Parineeti Chopra says she surprised herself by picking the script of The Girl on the Train. Adapted from Paula Hawkins’ bestselling book, the upcoming film follows an alcoholic woman in London who gets embroiled in a murder investigation. It’s a clear departure from the chirpy, madcap characters Parineeti usually plays.
“Our director Ribhu (Dasgupta) saw all my previous work and yet gave me this role,” Parineeti says. “The fact that I’m not the obvious casting for this sort of a film and world is exactly what excited me.” The character was previously braved by Emily Blunt in Tate Taylor’s 2016 Hollywood adaptation. Like Emily, Parineeti did not go full-method on her role, signalling her blackouts through gestures and expressions. “Sadly there was no day drinking,” she laughs. “I don’t think we would have survived it.”
The Girl on the Train is the latest international thriller to be officially adapted in Hindi. Both the book and the American film are fairly popular in India. With a chunk of the audience already familiar with the plot, how surprised can they possibly be?
Ribhu tackles this question by pointing to a recent example, 2019’s Badla. “It was a ‘true remake’ of The Invisible Guest but it did so well. Everybody knew the climax. I think as long as you make the ride fun, intense, edgy — with great characters and performances — it is more than sufficient to watch a two-hour film.”
Ribhu had read Hawkins’ novel on launch and wanted to adapt it in Hindi. This was before the Hollywood version was made. A few years later, he was hired by Reliance Entertainment (who had produced his film Te3n) to do a remake. “Since this is an Indian adaptation, a lot had to change,” the director recalls thinking. “The palette, the characters… they had to be different.”
One immediate change he made was to shift the setting back to London (the Emily Blunt-starrer was set in New York). Cast member Aditi Rao Hydari had initially suggested Calcutta (‘I was imagining a Bengali girl on a balcony…’). But Ribhu had already shot Michael and Te3n in the city, and wanted to do right by the book. “London is a big part of how the story unfolds,” explains Parineeti, who’d lived in the UK as a student. “I don’t think it could have been set anywhere else.”
In the film, Aditi essays the mysterious murder victim who pivots the plot. The actor has done thrillers before, but is not a geek for the genre. “Honestly, I really like love stories,” Aditi says. “I believe that anything that’s hectic happens because of love. Whether it’s a thriller or a murder mystery, the impetus is always love.”
Hawkins’ novel centres on three female characters who get bound up by a crime. While cranking up the thrills, the book touches on issues of spousal abuse and manipulation. Parineeti says the subtext is best left unstressed. “I may be a minority in my thought process but I feel the more we put labels on things, we are kind of increasing the problem. We should talk about it, we should show it in films, and we should just let (the change) happen organically.”
“The film happens to be about three girls,” Aditi adds. “We should treat it as a story and not label it as ‘women-oriented’ or ‘heroine-oriented’. The more we use such terms, we are creating a difference.” The Girl on the Train was wrapped up in late 2019 — in time before the first lockdown in the UK. Unlike Parineeti, who had an exhausting schedule, Aditi and co-star Avinash Tiwary were free to roam about the city. “We spent the first fifteen days figuring out where to get the best bullet coffee,” Avinash shares. “After that we just went to cute dinners in London with the best desserts.”
The Girl on the Train releases on Netflix on February 26.