Deepika Padukone has gone through 11 different looks in Chhapaak, reveals director Meghna Gulzar

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Jan 07, 2020 12:42:31 IST

In 2015, during the making of Talvar, based on the Noida double murder case, writer-director Meghna Gulzar realised that she loved “treading the territory between fact and fiction”. Since then, she has made Raazi based on the life of a spy called Sehmat and is awaiting the release of Chhapaak, a story about acid attack survivors.

One of the most sought after directors today, Gulzar pulled a casting coup by enlisting Deepika Padukone to play Malti, an acid attack survivor in a story based on the true life experience of Laxmi Agarwal. In this interview, Meghna Gulzar talks about Chhapaak, the need for role models and why Padukone was the first choice for Malti.

 Deepika Padukone has gone through 11 different looks in Chhapaak, reveals director Meghna Gulzar

Meghna Gulzar on the sets of Chhapaak.

You seem to have found your groove in this space between fact and fiction.

I think it’s a little bit of a coincidence because when you write a script and when it becomes a film is not in your control. I wrote Chhapaak after Talvar, but I went and made Raazi. Then after Raazi we worked on the Sam Manekshaw script but we made Chhapaak. I am mentally and emotionally gravitating towards powerful stories and characters. They happen to be coming out of true life, which is far richer with ideals, role models, incidents, characters and stories. Plus the connection with the audience is immediate because I am giving them something that has come out of their own world, so it’s more identifiable than aspirational.

‘Chhapaak’ appears to be a positive and empowering film.

Yes, which is actually contrary to what people were expecting. It is not a depressing, dreary, graphic film. It is more empowering because these girls are so, and it is important that their spirit is reflected in the film. The story is about overcoming, not about disintegrating.

Is it also about subverting clichés about what defines beauty?

That’s a byproduct, not the core purpose of the film. Something like this also happened with Raazi. When I made the film, I didn't think I was redefining the concept of patriotism. That was something the audience and media picked up. I just wanted to tell the story of a stupendous girl. All the other parallel conversations sprouted from the core content. This might also happen with Chhapaak.

Is the script based solely on Laxmi's story?

We have based the core on the facts of Laxmi's criminal, legal and medical case. But that's not all the film is. It goes wider in terms of conversation and coverage. The love story is also requisite because Laxmi herself came into the world of activism and began working for other survivors through Alok (played by Vikrant Massey, renamed Amol). Alok and a friend started the NGO for acid survivors. Laxmi joined it at a nascent stage, when she was also looking for employment, and became another founding partner.

When you take on a subject like this, is there a greater responsibility on you as a writer and director?

Of course, especially when it is your contemporary present or immediate past. With Talvar, the responsibility was to not disrespect the deceased and maintain sensitivity towards the living. Here it is the same towards all living characters who have sat next to me and watched the film. One has an immense responsibility to be authentic because you are talking about a largely unknown issue. There are myths going around that your face and skin melt and fall off. That doesn't happen. We have medical research and consultants who have helped us and guided us. So the film also aims to bust some myths.

There’s a design to Malti’s changing skin texture as seen in the trailer?

Yes. It’s not a mistake. You can make a mistake once but you won't make a mistake throughout the film. Deepika has actually gone through close to 11 looks in the film based on how the skin behaves as the process of healing happens. Laxmi herself went through seven surgeries. Some survivors undergo up to 30 procedures. It's a process. You don't fix the entire face at the same time. You may start with the mouth or the eyes, then the ear, and so on. We have followed that healing process till we land on the way she looks currently, when she completed seven surgeries and didn't do any more.

Deepika Padukone in Chhapaak.

It’s unusual and highly unexpected that an A-list star whose star appeal is built on glamour to submit to such a transformation. What was your thought when casting the part of Malti?

The starting point was the uncanny resemblance between Laxmi and Deepika. It was something both my co-writer Atika Chohan and I felt. It was our silent desire to cast Deepika even though we thought it would be impossible. That was in 2016. But then after Raazi, when I thought I'd make this, I went to Deepika on a lark – I didn't want the regret of not trying — and, as she has also said, it took her 10 minutes to get on board. She didn't require any convincing. Most of the times when things like this happen, it's the destiny of the film. It was instinctive for both of us, and you can see that on screen. Also, her being in it amplifies the message of the film and amplifies the kind of violence acid brings to a girl's life because you are taking a face everyone adulates and distorting it.

What about casting the part of Alok, known as Amol in the film?

I needed an actor who would look like a north Indian boy who is an activist. Someone who is rigid in his principals and yet has this immensely appealing side that makes this girl — and the girls in the audience — fall in love with him. Vikrant completely checked all the boxes. Plus, I have wanted to work with him ever since I saw him in A Death In the Gunj.

Your next two projects have been announced – a biopic on Sam Manekshaw and a series based on the Rakesh Maria case files.

What can I say? I like to make life tough for my team and myself! We are all in need of inspiring role models. Laxmi is one of them, Sehmat is another and so is Sam Manekshaw. Making these films brings these role models into our consciousness. I would not call the Manekshaw film a biopic because it is not a chronological telling of his life story. It’s a film on the man and his times – the socio-political environment and the formation of the subcontinent, as we know it today. Work is underway on a series on the Rakesh Maria diaries as well. Besides this, I want to revisit old stuff and create new stuff. I find writing therapeutic. It is also a kind of palette-cleanser when you are coming out of one film and going into another.

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Updated Date: Jan 07, 2020 12:42:31 IST