There were times when I felt that did I decide to gain weight so much that people would not accept me for it?- Ritabhari Chakraborty
– By Farhad Dalal
With Her Bengali Film ‘Fatafati‘ making waves, the Year 2023 has begun on a good note for Ritabhari Chakraborty. In an Exclusive Interview with Farhad Dalal from Popcorn Reviewss, she talks about her film Fatafati, her character Phullora and the impact her film could make while dealing with a sensitive issue.
Tell us something about your new Bengali film Fatafati and your character Phullora.
Fatafati is about a ordinary girl’s journey of becoming something extraordinary. She has been plus size on the heavier side since she was a kid. So she has a lot of insecurities like any other woman who lives with a ‘Not society approved body image of woman’.
So Phullora loves fashion designing, she loves become making clothes, she loves tailoring. But then again, she doesn’t have the confidence to put herself forward. Later, the turns that her life takes eventually brings her to a point where she has to face her insecurities and all this scrutiny that the society puts on her for being plus size and not being the size that the fashion industry demands you to be. And how she breaks convention and norms in her own way while holding her family together, her relationship together with her husband. That’s what Fatafati’s journey is all about. And that us why her pen name for the blog is Fatafati.
What drew you towards character Phullora and how was your preparation for it in terms of gaining weight (and later losing it)?
Phullora was someone who was not me. I gained a little weight post my surgery and I’ve been trolled. And I’m told, like any other actors get trolled, that’s different. She’s a girl who has always considered herself to be inferior to the people and not in the forefront. People on the heavier side, they feel insecure to put themselves out there. So that’s journey I took with Phullora in Fatafati, where she finally becomes someone like who she does not want to hide from. So that’s her own journey, which Phullora needed.
I know people have been only talking about in the promotions about how much weight I gained for the film. And I understand it’s a lot for somebody at the peak of their career to gamble with this. So I know that’s a big deal. That’s why people are talking about it.
But at the same time, I want to talk about how much effort I have put in, in making Phullora alive. I’ve taken inspiration from women who are going through this journey every day. My own cousin has PCOD. So she cannot lose weight after a certain extent. Likewise, my Aunt has thyroid too which has resulted in her gaining weight. So real life women who have been my inspiration, seeing so many Miss Fatafati’s around and how they deal with life has been my inspiration of breeding Phullora. So that goes beyond just gaining weight.
While preparing for your role, what was the kind of response that you did get from people around you and on the social media?
Well, I didn’t announce initially that this was for a film. So people involuntarily thought like this is how I have become. And they started acting like it’s some sort of a crime that I have gained weight. And that was really brutal. I knew what I was doing. I still know what I’m doing. But back then, it only felt like attacks from people for just gaining weight. I couldn’t announce the film till 8 March. So I started gaining weight from October which was my surgery weight. Then I started gaining weight for the film through November, December, January, and some more in February.
But then we had the plan of announcing the film on the 8 March, on Women’s Day. So till that point, I had to keep shut and not tell what this weight gain was about. People gave me such condescending remarks and passed shrewd comments that I actually then realized that how important this film is to be made.
What are the insecurities or vulnerabilities which you have faced as an actor particularly while preparing for this character, considering that the looks of an actor is so important in today's times?
At this very point of time, I began to ignore my insecurities because I knew what I was doing and I had a whole plan in place with my nutritionist on-board. But still it is very hard when you’re reminded every single day that there’s something wrong with you. I wouldn’t lie. There were times when I felt, did I just take a career ending decision? Did I just make a decision to gain weight so much so that people will not accept me for it. And then it hit me that I really have to do this film, because where else will all these women go whose story needs to be told right here.
With several jokes being made on even popular comedy shows about body shaming, do you think people need to be more responsible while consuming such content? Also, how hard is it for you personally to handle such trolls?
I think there’s a thin line between humour and insult. If you are asking somebody, are you okay? You seem to have gained a lot of weight, are you fine? That’s concern because you’re asking whether this person is depressed or is sick because her usual body weight is not what you’re looking at. So that’s not shaming if you are talking just about the body. But if you go ahead and start ridiculing it, that’s a personal attack. So there’s a thin line between body shaming and just showing your concern towards someone’s body or appreciation per se.
So that is something people should learn and if they can’t, they shouldn’t comment on people’s body because it’s something so personal. What we put inside us, what we eat, how we lead our lives, what problems and issues we are dealing with inside the body and around our surroundings which manipulate the shape that we are in, no one else should have a judgment on that, until and unless they know in and out about my life and what it is like to walk in my shoes.
In times of social media and fat shaming being on the rise, what would your message be to the young girls at an impressionable age who are a victim of it and how they can turn it around too?
I think with social media, again, there are pros and cons to everything. One big pro is that if there are people shaming, then many people like fighting against it. There are also a lot of plus-size influencers. Even a film like Fatafati happens because it’s a free platform like social media where you can put yourself forward. If it was only in the hands of the editors and the people in the fashion business, it would take a long time to bring changes.
People talk about body positivity. During the promotions, I met so many women who were plus-size models or influencers. And they spoke that even for campaigns for which they have been picked because of inclusivity, g that they have faced discrimination while shooting on the floor. How is that inclusivity if you’re just showing it for the world and as a brand, you don’t follow it yourself? So I think we have a long way to go to understand how remarks on someone’s body are demeaning.
It has been a while since we have watched you in a Hindi film. When can we fans see Ritabhari in a Hindi film next?
I am working on something and shall be announcing it pretty soon. You will be seeing me in a Hindi project this year. That is my promise. But before that, I have already done a song with Nikita Gandhi and Chintan Raj who was also in the Netflix show Class. So this song is something thing I’m excited for, which should come out soon for you guys to see.
Post Fatafati, what does the year 2023 have in store for you and your fans?
In 2023 I am shooting a film right after this. A Bengali film called Apunjan in London. I leave in a day to shoot that opposite Jeetu Kamal who played Satyajit Ray in Aparajito and garnered a lot of praise. I’m excited to work with Jeetu and Anshuman. After that, I shoot two more projects which we are yet to be announced. So I cannot name them. And so I’m shooting back to back since July and the announcements will follow.
So yeah, 2023 looks like a very busy year and I’m happy about that. Probably that’s my Fatafati response that I’m getting because of the film I made and because of the work I’ve created. I’m fully healthy and hearty finally. So I’ll be doing more and more work and I hope I make you guys proud.