Bhumi Pednekar joins Taapsee Pannu to bring the stories of grandmothers Chandro and Prakashi Tomar to life in Saand Ki Aankh (Bull's Eye). The women the film is based on took up shooting as a sport when in their 60s, and age wasn't the only odd against them considering they lived in a rural part of the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Pednekar, 30, says that playing Chandro Tomar was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for her, and that she is now awaiting validation at the box office this weekend. She's hoping for a win for the film, even though she and Pannu have received criticism for taking on the roles of Chandro, 87, and Prakashi Tomar, 82. Many say older actors should have been given the roles.
Pednekar says she will never stop transforming for films, however: "if the role demands that I become a man, so be it. I am not going to stop transforming to portray a role if needed."
She says the audience has a "right to question" anyone's casting in a film but that, "ultimately, as an actor my job is to perform and it is the director's prerogative who to take." Pednekar adds that when she chooses films she always does so with "a moral compass" and she's sure the "public will want to watch a film such as this one."
She adds that her and Pannu are hopeful, but nervous, about the film's trajectory: “I think we are both in a vulnerable space right now. And not just us, but everyone involved in the film; right from the man handling the lights to the director, everyone ... we all have really put in the hard work and we're at a delicate point.
"We were moved by the story [of the Tomars] and we really want the word to travel. And the film is releasing on the date of Diwali. It really means a lot to us."
Pednekar has relished doing different types of content, but she echoes what Pannu had to say about the film's importance for female actors. "It is not just about the gender. It is about women empowerment; [the film] comments on the patriarchal structure. It is about living your dreams. It is about the social subjugation that society puts on you. It is a movie that people of any age can watch."
The film is special for Pednekar for a personal reason too: her character Chandro Tomar lives in Johri, a village in Uttar Pradesh, but hails from the neighbouring state of Haryana. Bhumi's mother Sumitra is from Haryana.
The millennial Bhumi Pednekar says she had help from her mother when it came to learning Tomar's accent. "My best memory of the film was to get to work with my Mom," she says, her delight evident even over the phone. "She used to work on my dialogues and slogged with me, late nights.
"In fact, I would tell your readers ... please do watch the film with your parents. It is that kind of a film."
It took her a while to decide to say yes to director Tushar Hiranandani and take on the role, she tells us. "I wasn't sure if I would be able to pull this off. Then I got busy with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha… but when Tushar came back after a year, with a bigger narration, I was blown away. This was this film I was waiting for," Pednekar says.
Click to watch behind the scenes moments from the film:
This has been an emotional few months for Pednekar, too: if the film sees success, she will not be able to share the fruits of her labour with her maternal grandfather, who passed away on September 22. She recently wrote a beautiful post on Instagram sharing memories of him, "the little joys of simply eating a fruit plucked from the garden or the customary evening in your room with everyone and chai, filled us all with the utmost joy."
Saand Ki Aankh releases in the UAE on Thursday