all new Audi 4, the latest from the German car manufacturer.

Radhika Apte at the launch.

In a candid chat with The News Minute, Radhika speaks her mind on Kabali, consent, and being trapped into a typecast. Edited excerpts:

There’s been an interesting relationship with space and consent in your personal and professional life. “Parched” is about women struggling to create their own safe space, and “Phobia” is about the trauma of dealing with a non-consensual, violent episode. The nude scenes in “Parched” recently made headlines. How did you process all of it?

It hasn’t affected me even remotely. Every human being struggles with space and consent. The moment you have a set of rules in society, you have issues with space and consent. Every relationship has its own issues with consent. It’s a constant struggle, and the older you grow you realise that there are more issues that you haven’t yet faced. It’s really about you realizing that you don’t have to want to struggle for freedom. 

People objectified you in the nude scenes that leaked from “Parched”

You cannot control gaze… how someone chooses to view your body once it’s out in a public space. Even if you are completely clothed there will be a gaze. I really don’t think a female body should be such a huge issue. Either you respect it, or you don’t. You can’t pretend to respect a body. Clothes and nudity have nothing to do with male gaze. Nothing has changed since the video has been out.

The change was when I chose to do this scene. Because that was a step towards feeling more liberated about my body. You watch a certain thing, you read a certain way, you aspire to be that person who doesn’t have inhibitions. But actually taking that step to be that, to practice what you believe in. Taking that step made me feel happy. That is my journey. What people think is out of my control. 

This episode reveals a lot about how we need to normalize viewing the female body.

A female body is not just sexual. But this is a trap men are prone to too, not just women. Most of the men who promote videos like these in their gaze are actually very self-conscious themselves. It’s not about male or female, it’s about body.

Setting aside the fact that working with Rajnikanth was a huge reason to choose the film, what part of Kumudhavalli’s characterization stood out for you?

Kumudhavalli has a very particular set of values. In the film, there are a lot of flashbacks where he draws inspiration from her dialogues in order to become a gangster, or act on his anger or fury in a non-violent way. So she has a set of values, which is very different from what I believe in. And they’re very strong, it comes from a very different point of view. It comes from what she’s experienced in life. That’s what made me think it was a very strong character. 

The moment when Kabali sees Kumudhavalli after a long time, the pace of the film suddenly slows. It’s a key moment, emotionally. When she breaks down, that vulnerability in strength is striking. 

Yes, I personally feel that any moment of separation from any human being is very painful. It’s always about love, whether it’s your partner or friend or whoever. Sometimes even strangers. It’s very difficult. So reuniting with someone is a feeling that touches me deeply. I remember when I was a child and my grandfather had passed away, there was a poem I was asked to read. I was so young, I didn’t even know what it meant. The poem was about this man who was already dead. “When you come up, I will see you. Oh the rapture of the meeting, oh the joy to see you come.” And I remembered that poem when I read the scene. Pain is that, the separation from a possession. Pa Ranjith had a very specific way of portraying it, and he carried his own emotional attachment with it. So that really came together. 

When you took a year off to study dance in London, you’d mentioned that you studied movement analysis. How much has it helped in honing your craft? 

You know, it was so interesting when I’d learnt it, because it was fresh in my body and my mind, so it’s been five years since. I feel an urgent need to go back to it. But I was doing a lot of theatre back then. I was so much more aware of my body and the space around it. Movement, organic movement, inorganic movement, dissecting movement – when you see a movement, any movement. Just to walk or stillness, whether it’s a dance piece. You are in awe of certain people when they walk in, when the move. But why? Why are you in awe of that? When you start dissecting that, understanding it, how it came to life, and how it worked. It really excited me. The magnification, the idea of being larger-than-life, reduces to the whole process. Why does a certain walk reflect a certain vibe? Why a movement goes with a certain emotion…

How did you find your footing when you came back to India after the year off? 

I felt this urge when I moved back to Mumbai, to pursue acting. That was really it. It just happened organically. When I picked a lot of regional cinema projects – I’ve done Tamil Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam – it was never a conscious decision (to work in multiple languages). Rahul Bose had seen a play of mine, and offered me Antaheen, Rakthacharithra happened and I was a big Ramu fan (Ram Gopal Varma) in my teens. So that led to Tamil, to working with Prakash Raj. Whatever projects came in, I felt the need to do them. Language was never a barrier. 

But in your roles, a significant amount of them initially involved playing a village belle. How did you reconcile yourself with idea of being typecast? 

You can’t worry about being typecast because you will definitely get typecast. It will happen whether you like it or not. So it’s just about how you want to break it. I just try not to choose similar parts. Because we do have very similar parts in the film industry. We complain about other genres – Why is she doing three horror films? But most of the films are rom-coms today! So it’s about how you break the typecast conundrum. It’s not just about breaking it for someone’s perception (about me) to change, it’s also for myself. It’s really funny. If you’re good, and your film is successful, you only get such parts. I just don’t find any logic in that.

"Parched" hits screens on September 23rd. 

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