Vedita Pratap Singh interview: The Hidden Strike was a physically gruelling experience.
Srivathsan Nadadhur -
There are thousands of models every day who turn to acting in Mumbai with rosy dreams in their eyes, hoping that the Hindi film industry would embrace them with open arms. The realities of the profession are, however, brutal and one needs to make time to evolve in their craft quickly if they’re to survive. Vedita Pratap Singh’s popularity skyrocketed once she went onto win the MTV Model Hunt and Channel V India’s Hottest 2008-09 title.
It paved a way for her entry into Hindi films with Bhindi Bazaar Inc in 2010, after which, she was the face of many projects including JD, Mumbai 125 Kms, Danger and The Past. She’s just made her digital debut with The Hidden Strike, essaying the role of an army person, which released on ShemarooMe Box Office on August 14. She talks more about the film, her interests and her career in this interview with LetsOTT.com
Incidentally, you’ve completed ten years in an industry where fortunes alternate every Friday. What did this decade of being in films teach you and how have you handled the anxieties of the profession?
I’ve learnt a lot from being in this industry. It has shaped my nature and character. I’ve become mature, got to know how to handle situations in life and came a long way from what I was when I entered Mumbai. Being in this industry, good or bad, it teaches you so much. If you manage to look at it positively, you will realise how strong you have become. I am a fighter and there are days when I feel low and depressed and wonder what’s the need to wake up. But you learn, move on, treat every day as a new experience. There’s so much to do in life, I focus on myself and never compare my journey with others. That keeps me sane!
This is an era where social media has been a bridge between an actor and their fans. The connect is more intimate and personal. Do you enjoy your social media presence?
I enjoy connecting with people through my work on social media, probably more than any other celebrity (laughs). Social media has now greater reach than ever before. I am very active across social networking sites and even earn money through it. For me, social media has opened many gateways to increase my fan base. Even though I’m not able to take up assignments owing to the lockdown, I am so much in touch with fans, being part of interactive sessions on platforms like Mico, Facetime-ing with them through another forum, sending them personalised videos for which I get paid too. It helps me pay my bills and also not lose my connection with them. They give me direct feedback and are waiting to watch any work I’m a part of. So many of them have booked tickets on ShemarooMe for The Hidden Strike in the last week. The response that I’m now getting for the film is so overwhelming – this hasn’t happened to me in the recent past. It genuinely feels great!
This Independence Day, you’ve had a release, The Hidden Strike. What was August 15 like, in your childhood?
I didn’t know the meaning of Independence Day so much then, but my father took me through the streets in Lucknow and got me to see the celebrations, flags hoisted across the houses. It meant another day where one could spend time with family and explore the city. The news channels were switched on in the mornings. Many years down the line, all such activity has converted into social media, the display pictures are changed to the tricolor now.
What do you like about being an Indian the most?
I value being a citizen of the country and am so honoured to be born and brought up here. Despite being named a third world country, we’ve grown from strength to strength in recent times and are all set to be a superpower soon. When our PM had gone to campaign for Trump, I was in America then and the response from the Indian community for the event something out of the world. In our country, we take many aspects for granted where we could speak up, talk, express ourselves freely. The problems can’t be ignored either, but no country is without its downfalls.
What is it like to play an army person?
It’s an extremely challenging experience. The Hidden Strike was a very dangerous shoot, physically. We shot in dicey circumstances, it was a complete challenge playing the role. I had to go on top of the hill and run down with eleven men in the line – had one guy slipped too, there would have been a mishap and people may have lost their lives. I wonder how we managed it without protection and only depending on co-actors! It’s a stark contrast from whatever I’ve done to date. From Bhindi Bazaar Inc. to Mumbai 125 Kms, I’ve been mostly offered grey or glamorous roles.
Glamorous roles come easy to me, I’m comfortable in my skin and I’ve been a model all my life. However, it was important for people to realise that I am an actor of calibre and The Hidden Strike gave me an opportunity to explore that. I got a de-glam, straightforward, loyal role for the first time here. There’s a soft, sensitive side to the role; she’s someone who has separated from her husband but a national mission brings them together and helps them understand the value of life. Me being the only female lead amongst a nearly all-male cast was a unique experience.
Why is it that we hardly see stories about female army persons on the screen? Don’t their stories deserve to be celebrated more?
Films are a reflection of society. Filmmakers only make films that the audiences will hopefully like; it’ll take more time for that change to happen. Though I’m proud of my country, I won’t shy away from telling you that we’re (women) treated as second-grade citizens. We are still seen by men as someone who’ll stay at home or cook. Why shouldn’t the man do it? Women are gradually breaking that stereotype though the patriarchal mindset is still persistent.
I’d only recently read about a Miss India finalist, Aishwarya Sheoran, who got a double-digit rank in the UPSC exams. She’s good looking, glamourous and still an achiever. They say we’re a society of equals, but the harsh truth is that we’re a male-dominated society and that’s why our films are male dominant. Terms like women-centric films are still being used and people who watch the films ask, ‘isme hero kaun hai?’ The change is happening very slowly and probably in a later era where you or I wouldn’t be alive, we would see more war films highlighting the contribution of female service persons.
Did your director, Susad Iqbal Khan, tell you the reason behind casting you in the film? It’s an unlikely yet interesting choice…
When he had called me, Susad told me he’d watched Bhindi Bazaar and reminded me that he offered a film before Mumbai 125 kms. I, honestly, couldn’t recollect it and even told him that. He was reportedly waiting to work with me. With high cheekbones, sharp expressions and my hair tied up – the no-nonsense look certainly comes through in the film. He helped me through the process. Army persons are known to be straightforward, cordial and are people of few words. My brother-in-law is an army person as well, I stayed with him for four days asking him to introduce me to the various aspects of their daily life. I asked him a lot of questions about women in the army and he took me to many places for me to observe their body language. I’m wearing the uniform through the film and it’s heartening that my director found a way to de-stereotype me.
Do you feel The Hidden Strike will give confidence to filmmakers to cast you in a wider variety of roles?
I think the change will come about. The promotions for the film through social media have truly opened up a new source of revenue to me. Once our industry opens up and work resumes, I’m sure my body of work will be expansive and I’ll get promising roles. At the same time, my social media presence has all of a sudden become so strong and the digital space will present me more opportunities for work than what I’ve had in the last ten years.
Being in the visual medium, having won a model hunt and experiencing life in the fashion industry, has the pressure to look good or be size-zero gotten to you?
I must say I’m lucky with my genes. My mom has been slim for the major part of her life and she looks two decades younger even at 70. We’re a family of five sisters and most of us are thin. I was always underweight, I love working out, enjoy physical activity and have been a national level swimmer too. I was always into games. My workouts continue at home even during the lockdown. I never try to maintain my body shape, I do it for my wellbeing. Keeping up with myself is my only priority.
You must consider yourself lucky that you got to spend almost a year in the Hawaiian Islands before the lockdown was imposed in the country. It’s helping you compensate for all the time when we’re restricted to our homes…
It’s not a compensation really and I’m, in fact, planning to return to Hawaii this October or December again. I love travelling and exploring newer horizons. When you go out and explore the world, you realise that the pressures of the industry are so small. Travel makes you realise that there’s so much to life than making money and earning fame. There’s so much to see and to do. When I was in the US, I was working in a theatre company and simultaneously travelling through the island. I loved the experience to take that one year off and travel. Theatre circuit is completely different back there. I loved enriching my life.