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Exclusive! Sheeba Chadha on ageism in Bollywood: Onscreen matriarchs are more nuanced now, but there is still a long way to go

In an exclusive chat with OTTplay, acclaimed actress Sheeba Chadha talks about redefining female characters in films and TV series, her love for theatre and more

Exclusive! Sheeba Chadha on ageism in Bollywood: Onscreen matriarchs are more nuanced now, but there is still a long way to go
Sheeba Chadha

Last Updated: 03.59 PM, Mar 07, 2023


It’s still a rarity to find fierce female-focussed narratives in Hindi cinema. Be it the role of a mother or a love interest, more often than not, female characters succumb to gender stereotypes. While we wait for films and television series to bring a new perspective to stories, there are artistes who are defying convention with their powerhouse performances on screen. One among them is award-winning film, TV and theatre actress Sheeba Chadha. Be it as Nayantara in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Hamida in Gully Boy, Baby Thakur in Badhaai Do, Usha Giri in Pagglait, Chikni Chudail in Phone Bhoot or Shobha Gupta in Doctor G, Sheeba is simply unmissable on screen. 

One of the most talented and acclaimed actresses of our time, Sheeba is known for playing versatile and unconventional roles in different mediums. Recently honoured with two prestigious film awards, the actress currently has a packed schedule with quite a few releases slated for 2023. 

In an exclusive conversation with OTTplay, Sheeba talks about her upcoming projects, her take on OTT platforms helping to redefine female characters on screen, her love for theatre, why she is sceptical about pushing kids to the world of showbiz and more. Excerpts:

Sheeba Chadha recently won two prestigious awards for her role in 'Doctor G'
Sheeba Chadha recently won two prestigious awards for her role in 'Doctor G'

Q. 2022 was quite busy for you. Tell us about your upcoming projects. Any film or series that you are particularly looking forward to this year?

A. Currently, I’m shooting for Afghaani Snow [an action thriller film directed by Anshai Lal and produced by Clean Slate Filmz’ Karnesh Ssharma]. Then, I am also working on the second season of Bandish Bandits [a musical romantic drama series created by Amritpal Singh Bindra and Anand Tiwari for Amazon Prime Video] and the next season of Permanent Roommates [a Arunabh Kumar-directed romantic comedy series, produced by the Viral Fever Media Labs]. We wrapped up the shooting of Mirzapur Season 3 [an action crime thriller series created by Karan Anshuman and Puneet Krishna for Amazon Prime Video].   

There’s also a German series I did for Netflix that is releasing later in 2023. I had done a film in Australia, which is also coming out this year. Then, there is another movie with Anand Tiwari, which will also be released this year. Among these, I think it might be interesting to know the audience’s response for the German project as well as for Afghaani Snow.

Q. OTT platforms are hailed as conducive to creativity and inclusivity. Do you think things have changed for women on the set today - be it in terms of a character onscreen or as a crew member?

A. I believe, in this case, proof is in the pudding. We have seen a lot more varied, layered and nuanced female characters being written and portrayed by wonderful actors around. So, of course, there is a change in that. Even when we go for shooting now, there are conversations about the female presence on the set - whether or not there is a good balance or is it less. This was not seen before. So yes, of course, it’s great to see the change. There are so many wonderful female directors, DOPs and script writers. Having said that, I think there still can be a lot more.

Q. Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion around male and female gaze in storytelling. Your views about that…

A. Obviously, it’s great to see the female gender occupying more presence, power and space in the world of cinema. But our society still is particularly lacking in that, because we are still seeing a lot of repression. Sometimes I feel, oh my god, is it really 2023 still. There are so many areas that we are still seriously lacking in. It’s really sad. I hope a day comes when we don’t need to have a conversation about this anymore. We are still going on having to talk about it, because there’s just so much deprivation in that area still. I just hope we reach a space, where there’s no need to even bring this up as a topic of discussion. Unfortunately, that’s still a long way, I think. So yes, while things are better in representation, I wish it was even more so in the world that we live in.

