Amazon Prime Video India’s Unpaused is an anthology film made of shorts by directors Raj and DK, Nikkhil Advani, Tannishtha, Aviansh Arun, and Nitya Mehra, and features Ratna Pathak Shah, Shardul Bhardwaj, Abhishek Banerjee, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Rinku Rajguru, Lillete Dubey, Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas, and Ishwak Singh, that was conceptualised and shot during the COVID-19 lockdown. I was lucky enough to talk to Richa Chadha, who has starred in the segment titled Apartment, about what was the preparation for portraying a character who is losing all sense of hope in life, what one should do during this pandemic when they don’t have help around the corner, and more.
How did Apartment happen and what resonated with you about it?
“I was very interested in figuring out how people were writing this very current situation into something creative. It’s an unfolding thing. And then you knew that five people were collaborating and making films that are thematically linked. So, that’s what was really interesting. Then, on top of that, there was this whole mind space of somebody who is going through something that is hard in a normal situation to deal with. But then they’re isolated and alone because it’s the pandemic. It’s basically about somebody who’s going through something that’s deeply life-changing at the time the pandemic is happening. So, we have scenes where this person doesn’t realise the seriousness of COVID-19, and slowly each time she meets someone from the outside and they’re wearing masks, it gets bizarre. One day she dozes off and suddenly she hears loud metal clangs [which causes] her to have a meltdown. You know, those things were really interesting to explore as an actor.”
With everything going on and knowing how tricky it might be to depict depression and suicidal tendencies on-screen, how did you prepare so that your portrayal was genuine?
“I don’t think there was any kind of prep that one could do for something like this. Because the response at the moment has to be so honest that you cannot sit down and think about ‘What I’d do’ because then what is happening to your body as a performer [, you can’t react to that]. It can’t be premeditated because these are things that nobody can prepare for. Some kind of emotional shock, you know, or some kind of a huge revelation that can tear your life apart. So that kind of thing, I didn’t think one could prepare for. And then there was no dialogue. Hardly anything. Yeah, because she’s mostly alone. There’s dialogue when there are other human beings are around. It’s not tricky at all. It’s almost like saying that look when something is terrible on the macro level, your personal micro-level tragedy can coincide with that and get a lot worse. And then you make a bond with somebody you don’t interact with much. And it’s not even a bond where you’re friends. It’s a bond where you see somebody from across the window. For that reason, it’s very relatable, in terms of who hasn’t run out of essentials in the lockdown. So, that was kind of nice.
Given how you’re in a pandemic playing a character who’s in a pandemic, do the lines between real and reel get blurred?
“No, no. No, I am not somebody whose partner has been accused of multiple sexual harassments, thankfully. So, I am okay for now. I mean, it’s a tough space, regardless of pandemic or no pandemic. It’s already tough. I think that the only thing that is tough is the dilemma in a person like this. They’re upright as far as their career is concerned. This woman has set up her own media enterprise, independent journalism, and all that. And this guy [Sumeet Vyas’s character] is the star there. So, you know, there is a conflict of being a businesswoman who has to risk everything due to somebody else’s mistake. It’s like a double whammy.”
Your character thankfully gets external help during her lowest. Most of us won’t be that lucky. So, in that situation, what do you think one should do to battle their demons?
“Definitely, wherever possible, get help. If it’s a day on which you are feeling that you can’t be alone or you’re stuck with some thoughts, definitely call people and ask for help. You know, if you can go to the doctor for our physical bodies, then why not for our mental health and in general, enjoyment of life. Sometimes I think that isolation would’ve been better than a noisy flatmate.”
Do you feel envious of your character because she gets a conclusion while you, the actor, has to come back to the real world politics and problems, etc.?
“It’s an unfolding tragedy that we’re all characters in. It’s very dark. I don’t know. There’s no respite [laughs]. There’s nowhere to go. [After a brief contemplative pause] Really, that sucks, man! I have no answer. But ya, this character has [access to] luxury, in many ways, like posh apartments and it’s a story. I think the only bit of solace is that if we’re on the Titanic which is going to take 30 years to sink, we’re right now listening to the orchestra. Even the orchestra is happy but they’re slowly drowning as well [laughs].”
Yes, it does get real. So, are we going to see some level of escapism in your next projects?
“Shakeela, yes. It’s a very commercial thing. That was also an experiment for me. [It was] like an indie actor doing a single-screen film that also talks about single-screen films in a different era. It’s my first foray down South in a sense. Most people are slightly into the more streamlined roles, you know, big heroes, and all that. I thought that this might be interesting because her personal story is interesting. Now, aage I don’t know.”
Well, I am not a fortune teller but I think that in Richa’s case, the two things that lie ahead of her are more intriguing roles and accolades for portraying them with the utmost honesty and sincerity. She had started off with a role in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and has created a diverse filmography that’s full of iconic and praiseworthy performances. I can vouch for the fact that she has done the same in Unpaused‘s Apartment by essaying a character that is constantly shifting between the dark and light sides of her psyche and made her relatable with the subtlest of gestures. I am looking forward to her performance in Shakeela and anything and everything else in her 2021 roster.
Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India