The 28-year-old actress, who starred in National Award-winning Bengali film Antaheen in 2009, has been paired opposite Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the biopic on a Bihar-based labourer, who did the herculean task of cutting a road through a mountain.
Character actor: Radhika Apte has made her mark in Bollywood with powerful performances. “It’s important to choose parts carefully because as an actor, I like to be challenged every time. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of doing what worked in the previous performances, but to search for different characters and try to portray them and study them is always very interesting and it helps you grow as an actor. I feel it’s always good to not be associated with any one type of character or style,” says the actor, who won accolades for her performance in films like Shor in the City and Rakta Charitra.
Talking about her role in Manjhi, Radhika says, “My character is called Phagunia. She is a young girl from a village, who is very innocent, proud, impulsive, and courageous. She falls in love with Manjhi and it’s a beautiful love story.” Part of the reason why Radhika said yes to the project was because she knew her character in the film is extremely different. “I really love when I am approached for an extremely different character than the ones I have played so far,” she says, adding, “Also as a person, I have never played it safe and always done exactly what my heart says. Such characters excite me to think about them, think about the various ways in which they would react. It’s a fun game.”
“As a woman, I feel that to know exactly the content of what the character portrays is essential. I think we live in a male chauvinist society. It’s so deeply rooted in our culture that it reflects in small things. I am not just talking about men but also women. If an interesting character has such shades because it’s essential for the narrative, then that’s a different thing, but many female roles in our films inherit an inferior position to men. I personally do not find it interesting to play such parts,” she says.
Behind the scenes of Manjhi: “Ketan Mehta, Nawaz and Rajeev have been a treat to work with. They are all so passionate about their work and are so down to earth. And this combination makes the work environment a lot more fun. Also, we were all staying together—the whole crew—so we had our meals and early morning tea together. It was like a big group of friends. To mention one of the memorable moments, while lighting scenes, Rajeev used to be all serious and ask the assistant directors to enact the scene to check his lighting—it used to either be a romantic scene or a heavy duty running/jumping/stunt scene. We all used to laugh our hearts out,” says the actor.
The film’s story: Set in 1960, Manjhi: The Mountain Man tells the inspiring love story of a poor Shah Jahan, Dashrath Manjhi. Over 22 years, with just a hammer and chisel, he carved out a path through a mountain in memory of his beloved wife who had fallen down while trying to cross it. He did it so that no one else meets a fate like hers. The film has been shot in remote areas of Bihar.
Other projects: Radhika will be seen playing leading lady opposite Nandamuri Balakrishna in his upcoming yet-untitled Telugu action drama that also features Sonal Chauhan. The film, which is currently on floors, is being produced under the banner of 14 Reels Entertainment. Composer Devi Sri Prasad has been roped for the film’s music, which will also feature Jagapati Babu in a negative role.
Radhika is aware of her stardom and despite all the conjecture about her link-ups with co-stars, she manages to stay true to her first love—cinema. “It’s always been only acting.”