Q. From Sharmila Tagore in Gulmohar to Zeenat Aman in Showstopper, many veteran actresses are now making a comeback to films through OTT platforms. Do you agree that the digital medium has been a boon in that regard?

A. Of course, with the digital medium, there is a lot more content happening. A different kind of space opens up for creating and watching content. Often the question is asked - is this an OTT film or a theatrical release. Which means that there are spaces that are different. In the digital space, there is a kind of content which is possible to be created and then sort of enlarge the scope of casting for it. The dynamic is different, so obviously it leads to varied kinds of casting. So yeah, why not? Whoever can and it is possible for them to do, should do.

Sheeba Chadha in a still from 'Pagglait'
Sheeba Chadha in a still from 'Pagglait'

Q. So, do you think it will also help counter ageism in Bollywood?

A. In a way, yes. But when people of a certain category or age group are put in the centre of stories, where they’re driving the story, they’re still being cast in the space which is meant for that kind of a role. So, it doesn’t really mean much whether one is a matriarch or such. That said, there’s of course a lot more nuance to the role of a matriarch now, as opposed to just being a particular kind. So, that’s interesting. But it’ll be nice to see content which is literally driven by that age, which we still don’t see much.

Q. You have had an illustrious theatre career in the past. Now, amid your busy schedule, do you get the time to do a play or even watch a show?

A. I think I am always wanting to, but in the past couple of years, it’s just been impossible. In fact, I just had to say no to my most favourite director ever, Rehaan Engineer, who’s doing this wonderful new production for just four days with about 38 women. It’s just a four-day rehearsal period. Then, there’ll be some six shows and that’s it. But I could not do it because the dates don’t match. It’s sad, but it’s always there in my mind that I would love to do one.

Q. Do you miss the stage?

A. I think any theatre actor would. Of course, I do miss the stage. But it’s obviously not maybe to a point where I’m willing to just say no to five other projects right now. Because, that’s what it will ask for, and then I cannot do anything else. It’s like giving yourself to a theatre rehearsal process, which will be for a month and a half or two months, and then shows. And anything that will come at that point, I would have to say no to. It’s been difficult to do that in the last two, two and a half, three years. But I’m sure in time it will happen.

Q. There seems to be an interesting camaraderie between you and your daughter. Is she also interested in acting?

A. She doesn’t seem to be interested in acting, as of now. She’s going to be a part of Rehaan’s play, for which too she had to be pushed a little, because I just wanted her to have the experience. But she doesn’t seem to be into acting so much right now. 

The actress in a still from 'Songs of Paradise'
The actress in a still from 'Songs of Paradise'

Q. What’s your take on children being part of the showbiz world?

A. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing for them. When I see kids doing a lot of the stuff that they do - be it on television shows or films - I am sorry but I’m not sure if that’s quite the right space for youngsters to be, at that age. I’m a little rigid about it, in a way. Over the years, I have worked with too many kids and I don’t think it’s an environment that’s suitable and amenable for kids when they’re growing up. They all just assume this very non-childlike filminess, because it’s like adhering to certain external ways of being or behaving, which they see and then they emulate without even realising it. 

It’s sad because it’s so fake and it’s so put on, and then that falseness almost becomes a part of their personality. And that’s so sad. The entertainment industry is a complicated world, and I’m not sure if a child has the bandwidth to navigate the complexities of it. But they are impacted by the complexity of it without realising it. So, I am not very keen, unless these things are taken care of. In fact, I see a lot of kids who have been sort of pushed to be in this space by their parents. Later, it’s almost as if you can’t figure out where it came from. Then, the assumption is that the child really wanted to do it. But that’s a child, what will he or she know at the age of six-seven or eight-nine? In that sense, I think, we shouldn’t say yes to everything a child asks for. 

If left to me, there will probably be no kids in the industry. I’m a little anal about this. I don’t think that the environment is amenable for children, because it is a complex space and I don’t think kids have the understanding to deal with it. And it fashions them in a way that I don’t find very positive. 

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