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 Prakash Raj’s Tamil film Dhoni in which she plays a young woman who earns her bread and butter through prostitution. And then, she appeared onscreen with Fahadh Faasil in Malayalam film Haram, as a young married woman in urban Kerala and looked ever so convincing. 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. That was when casual filmgoers started putting a name to her face and in proper industry jargon, ‘she had arrived’ . In the same year as her blockbuster hit in Marathi, Radhika also appeared in four other films–Postcard (Marathi), Pendulum (Bengali), Legend (Telugu) and Vetri Selvan (Tamil). But 2015 has been her luckiest year by far because it is now that she broke into the Bollywood space. Radhika, who started the year with Sriram Raghavan’s Varun Dhawan-starrer Badlapur and followed it up with Harshavardhan Kulkarni’s Hunterr will be 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, when we meet her at the trailer launch of Manjhi. Dressed in a solid blue Madison crop top and a Babita Malkani pencil skirt, she maintains a dignified, yet stylish aura. The makeup is minimal and there are no celebrity airs. If she were to step out into the mall where the launch was held, she could, in no time, blend into the crowd and pass off as just another attractive Mumbai girl. 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. “At that time, I just wanted to study. I hadn’t taken films that seriously although I enjoyed the process greatly.”
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 very short memory, and two, that the industry typecasts you,” says Radhika. Thanks to her Indian belle act in two of her Hindi films, filmmakers wrote her off as an actor who could only carry off “sari-clad parts”. “Yes, it was frustrating at some point, but I still never regret the decision to leave to London,” she says. “It was the best year of my life and the discipline and lessons I learnt there has only helped me improved my craft.” Radhika also met her husband musician Benedict Taylor at London, the reason that she divides the time between London and Mumbai these days.
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 very impactful one,” she says. “It is in a sense with my character’s death that Raghu, the character that Varun plays, realises what he has turned into. So it is 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. As a fake nude photo leak controversy followed closely on its heels, Radhika was soon bracketed into the “bold” category. “I do not really understand what people here call bold, because by no length do I see my characters in Hunterr or Badlapur as very 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.” She got a taste of this when a clip from her Hollywood project with Anurag Kashyap, Prada, which is an anthology of 6 short films directed by renowned filmmakers around the world, was leaked on social media. Radhika admits that she was shocked initially, thinking of how the scene that was “shot with utmost privacy and care” found its way to the internet, but not for long. While 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 filmmakers and technicians who respect your body and treat you with the respect, she says, adding that in both these instances, she felt extremely liberated. “I felt so confident about my body and myself because both the filmmakers treated the scenes very neutrally,” says Radhika. “It was just another scene without clothes like there are so many with clothes on.”
Like last year, this year, too, she has a good lineup of 5 films. In Manjhi, which is based on the true story of mountain man Dasarath Manjhi that releases this month, 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. It is a true story and we shot on real locations. 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 in Hindi. Recently, she was seen in Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh’s Bengali short film Ahalya, which was released on YouTube this month and went viral in no time. She will be seen next in Nila Madhab Panda’s Kaun Kitne Paani Mein, which is a satire on the water problem in Orissa, 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 and selective in the coming months. “I want to do more interesting and intriguing roles in films that matter,” she says. “I am in no hurry and I am ready to wait as long as it takes for the right part to come my way.”