Pooja Bhatt talks about her stunning comeback in ‘Bombay Begums’ 

Acting is like cycling. When you get on a cycle after a long gap you are a bit shaky, but soon you are steady. That’s what happened to me when Alankrita Shrivastava came to me with ‘Bombay Begums’

Pooja Bhatt
Pooja Bhatt
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Subhash K Jha

Congratulations on a stunning comeback in Bombay Begums. It is criminal how you have been hiding yourself from the camera?

Ha ha, thank you. I got busy with a whole lot of production work… (Me interrupting) Yeah where you introduced a whole lot of talented but ungrateful actors.. Ha ha ha. Well that’s true. C’est la vie (that’s life)

How does it feel to come back after so long? I mean, is acting like swimming and cycling which you never forget?

I am glad you asked me that. Acting is like cycling. When you get on a cycle after a long gap you are a bit shaky, but soon you are steady. That’s what happened to me when Alankrita Shrivastava came to be with Bombay Begums I was like, ‘Are you sure? I am a bit rusty because I’ve been busy producing films.’ But she was positive she wanted me to play Rani.

Also, nothing substantial was coming your way?

I was actually quite happy to get out of the acting space and concentrate on production. When this offer came to me for the first time I was bang in the middle of a schedule of Sadak 2. For me that movie was important because it was my father’s. Of course later the audience got to know that I wasn’t even in the film. But Sadak 2 was my chance to be associated with my father again. I felt like the protective child, and I wanted to be there for him.

What made you take up Bombay Begums?

I was actually quite taken aback when I got this role. I got this email out of the blue offering me the role. They sent me a very detailed brief. It was set in the world of banking and finance. I read the plot and I was like …wow! I was being offered the pivotal role. I loved Alankrita’s Lipstick Under The Burqa.

Bombay Begums addresses many issues that are considered taboo in our society specially when it comes to women?

Yes, my character Rani is going through a difficult menopause. But Like I said I was in the middle of Sadak 2. So I said thanks but no thanks. My father was most excited that I got the part. But I was adamant. I told him my love for him and my commitment to seeing Sadak 2 to its completion far exceeded any other consideration. But as luck would have it the shooting of Bombay Begums got delayed. So it came back to me. You know what is meant for you in life will come to you. We completed all the shooting just before COVID. Then the whole year is just a blank. Thank God for something like Bombay Begums. It reminds us that that focus has shifted to a large extent from the large screen to the small one at home.

Bombay Begum has a certain glamour and opulence about it. Don’t you feel some of that is lost on the small screen?

You know, my launch as an actor came on the small screen in 1989 long before the OTT platform. I wouldn’t trade my launch in Daddy for anything in the world. I remember my father telling me on the first day of shoot that he would throw me out if I didn’t give him the performance he wanted. Then I kind of moved towards film production when I was just 25. I remember speaking to you at length during Zakhm where I wore a saree for the first time. And now so many years later I’m back in sarees for Bombay Begums. It’s really strange how life comes to a full circle.

I’ve never heard you so happy with a role before?

It is a great script and a great role and Endemol are wonderful producers to work with. It’s such a relief not having to worry about everything on the set. Netflix is exceptionally organized. They’ve literally changed the definition of cinematic entertainment. All I had to do was act and focus on my character. I surrendered to the team and they guided my through the whole process of facing the camera again.

I think what makes Bombay Begums and your character so interesting is that they address female sexuality so honestly?

Absolutely! My character is going through menopause and she is in complete denial about it. I love my first shot in the series where I am looking into the mirror. Women in our cinema are frozen in time. Very rarely is the process of aging in a woman discussed. I said no to a number of offers in the recent past because they expected me to play someone 10 years younger than I actually am. In Bombay Begums I play 49 and I am 49 in real life. There are women protagonists of every age in Bombay Begums. There is a girl who is going through puberty and there’s a woman, me, who’s going through menopause. This is the kind of dream role that actresses beyond a certain age don’t get in our country.

And you may not get something like this again?

Which is why I’m looking forward to Season 2 of Bombay Begums. After that if I don’t get something like this I’d be happy to not act ever again. Doing Bombay Begums was like a vacation for me. This new professional way of working…I hope it becomes the norm in the film industry. It was liberating to not worry about the production. Because while doing this series I also went through a health scare. So between shots I was popping pills and taking my shots. But it all came together finally.

This is your finest performance to date?

Recently I watched the whole series and I was stunned. That wasn’t me I was seeing there on screen. I felt it couldn’t get any better for me.

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