Soni Razdan, the wife of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and mother of established Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt, is a veteran who broke moulds within the Indian entertainment industry.
She began her career with English and Hindi theatre. Subsequently, she was seen in the TV series Buniyaad.
Over time, we have also seen her in several arthouse gems like 36 Chowringhee Lane, Mandi and Saaransh, to name a few.
After many years, Razdan is back to basics with British theatre in When The Crows Visit, in which she plays an uncontrollable, invalid mother-in-law.
In a special interview with Filme Shilmy, Soni Razdan talks about her journey from British theatre to Bollywood and beyond.
War is one of this year’s highest-grossing films, congratulations and now you’re back with British theatre. How has your experience been working in When The Crows Visit?
First of all, thank you. Yes, War is a surprise to all of us and I’m proud to be associated with it, albeit in a tiny role. It was still a pleasure to do that film.
I’ve had hectic five weeks because we’ve been rehearsing and performing back-to-back. I came and started rehearsals two days later.
We’ve been rushing through it like a fast train it is a wonderful experience.
The group I am working with, the actors, director, it’s not always you get to be comfortable with everyone that you’re working with.
Your career began in British theatre. How has the learning from this platform developed you in becoming the experienced actor you are today?
It’s actually also the reason why I became the actor I did in those days. As you know, I did my drama school here and then went back to India.
For the Indian scene at the time, I was a different actress because I brought a naturalistic style to the table.
This was probably not prevalent in those days so that was perhaps my USP in those days.
It has definitely given my foundation and grounding which has stayed with me all of my life.
When it comes to Bollywood, you have enriched experience in parallel films… What is your view on the way cinema has evolved, given that there is now a bridge between the non-commercial and mainstream?
The biggest thing that has happened to the cinema is the prominence of digital content.
I was in a film last year called Yours Truly where I played the title role and people at this age rarely offer that.
My character was of a lonely middle-aged woman, searching for love which actually found its platform on Zee5.
So what’s wonderful about today’s time is that it’s encouraging a lot of filmmakers to make really unusual movies and content they feel passionately about.
But even before this, films were changing quite a lot.
We were making ways into different avenues including making realistic cinema, interesting and edge-of-the-seat content.
It no longer is about the big blockbusters. We have a huge mixed bag and it’ll be interesting to see what transpires.
Raazi was the first time we saw you and Alia on screen together. Whilst acting, how challenging was it for you to maintain yourself as an actor rather than the protective mother?
Hmm… When you’re a mother, you’re always a mother. You’re thoughtlessly protective and irritating for your child (laughs).
What was nice about Raazi is that it gave us a lot of time to spend with each other. If we packed-up early, we would go for a Shikara ride on the Dal Lake or something like that.
We would never go back to the hotel. We’d be out and about or go out for a meal. We just hung out together. That time was really precious.
How instrumental were you with the way Alia’s career has shaped up?
With regards to me being instrumental in her career, we were not really required.
When an actor comes into the scene today, if she (like Alia) comes in with the backing of a banner like Dharma Productions, they take care of everything.
As such, they got her a good management team, prepared her for all interviews, so they took care of everything that perhaps we might’ve had to do as parents if we didn’t have that support.
I can say that she is very lucky that she got Karan as her first producer. He has become Alia’s father-figure. He definitely has the protective wing around the people he nurtures.
In that sense, Alia has been very lucky and we were happy he was doing it as he was much better than how we would’ve been (laughs).
Whether it’s Mandi or Yours Truly, we’ve seen some empowering works from you… Even if it is a cameo in Gumrah…
I was pregnant with Alia in that scene. When I was in that prison cell smoking the cigarettes and doing that quotient, I wasn’t aware that I was expecting.
After I found out, I was very scared and thought “oh my god, I’ve smoked so many cigarettes.”
Luckily, I didn’t smoke any after that (laughs).
What is your view on the momentum of female-centric content today?
It has picked up, but it has to pick up more for us to say that there is a ‘rise’.
I don’t think in the cinema there is a huge rise, there are a few films which really empower well but there are very few.
For the younger generation, the sky is the limit in terms of female-centric content. There are huge opportunities.
The industry is progressing but even today, senior actors seem to be side-lined and bracketed into doing ‘mother’ roles. How justified (or not) is this?
It’s not justified, but it takes a bit of time for films to start reflecting the reality around them.
As women become more empowered and more powerful mainstream life in the country, the roles will reflect that.
Due to the digital platforms today, women are getting great roles so across the board there is a lot of scopes.
In that sense, women are not ‘suffering’. There used to be a dearth of roles before, but now I’d say there is a glut.
Are they making films for veteran actresses? I doubt it. People are always aware of veteran/experienced actresses, but does anyone care?
I spoke to a casting director the other day and she said: “We are casting people aged 45 for 60-years-old.” I just said why not cast people who are actually that age?
There is this conversation which is happening. I think it’s just a process which has just begun.
I think it will go to its logical conclusion, which means it’ll be fine, but it shall take some time.
Currently, you have it all… A successful career and a loveable family. What are your hopes and aspirations from life now?
Obviously doing more good work (laughs). Both my daughters are grown up and they don’t need me the way they did before.
They are looking after themselves so I have all the time in the world now to explore my avenues.
Hence, this is the reason why I thought I could come to London and do such a play.
Nowadays, the sky is the limit. There are web-series out there and we can go anywhere to shoot.
Everything has become global and we’re living in a one-country world if you ask me.
Today, there are no full-stops or barriers. It’s only going to get better.
I’m looking forward to making the most of it for the time-being (smiles).
Listen to our interview with Soni Razdan here:
When The Crows Visit revolves around the situation of when a son returns home after being accused of a violent crime, a mother is forced to confront the ghosts of her past when the crows visit.
Inspired by true events in modern-day India, Anupama Chandrasekhar explores the themes of Ibsen’s Ghosts and the cyclical nature of oppression in a dark and brave world premiere.
plays at Kiln Theatre, London until 30th November.