‘One step at a time but very gratifying’: Aditi Rao Hydari on ‘Bhoomi’ and her stop-start career

The almost famous actor on bagging Sanjay Dutt’s comeback and battling the perception that she is ‘too fragile’.

Aditi Rao Hydari has always been a bit of an oddity in Bollywood.

Despite being cast by some celebrated filmmakers – Sudhir Mishra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rakeysh Mehra, Mani Ratnam – the award-wining actress has always stopped short of being considered marquee material in the big-ticket projects to which she has added heft and nuance.

Omung Kumar’s upcoming film Bhoomi could change that perception. The September 22 release stars Rao Hydari in the titular role, with Sanjay Dutt playing her avenging father. She is also in Bhansali’s November release Padmavati as Alauddin Khilji’s wife. Excerpts from an interview.

You have worked with some of the most elite filmmakers in Bollywood. How do you position ‘Bhoomi’ in this context?
It is always great to do different kinds of films and roles because quite often, we get boxed in and it is really difficult to break out of it. Somewhere I feel quite blessed that good filmmakers have picked me for their films. This year has been especially good – with Mani sir’s classic to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic Padmavati and a thrilling revenge drama and a father daughter story. One step at a time but very gratifying.

Bhoomi was hard in many ways. But I was up for a challenge. Here is a girl who wants to be in charge of her own destiny, with her father’s support. She is in an equal relationship with her father. She is hurt but not broken. She is not cowering. And father and daughter always stand for each other. We have shown a father walk into a kitchen to teach his daughter how to cook. It is very topical in today’s context.

There are several other references to a girl’s world – how her home is not her own, but her parents’. And then her in-laws’. There are many other issues that this film may force you to confront – honour killing, violence in all forms against women. So yes, easy storytelling that raises a lot of important questions; questions that make my blood boil. I was lucky to be a part of such a film.

Bhoomi (2017).

It came as a surprise to have you and Sanjay Dutt in lead roles. How did you become a part of this project?
Omung sir [Kumar, the director] and Sandeep [Singh] co-producer had been toying with the idea of doing this film with me, and he mentioned it to me causally. I didn’t realise how serious they were – I took it as one of the many things that people tell you.

When I was shooting for Padmavati, they called me and we met up. They narrated the story to me and when it ended, I could not respond. I needed air. It was very disturbing at various levels. I told them that I needed time to work it out.

Other than the social and cultural message, what else about the film affected you?
The relationship that this simple, sunshine girl has with the paternal figure. Having grown up without my father (her parents separated when she was two) and having lost him only a couple of years ago, I could relate to the film at a more personal level. And also the question that it raises: girls are with their families all the time. But are their families with them?

Did you feel any scepticism over your abilities to pull off such complex roles?
There were many who were against me playing this part and, and they did try to put a spanner in the works. I got to hear things like, this is a strong role, she looks too fragile.

What does that mean?
Exactly my point. It was ridiculous, really. They also said the role should have been given to a fresh face with no baggage, and I have been around for six years already. But thankfully, the filmmakers believed in my abilities and my innate strength and the fact that I am versatile enough to have made a mark in a variety of roles. I guess I have some unseen guardian angels who made them see those qualities in me.

Genda Phool, Delhi 6 (2009).

This is also a significant film for Sanjay Dutt after his release from prison. What was it like working with him?
For the moment Sanjay Dutt walked onto the set, it was an equation set in stone. He was a tremendous presence: focused, disciplined. He chose this project as his comeback film over other scripts, a film in which the title character is a woman. A film where the first muhurat shot is not just about him, but both of us. The opening shot of the film shows me dyeing his hair.

You could see the hunger in his eyes for good cinema and the dedication with which he shot this film. All the men on the set made me feel that I had a voice that was heard. Every time I suggested changes in the dialogue because I thought it would be out or character, Sanju sir acknowledged it.

It was also so touching to see the unconditional love people have for him and how, despite all the knocks that life has dealt him, he is all heart. You cannot write off Sanjay Dutt. Ever.

Mani Ratnam’s ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ was another milestone for you. Despite you putting in a solid performance, the film was said to be one of his worst.
Mani sir’s films are always like this – they are meant to encourage a debate. Also, we knew this was a niche film and bound to ruffle a few feathers. The Tamil version actually did better than the Telugu one. Mani sir told me that Leela, my character, is a hit. That sparkle in his eyes was the best thing I could ask for.

Kaatru Veliyidai (2017).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.