To hear Indian actress Bipasha Basu, often labelled as the Bengali bombshell of Bollywood, wax lyrical about making pizzas from scratch for her parent’s anniversary and the therapeutic benefits of gardening felt vaguely discomfiting.
When did she go from a movie goddess to domestic goddess? Was it during her self-imposed five-year sabbatical from the world of entertainment?
“Let me tell you, I still look very sexy while doing all these things like gardening and meditation. My husband, who is sitting next to me, is saying: ‘I second that’,” said Basu with her signature throaty laugh over a Zoom audio call.
The actress, who pushed the envelope in racy thrillers like ‘Ajnabee’ and romantic drama ‘Bachna Ae Haseeno’, will now make her comeback with the seven-episode series ‘Dangerous’, out on web platform MX Player in India.
Her last film was the forgettable horror flick ‘Alone’, also starring her husband Karan Singh Grover. But they are going to take a stab at it again with ‘Dangerous’, in which Basu plays a cop on a kidnapping case.
Excerpts from our interview with Basu as she talks about her comeback, her break from Bollywood and her take on the insider-outsider nepotism debate.
“I never [expletive]-licked anyone and I am not good at that. I am very blunt and straightforward. I am not from any camp in Bollywood, but I have done well. I have always worked on my own terms,” said Basu.
While I am thrilled that you are back in the world of Bollywood, what made you take a break for five years, an absence that’s considered a death-knell for most actors?
I have never really thought of it as five long years. Honestly I was in my own blissful world spending time with my parents and husband. I started working at the age of 15 as a model and then as an actor from 19. I never had any chance to spend time with my family and doing basic things with them. So I have truly enjoyed this space. I never felt as if it as a long period. As soon as I realised that I am missing working on a film set, I dove right in. It’s a great time to be an actor, especially a female actor, as interesting roles are being written for us. Now, I intend to do more work.
Did you miss acting and miss that adulation that comes when the spotlight is on you as a public figure?
It is not that I have been completely amiss. I have done a few shows etc. But my PR team always complains that I do not do interviews because I do not like to be discussed much when I have nothing to say concerning my work. So it was a conscious decision to stay away from interviews. I didn’t just want to be talked about or to be seen in hip places. That’s not me. You know me so well. What am I going to come and say to you if I am not willing to work?
Why did you choose ‘Dangerous’ as your comeback?
Honestly, it was not a choice. ‘Dangerous’ was shot like a film and we were thinking of releasing the film as a normal theatrical release. But it so happens that the pandemic has ground everything to a stop and thankfully because of the OTT platforms like MX Player we are able to release it. So we broke the film into seven parts and each part isn’t very long. So technically, my debut in a web series is yet to happen. I am grateful that our content is not stuck and that people are getting to see it, despite everything here coming to a stand still.
How has the coronavirus-induced restrictions treated you? Have you embraced the new normal of wearing masks and staying indoors for safety?
I do not accept it as the new normal, because I feel it’s short-lived and will change. I consider the time given to us as very precious. We had to step up our game as human beings and this period may help the world once everything opens up. We were forced to evolve and this time has made me realise that you cannot take this time lightly. It’s time for optimum self-care and your chance to get more connected to the actual surroundings around you.
I have learnt to be connected to our family and value everything. This is a strong warning for our human race that we need to step up and we need to preserve nature. Let’s now try to preserve and stick to simple things like; growing plants, growing your own vegetables and taking control of your own gut immunity and health. I have tried meditation and am constantly working on my mind and trying to make sustainable life choices … Karan [her husband] inspires me spiritually. He’s extremely spiritual and I have realised that if you can add a little prayer or faith, your life is much better. Lot of positive things will manifest … I have only stepped out twice in these 155 days. We are pretty content being our house which has a lot of open spaces.
Did staying away from movies make you more happy?
I wish I could explain the experiences that I had during these five years. Everyone kept asking me: ‘what were you doing all these five years?’. But for me it never felt that long because I began to work constantly from a very early age. I lived all alone in Mumbai and I used to crave family time. Even when my parents shifted to Mumbai, I was always working. I was so busy working that I hardly got to spend any time with them. So I will not exchange what I had in these five years for anything in this world. I enjoyed this time very easily and effortlessly. Now, I feel I can balance my work and my family life. I promised myself that I am not going to work as this headless chicken. I do not endorse that.
So you prefer to work on your own terms now and it’s not just about women wanting to have it all?
Honestly, it’s not about being a woman. It’s about being an individual. Life is so unpredictable, so if you are not going to be enjoying what you have earned or you are not travelling or you are not seeing the world with all that money you have made, what’s the point? What am I saving it all for? For which rainy day, I wonder.
Bollywood’s toxic working culture and its harsh treatment towards talents with no film connections is being discussed these days. But you are a self-made star. What are your thoughts on the insider-outsider debate?
I believe that you have to respect everybody’s struggles and journey. You cannot walk around thinking that your journey is the most troubled or the most difficult and that the other person’s journey is easier. We can only talk about our journey and our experiences. I definitely started as an outsider in the business, but the audiences accepted me so beautifully with everything I did. There were roles that I was told by many not to do, but I still did those films and they became my turning point in my career.
As an actor, I give the power to my audiences and I will ever give the power to the people in the business to decide if I am an outsider or not. It is my journey, it is my fall, and it is my mistake and my success. I will not blame anybody for anything. Struggling is a part of not just films, but any industry. Whatever be your life struggle or hurdles, you need to learn how to overcome it and pat yourself on that back when you do. I am beyond negativity and I like to see the good in everything. From day one in this industry, I never [expletive] licked anyone and I am not good at that. I am very blunt and straightforward. I am not from any camp, but I have done well. I have always worked on my own terms.
So you don’t believe that star kids have it easier than outsiders?
I appreciate everyone’s struggle. This whole thing about ‘star kids having it easy’ is not something I buy into. The opportunities to be in films might come easy for them, but they are already coming with the baggage of being stars. When we come into the industry, nobody really expects anything from us and boom, we are famous. The expectations that you place on star kids is not put on us. There are many star kids who have not made it and there are some who did because they were accepted by the audiences. It is not that these producers and directors are making films for their own home viewing. They are making it with them because people are watching it.
So what is the debate? It is stupid because I think it is the audience that makes you. There is no other principal to this business. After working as an outsider in Bollywood, I consider myself an insider. And tomorrow, if I have a child and that daughter wants to be an actor and a producer who knows me offers her a role, is there any fault with me or my daughter? All she needs to do is prove herself. It’s as simple as that … All industrialists’ heirs go on to run the company of their parents, but why is it not allowed in the Hindi film industry? It’s very bizarre and I do not understand it.
The difference is that the industry’s scions might have to clear an MBA exam or clear a few hurdles before heading the company. But star kids in Bollywood have it relatively easy … their fame and career choices seem arbitrary.
Their struggle is that they have to be instantly of superstar calibre. Just on their first outing, they have to be superstars. On our first outing, we can be anybody as nobody cares and nobody knows us. If the star kids are not superstar material, they may get two more chance but then they are out.
“I get a foot massage from my husband ever since the lockdown began. So before I sleep I get a 30-minute foot massage from him,” Bipasha Basu on why she thinks she has bagged the most precious husband.