Richa Chadha on Section 375, criticism about the film, and stretching her acting muscles
Richa Chadda on Section 375: 'Every character in the film has dignity; the rape victim is not made to behave like a victim'
Richa Chadha has been part of many brave and relevant films in her career but Section 375 allows her to play an average working woman after a long time, she says. Richa, who has been part of films like Gangs Of Wasseypur, Masaan, Fukrey, Sarbjit, and Love Sonia, plays ‘Hiral Gandhi’, a public prosecutor in this courtroom drama fighting the case of a rape victim — a junior costume design assistant who has accused a film director of sexual assault.
“In my last release, Love Sonia, I played a prostitute, then before that I played a gangster but I have played a normal working woman after so long. I really enjoyed working on this film. I felt like my acting muscles got stretched. Akshaye (Khanna) and Ajay Bahl (Director) are absolutely amazing people to work with,” she says. “After the film was done, there was a feeling of relief because it was a challenging role and I even had a breakdown while doing one scene towards the end. I got very emotional and started crying and the director and Akshaye were very kind about it,” she adds.
Considering the film is an attempt at tackling a rather complex issue — of laws made to protect women, and the very same laws being misused by women for their vested interest, Richa says, “Both things are true. Rape cases don’t get reported, that is also true, and among the ones that get reported about 50 per cent are fake, that is also true. But if we don’t understand that both things are true we will never come to a place of consensus, or doing what’s right. We are quick to judge both the victim and the accused. There is lot of victim shaming that happens when somebody opens their mouth to complain, and, on the other hand, it can destroy someone’s life if wrongfully accused.”
“But we have to, as a society, since we are moving ahead with women empowerment, try to make a safe place for women in their workplace so that they are not subjected to sexual harassment. This film is like course correction,” she says.
However, the actress feels that there might be criticism around the film. In fact, she experienced that too. “People are coming to me after the screening saying that we have shown women in bad light and it is a woman-hating film. But the fact is that there are fake rape cases being registered, and a lot of actual rape cases simultaneously go unreported probably because people have lost faith in the legal system. I feel we have tried to be truthful, sincere and balanced. I liked the way Ajay has treated the film,” she says.
Section 375 also gives you deep insight into what goes on in the minds of those holding the position of power, so can it be said that the film is well-timed with the #MeToo movement still finding its ground? “This film was written three years ago and at that time, the #MeToo movement had not started even in Hollywood. But more than #MeToo, the film will start a discussion about the law. It will stir a debate,” says Richa.
She continues, “There are different laws in India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, America...Laws are made keeping in mind the context of the country. The law (pertaining to sexual offence) here was amended after the Nirbhaya incident. People should have a debate: is this a good law for women, and whether this is a good law for men? Laws are made to make a society better, so if anything has to be debated it must be the law rather than what the man did or what the woman did.”
“Also,” she adds, “The director has given the subject so much dignity and maturity. Every character in the film has dignity. He didn’t make the rape victim behave like a victim. In less mature hands, the subject would suffer. It could go either way, it won’t be something that is celebrated and enjoyed. It is a very tricky topic. If you don’t do it properly, you will offend either gender. In Section 375, we have managed to strike a fine balance.”
Coming back to the #MeToo movement, though Richa is "disheartened" with certain 'accused' men getting back into the business, she believes that the movement did make an impact. “At least there is this fear in the minds of serial predators. But we have just scraped the surface. This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she says.
Section 375 explores the uncharted territory of ‘will and consent’, and Richa says, “There is lack of awareness and it is a societal problem, not a gender issue. A female journalist did a study, she interviewed men who were convicted of rape but these men didn’t understand consent. They didn’t understand that they have done something wrong.”
While both Akshaye and Richa are being praised for their gritty act and nuanced performance respectively, a certain section of the audience felt that Richa’s part wasn’t meaty enough as compared to Akshaye’s, to which she laughs, saying, “When I do ‘Bholi Punjaban’ (her character in Fukrey), I will get punches because the role demands that. If I do the same here in this film, it would look melodramatic acting which is not my style. It was always the script in which Akshaye had more prominence and I am happy to give him that prominence. He is a senior actor; he is very selective. He does what he does best.”
“I think people are used to seeing me doing aggressive parts. This happened to me in Masaan as well. If I don’t slap and abuse, then people feel that I haven’t done enough. I feel I have done a very fine and nuanced work in Section 375. I had to behave like a young, inexperienced lawyer. Akshaye plays an experienced lawyer who has trained me in the past. I can’t ignore that dynamic...I have to be true to that character. Lawyers and judges don’t go dramatic and over-the-top in a court. Section 375 is realistic and cinematic as well,” she adds.
It may have been an uphill task for Richa to make that transformation after Gangs Of Wasseypur but she feels that she is in the best phase of her career. Her next is Anubhav Sinha’s satirical political drama, Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai, which will release early next year, and then there is Inside Edge Season 2. “I like doing good films whether comedies, tragedies, thrillers...I like good story-telling. It has always been quality over quantity for me. I will continue doing interesting and relevant films. There is a lack of solid, good scripts but now things are changing. So many good films released this year. Actors are now getting to make some good choices,” she concludes.
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