From acquiring a pregnant woman's gait for Haseena Parkar's role, learning Telugu, to building muscle for the Saina Nehwal biopicactor Shraddha Kapoor is reinventing herself for her latest roles
I met Shraddha Kapoor on her 33rd day of badminton training with a professional coach. She was late for our appointment because her training schedule had been changed that day from its usual location and time. “I am usually on the court between 6.15 and 6.30 in the morning and am now training for up to 2 hours because my skills are improving," says Kapoor, who is preparing to portray former world champion Saina Nehwal in a biopic to be directed by Amole Gupte. “Before this I had only played the game like any other child. Now, I am completely in love with badminton."
There’s a great deal going on in the 30-year-old actor’s life. After playing several age-appropriate, urban characters in films such as Aashiqui 2, Half Girlfriend and OK Jaanu, she’s taking a long and definite stride out of her comfort zone. In Apoorva Lakhia’s just-released Haseena Parkar, Kapoor plays a girl who marries young, has four children in quick succession, is widowed, becomes a grandmother and transforms into an intimidating and authoritative godmother. The petite actor is aged up from 17 years to 45 in Haseena Parkar.
Now Kapoor is taking Telugu classes for her upcoming film Saaho (which is simultaneously being made in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil and will release in 2018) with Telugu star Prabhas and is learning the finer points of badminton to convincingly portray Nehwal.
Kapoor was not the go-to girl for the part of Haseena Parkar, the late sister of don Dawood Ibrahim and a godmother in her own right. Lakhia had to chalk up a new list once Sonakshi Sinha bowed out of the film owing to scheduling issues. Lakhia then called on Kapoor, who was instantly interested in the script.
“The endeavour is to do something different from what I have done before and to do better work. I felt very moved by the story of Haseena Parkar and the fact that a real person had actually lived through all these events," says Kapoor, who, apart from absorbing the research handed to her by the director, also undertook her own primary preparation, which included spending time with the Parkar family. “I felt like a journalist of sorts, because I met them with three pages of questions about what Haseena was like. For instance, they said she had this quiet confidence about her, a kind of change that comes about only if you have gone through the kind of losses she had. When you are completely spent and empty and numb, with no more tears left.... I tried my best to imagine what it would feel like to lose one’s husband and son and be so spent," says Kapoor.
Besides the character study, there was the physical transformation, which involved a bodysuit, make-up to change her complexion, hair, costumes and the more personal physical alteration of weight gain.
Not only did Kapoor interact with the Parkar family, she also visited two gynaecologists to understand how quick childbirth would affect a woman’s posture and gait. She gained about 10kg to look like the older version of her character, and walked around her home in the bodysuit to get accustomed to it. Lakhia says that Kapoor’s process began way before they began shooting. “We had many script readings before going on set. I took her to Nagpada, Parkar’s former stronghold, in a burqa to meet Haseena’s tailor, teacher, etc. We picked up things from her wardrobe, such as her spectacles and nose rings, and used them in the film."
Kapoor admits that at the end of a work-day, she found it hard to snap out of Haseena and back into herself. She would remain quiet and introspective, often opting to stay home rather than go out and socialize. “At times I just wanted to stay in that zone. Perhaps it’s a process and with every film you gain experience which equips you to switch on and off," she says. “The experience of this film was enjoyable and exhausting—I enjoyed being emotionally drained because it was cathartic as well. Sometimes you don’t even know that through a character you are dealing with things in your own life."
After binge-eating to gain weight, Kapoor is now on a strict regime to transform her physique into that of a sportsperson. “It was amazing to be allowed to eat without restriction but now I am in the process of getting fit for Saina and Saaho. So alongside badminton training, I am also doing weight training at the gym to build physical strength."
Gupte loaded up a pen drive with homework for Kapoor. “I am watching videos of her (Nehwal’s) matches and interviews repeatedly to learn more and more about Saina’s game and to know who she is as a person. It’s not easy to play a world champion. I am amazed at her grit and dedication," says Kapoor, who intends to continue with her badminton training alongside her shooting schedule for Saaho in Hyderabad.
Her physical similarity, facial resemblance and athleticism are some of the factors that made Kapoor the right on-screen substitute for Nehwal, according to Gupte. “Shraddha has the resilience that is an intrinsic quality in a sportsperson—it’s what motivates her to be on court, across town, at 6am. She’s learning the sport because the camera cannot trick you into believing you are watching a world No.1," he says.
Speaking of Kapoor’s choices today, Lakhia says, “I think Shraddha has a competitive edge, which is leading her to the choices she is making because many of her contemporaries, like Alia Bhatt, are already doing interesting things." Whether she’s playing Nehwal or Arshia (in Haider) or Jiah (Rock On 2), Kapoor says her process begins with the cues given to her by the director. “While I could not meet Haseena Parkar and had to base my understanding of the character on research, in the instance of the Saina Nehwal biopic, I am really looking forward to interacting with her," says the actor, who cites Waheeda Rehman, Amitabh Bachchan, Jim Carrey, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Edward Norton and Robert De Niro among her acting icons.
And the one thing she has learnt during her seven years in Bollywood: “Keep giving of yourself. This is something I learnt from Vishal Bhardwaj. I don’t want to feel satisfied. Ever. I don’t want to feel that I did an amazing thing because then that would be the end of my effort."