She could be that pretty girl next door. Someone you pass by every day, someone whom you take a second look at, someone you flash a familiar smile at. The first time I saw Radhika Apte on screen in the National Award-winning Bengali film, Antaheen, as Brinda, the fiery journalist, I thought she was a Bengali belle. The next time I saw her as Nandini in Ram Gopal Verma’s Rakht Charitra, she confused me.
Was she Telugu? Then I saw her in Prakash Raj’s Tamil film Dhoni. And then, she appeared onscreen with Fahadh Faasil in the Malayalam film Haram. This ability to merge and disappear into the characters she plays is what makes Radhika such a sought-after actor in not one, but four film industries in the country. Having acted in seven languages, including English, Radhika has been lucky to have portrayed a wide range of characters. Although she had been part of many good films, it was Lai Bhaari, the launch vehicle for Riteish Deshmukh in Marathi, that catapulted her to instant fame.
Radhika, who started the year with Varun Dhawan-starrer Badlapur and followed it up with Harshavardhan Kulkarni’s Hunterr is now seen alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Ketan Mehta’s Manjhi.
A wide smile appears on her beautiful, dusky face at the mention of her successful films. “It has been a really good year so far and I am more than grateful for that,” says Radhika. A performer since her childhood, films were not Radhika’s passion. She is a dancer, who has also worked in many productions of the country’s leading theatre houses and had made up her mind to pursue higher studies in London. “I acted in a few films like Shor In The City, Rakht Charitra, Onir’s I Am, before I left for London,” she recalls.
After the year-long course in contemporary dance at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, she returned to a Mumbai that had forgotten her. “Two things I learnt on coming back were that one, the industry has a short memory, and two, that the industry typecasts you,” says Radhika.
After a string of regional films, some good and some that she would like to forget “as soon as the cheque got encashed”, Radhika got a call from Sriram Raghavan for Badlapur. “It was a small part, but a impactful one,” she says. “It was one of those characters that drives the screenplay into a different direction.” A scene in the film, in which Radhika strips down to bare basics, had become the talk of the town after the film’s release. Radhika was soon bracketed into the “bold” category. “I don’t understand what people here call bold, because by no length do I see my characters in Hunterr or Badlapur as bold,” says Radhika. “I have done much more intense and intimate scenes and even fully nude shots in two of my upcoming English films. I wonder how they will react to them then.”
While Anurag Kashyap praised her for being one of the bravest actors in the industry today, Radhika says that she just sees it as the duties of her job as a performer. What matters most is being comfortable in your own skin and working with people who treat you with respect.
In Manjhi, which is based on the true story of mountain man Dasarath Manjhi that has just released, she plays a Bihari village girl named Falguni Devi, the protagonist’s wife. “It is such a huge opportunity to be a part of such an inspiring film and be able to work with veterans like Ketan sir and act alongside talents like Nawaz,” says Radhika. “Manjhi tells a story that is awe-inspiring. It is the story of this man who literally carved out a mountain single-handedly, with just a hammer, for the love of his life. We saw the road this man had cut out and it was a heady feeling altogether.”
A die-hard fan of Juliette Binoche and Cate Blanchett, Radhika is in a happy space now given the kind of roles she is being offered. Recently, she was seen in Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh’s Bengali short film Ahalya. She will be seen next in Nila Madhab Panda’s Kaun Kitne Paani Mein, which is a satire on the water problem in Odisha, Rohit Batra’s The Field with Neeraj Kabi, and Leena Yadav’s Indo-US co-production Parched. Although all her moves have been yielding good results till now, Radhika has decided to change her strategy and go a bit slow. “I want to do more interesting roles in films that matter,” she says. “I am ready to wait as long as it takes for the right part to come my way.”