Bhumi Pednekar in ‘Durgamati’ Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Bollywood actress Bhumi Pednekar is ready to end her 2020 with a bang as she rolls out her horror thriller ‘Durgamati’ on Amazon Prime this week, but she still dubs 2020 as a heartbreaking year.

“It’s been a very bizarre year … I haven’t had any major human interaction except while promoting ‘Pati Patni Aur Who’ around the same time last year … Across the world, we have gone through some major shift this 2020 … Although I have tried to be as productive as possible in 2020, we have seen loss and moments of heartbreak,” said Pednekar over a zoom video call.

But she isn’t letting the grim pandemic year dampen her spirits.

A still from "Toilet: Ek Prem Katha" Image Credit: Supplied

The award-winning actress, whose credits include ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ and ‘Saand Ki Aankh’, is determined to entertain her fans during the bleak times with one good film after the other.

Enter ‘Durgamati’, a dazzling horror spectacle directed by G Ashok, which sees Pednekar play a high-ranking IAS officer Chanchal. It’s a re-make of Anushka Shetty-starer Telugu blockbuster, ‘Bhaagamathie’, set in a haunted mansion and combines horror, fantasy, thrills and mythology. Pednekar believes that this horror spectacle is a first in her career as she’s headlining a film as its lead talent.

“One minute, I want to throw up and the other minute I am eager for everyone to see my film,” said Pednekar with a laugh.

Excerpts from our interview as we speak about headlining a female-fronted film, breaking stereotypes and more …

Q: You are ending 2020 with a proverbial bang with the release of ‘Durgamati’ on December 11 … Your thoughts?

Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

A: Yes. ‘Durgamati’ is an edge-of-your-seat conspiracy thriller with a backdrop of horror. It has its share of jump scares, but it is also intellectually stimulating. The film really gets you thinking and that’s the most unique thing about ‘Durgamati’. It’s by far one of my most commercial films because of the canvas of the film. It is a film that is extremely larger than life and is fuelled with emotions, drama and action. But it has a very strong story at the crux of it.

Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

You are constantly kept guessing who the victim and who the culprits are. I am not going to divulge details of the storyline, but I can assure you that it’s a great thriller. So, think of it as a political conspiracy thriller with horror.

I was drawn to this film because I looked at it as a genre breaker. You don’t often see women helm roles that have so much machoism and heroism. These are words and adjectives that we usually associate men with. We associate them with action, power and adrenalin. Usually, you don’t associate such aggression in films led by women. But the script of this film really changed that for me. I felt it was important to do a film that was gender fluid in its approach.

Q: So, tell us about your character in this film?

Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

A: I play Chanchal Chauhan and my director had a unique approach to this film. He wasn’t seeing ‘Durgamati’ as a film written by a girl or a film that is helmed by a female character. And that was very important to me on an individual level because that’s what the women in any field is trying to do — create some sort of equality. So that’s what ‘Durgamati’ is about.

Plus, it has a fantastic cast and that gave me more confidence on the material. All the actors in this film come from a very credible space because they only do a film when they want to do one. They are artists in the pure sense of the word and they will only do a film if they believe in the material. This film has given all of us an opportunity to break stereotypes that the fraternity has kind of bound all of us in. It has really given me a chance to give a performance of a lifetime. I don’t know how good or bad I am in the film, but I have done my part with a lot of honesty and hard work.

Q: It’s heartening to hear. The trailer of ‘Durgamati’ reminded me of another celebrated ‘Tumbbad’, a film that combined horror, folklore and Indian mythology …

Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

A: It’s my favourite horror film too! But the narrative of ‘Tumbbad’ and ‘Durgamati’ are very different. ‘Durgamati’ is meant to be a cinema mass entertainer. But the moment I say that it’s a ‘massy film’, many ask, ‘So are you trying to say it’s not a good film?’. But my question to them is why can’t a massy film be good?

I want to inject positive connotations to a massy film with ‘Durgamati’. But honestly, I am a mixed bag of emotions now. There are times when I feel like throwing up and then there are times when I can’t wait for people to watch my film. It’s the first time in my career that I am helming a movie and I know it’s a great opportunity for me.

Q: Do you think OTT spaces have generally opened up a space for women-led stories? During the last few months, I have seen some cracking women-led series and films …

Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

A: I wouldn’t give OTTs all the credit for it because let’s not discredit what our films have done for us. Look at any of my colleagues such as Alia [Bhatt], Taapsee [Pannu] or Deepika [Padukone] and the movies that they have done --- They have all taken women-led narratives forward.

Most importantly, we must credit the audience for the change they have brought about. It’s a slow change, but it’s a change nonetheless. I couldn’t ever have imagined that I would do a film like ‘Durgamati’ which is high in budget, huge sets and had such a large canvas — these are usually given to your male counterparts. They put up a big hoarding as big as a tall tower in Bombay and that felt amazing.

Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Times have changed. Usually in a women-led film, you are fighting for budget, but I did not have those hurdles. We had producers who told our director: ‘you do what you have to do’. They said you can have a grand set, great actors and whatever is needed for the script. They felt content is key here.

Q: Have you seen the original South Indian film starring Anushka Shetty?

Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

A: It’s a remake and the reason why we are making it is because the original was a brilliant film. I watched it even before ‘Durgamati’ came into my universe. I watched it and I envied Anushka because I felt it was an opportunity of a lifetime for any actor irrespective of their gender. This was before ‘Durgamati’ was offered to me. But after a couple of months, ‘Durgamati’ happened and I felt that God must have really manifested this as I yearned for it with all my heart. It’s a remake and we want this film to be watched by a wider audience.

Q: Horror films in Bollywood are a tainted genre and a few spooky films are unintentionally funny … How is this film going to change that perception?

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Durgamati Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

A: I am supremely critical of my own work. I don’t ever feel. ‘Oh my God! We have made something brilliant’. I have never said those words, but what I do feel is that all my work has been done with a lot of honesty. In ‘Durgamati’, we have kept it as real to the original material as possible … But if it works with the audience or not, there’s not much we can do. I don’t have control of what kind of reviews come our way. I don’t know what kind of validation you get when your work comes on an OTT platform because you don’t have the Friday opening figures. I don’t know, but I just want to enjoy that process.

Don’t miss it!

‘Durgamati’ is out on Amazon Prime Video on December 11.