Radhika Apte has not had a single item dance to her credit, nor is she your quintessential Bollywood starlet – fair skinned and 5’10” with modelling background or godfather/family in cinema. In fact, Radhika Apte has none of the typical features you expect in a regular Bollywood heroine. She does not run around trees singing about her hero and dance around him. She does not promote fairness creams nor does she appreciate jokes on her dusky skin tone. She does not get into scandals with male co-stars, or indulge in childish cat fights or diva tantrums.
But what she does do is do justice to her art.
Skillful and confident, this 34-year-old actress has proven time and again that a successful Bollywood actor is not shaped purely by roles of convention.
10 years in cinema
Born in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, and brought up in Pune, Apte has a degree in Economics and Mathematics. She was a theatre lover since childhood, and was also trained in Kathak under famous classical dancer Rohini Bhate for eight years. After entering the film industry, Radhika went to London to study contemporary dance too.
In 2009, Apte had her debut in Gho Mala Asla Hava in Marathi. However, Apte’s breakthrough happened in 2011, with her appearance in the anthology film I Am and in Shor in the City under Ekta Kapoor's Balaji Films banner.
Apte has since worked in films and series in different languages- Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, and English. In 2015, Apte played roles in six feature films within the first eight months of the year including Badlapur and Hunterrr. Although she played minor roles then, her potential was recognised and movie connoisseurs appreciated her performances.
Apte is the atypical Bollywood star who is best known for the flexibility of the roles she plays. Be it teaming up with the 65-year-old South Indian Superstar, Rajinikanth, for Kabali or with a relative-new comer Varun Dhawan for Badlapur, only Apte can swing from one end of the spectrum to the other effortlessly. Apte’s characters are never larger than life as she has always believed in portraying real characters that are grounded in reality, as seen in Padman and Andhadhun.
When viewers think of Apte, they rarely picture her in song-dance sequences. Apte has treaded the path besides the mainstream cinema, in her choice of roles, with content being her primary driving force. A prime example is Sujoy Ghosh’s short film Ahalya - which Apte chose to star in, despite being well-established in Bollywood by then. A modern take on the mythological story of Ahalya, the thriller short-film delivered the much needed feminist perspective to the story. Apte’s acting won her praises
Living life in her terms
It is a rarity to see female Bollywood stars tie the knot before they establish themselves in the industry. But Radhika broke out of that stereotype too by marrying famous musician Benedict Taylor back in 2012. But Apte has never let her marriage be a hindrance on her road to success.
In fact, she has become the torchbearer of strong characters for female actors on silver screen. She has not hesitated to go beyond movies either, a move which held her become a star. Global video streaming platform Netflix has three original series last year with Apte playing the lead. As Kalindi in Lust Stories, Anjali Mathur in Sacred Games, and Nida Rahim in Ghoul, Apte was aptly regarded as Netflix’s darling. Social media was quick to take note of this and exploded with a series of 'Radhika Apte Netflix Favouritism Memes'. Netflix soon joined the bandwagon of Apte’s fan following too:
Whatever the role, Radhika apt hai. pic.twitter.com/H5vAI81qMG
— Netflix India (@NetflixIndia) August 27, 2018
On #MeToo movement
Like most industries in India, Bollywood is also male-dominated, and to step up against the powerful men who rule it was never an easy task.
However, Apte has opened up about her experience with ‘casting couch’ in Bollywood. “Once I got a call and they said ‘they’re doing this film in Bollywood and I want you to have a meeting with them. But would you be okay sleeping with that person?’ And I laughed! I said you’re so funny, you’re very funny, and I said “No I’m not. Ask him to go to hell.”
Radhika believes that the industry is a reflection of the society around it. “We don’t live in an equal society. But if society is like that, then you can’t expect anything different from the industry. We should be talking about how society treats its women instead. That’s where the change needs to begin,” she has said.
Apte was also featurred in the BBC documentary Bollywood’s Dark Secret in which she spoke about the challenges of the #MeToo movement in Bollywood.
As she empathizes with all those afraid to speak up, she says, “Some people are regarded as gods. They are so powerful that people just don’t think that my voice is going to matter. Or people think that if I speak, probably my career is going to get ruined.”
In an image-conscious industry, Radhika has always maintained that she doesn’t care much for conforming to a stereotype. “I don’t do what doesn’t make sense to me. There are people who don’t accept certain kind of roles to maintain the image they have in the industry. I can’t do that. I like experimenting with different roles,” she said. Now, that’s the heroine Indian cinema needs.