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‘People tend to exaggerate nepotism’

Model-turned-actor Bidita Bag talks about her journey from Kolkata to Mumbai, her struggling days, Nawazuddin siddiqui and more

After starting her modeling career in Kolkata, Bidita Bag quickly became the go-to model for leading designers in the city. Looking for a major push in her career, she shifted to Mumbai and went on to become the face of brands like Fair and Lovely, Kwality Walls, Bombay Dyeing, Samsung and 7 Up, among others. Even as her modeling career blossomed, she struggled to get a big acting break — which finally came in form of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz opposite Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

In this interview, Bidita talks about her journey from Howrah to Mumbai, the challenge of playing India’s first stuntwoman Reshma Pathan in The Sholay Girl and her upcoming projects.

Excerpts:

When did you decide to take up acting? Also, tell us about your early struggle

When I was in Class XI, I realised I have good features and thus thought I could try modelling. My father used to give acting lessons to kids from the neighborhood.

He  had a government job but he would do theatre in the weekends.  One day he would play a doctor and next day he would be a corrupt politician. Some day he would become a God and the next  he would take the form of a monster. I was fascinated by how one person could transform into so many different personalities.

Perhaps that is how I got hooked to the idea of becoming an actor. But , my father wanted me to take up a government job just like him as I was good in studies. He was of the opinion that passion and profession should be kept separate.

I remember when my father first saw my photograph in a newspaper after I had started doing modeling in Kolkata, he stormed out of the house in anger. Though he did return after three days, he left again when I told him about my decision to move to Mumbai. And this time he didn’t come back for 45 days.

So even after shifting to Mumbai I was unhappy for a long time because of how my father opposed my decision. I was struggling in the outside world to get work and simultaneously I was struggling to keep the family together. That’s what made it doubly painful for me. And the rift lasted for a good 5-6 years.

Acting is a natural progression for a lot of models. How did it happen for you?

My first shoot was with Kiran Uttam Ghosh and the next one was for Sabyasachi Mukherjee — who not only guided me but also encouraged me to take up acting. When I started modeling, a lot of senior models had either shifted to Mumbai or had settled down. So, all the top designers were working with me and soon I realised that a saturation point has been reached.

Somewhere there was a perception in Kolkata that models cannot be good actors. All the leading filmmakers in Kolkata knew me because of my modeling work but no one gave me the kind of break I was looking for. That’s why I had to shift to Mumbai.

Subsequently I did a lot of independent films but most of them couldn’t get a proper release. I got very disappointed as nothing substantial was happening in my career. I was initially supposed to play the second lead in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz. I accepted it because not many good offers were coming my way back then. But then Chitrangada suddenly quit and I was asked to give an audition for the part. That’s how I finally got selected.

How was it like to work with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz?

I have always admired Nawazuddin’s work. Even before Babumoshai Bandookbaaz I was shortlisted for a few projects that I was meant to do with him but things didn’t materialise. Now the best thing was that when I first went to see him I realised that he already knew all about me.

He was so well informed about my past work that I wasn’t really required to give an introduction. Now, he isn’t expected to research into his co-actors but he still does that and perhaps that’s what differentiates him from other performers. I remember that the film had many scenes where I had to take the upper hand and I was thinking that he might feel a bit insecure — as I have heard about some actors. So, it came as a surprise to me that he actually encourages his co-actors, which enhances the overall scene and in effect the film.

In one scene, I was supposed to hit him and the director had also instructed me to not hit him too hard. But then Nawazuddin intervened and told me to hit him freely until the desired result was achieved. He even joked that during his college time he had been hit by many girls and so he is used to it. So it was great fun to work on the film.

As an outsider who  had to struggle a lot, how do you look at the issue of nepotism in the Mumbai film industry?

I think today we tend to exaggerate the issue of nepotism in the industry. You see doctors want their children to be doctors and engineers want their children to become engineers and so it is natural for industry people to behave similarly.

In fact, they start preparing their children from a very young age and make sure that they have all the facilities available to them. Being an outsider, I came into fitness much later. I also had to take diction classes. I had to learn Hindi and till date I continue to struggle with English. I got to do all this very late. Had I been aware about all this earlier I would have gone to a convent school to begin with.

I learnt singing during my childhood and only realised much later that dancing skills are more important for an actor. The initial struggle can be much longer for people like me as those coming from the industry are certainly luckier in terms of their first break. But after that it’s a fairly even competition.  How many times can you launch someone? At the end of the day you have to show your talent.

In The Sholay Girl, you have essayed the character of India’s first stuntwoman Reshma Pathan. How difficult was it to prepare for the character?

Well, you cannot really prepare for such a role overnight. Fortunately, I have been practising yoga for a long time. Even when I am shooting, I make sure that I take out 10-20 minutes to do Surya Namaskar just to stretch myself as flexibility is really important.

Whenever I am in Mumbai, I practice martial arts with a group. Both physical and mental conditioning is essential. So it’s important that you keep yourself in good shape. Otherwise as a performer you will not be able to do justice to an action-oriented role.

Also, the thing with action is that you have to do it in a very controlled manner in order to ensure that no one gets hurt on the sets. Despite the safety measures there are still great risks involved, for both the actor as well as for the stunt person.

What are your upcoming projects?

Among the trending projects, there is a short film called Bouma and an episode of Fuh se Fantasy. Both are currently streaming on Voot. Of course, there is The Sholay Girl which is streaming on Zee5. Then there is a film called Fauji Calling with Sharman Joshi and Teen Do Paanch with Shreyas Talpade. Also, I have done a biopic on Daya Bai. Lastly, I am also working on an untitled project which is expected to release by year-end.