How Bidita Bag transformed into India’s 1st stuntwoman Reshma Pathan aka ‘The Sholay Girl’

Written By: Riya Paul

It took 400 films, 50 long years, multiple fractures and copious amount of blood loss for a biopic to be made on her journey. Until then the daring Reshma Pathan was known just by word of mouth among her peers in the film industry. Thanks to producer Sai Deodhar who chanced upon the story of Bollywood’s first stuntwoman and director Aditya Sarpotdar who in turn collaborated with ZEE5 to direct a biopic on India’s first ever stuntwoman. The 1.25 hour long film shot Pathan to overnight fame– a credit she was deprived of ever since she turned a stuntwoman at the young age of 14. With rave responses coming in from all quarters, Pathan as well as Bidita who essayed the titular role in the biopic are understandably joyous. Bollywoodwallah caught up with cast and crew of the film for a tete-a-tete. Excerpts from the interview.

Bidita, congratulations on the success of the film. Tell us, what made you choose this role given that there were dangerous stunts you had to portray?

Bidita Bag : As an actor, I am not a well- known one. So I select from choices which have been given to me. I am glad ZEE5 and Sai (Deodhar,producer)thought of me for this role. It was an immense privilege for me to portray India’s first successful stuntwoman – Reshma ji and I consider myself  lucky because a role like this is an actor’s delight. I get to live her (Reshma Pathan) fifty years of journey in an hour and a half which in turn took 16 days to shoot. I must say she has been through a lot in life at various levels. It was indeed a challenge to replicate what she has been through not just for me as an actor but also for Sai and Aditya sir too. Nevertheless, both of them as well as Reshmaji guided me really well!

The common people weren’t aware of Reshma Pathan until the release of ‘ The Sholay Girl’. Were you acquainted with her work profile before you were offered the role ?

Bidita Bag : Sadly, no. I was not aware at all and I do feel embarrassed that I never knew about her. I knew that men did the stunts owing to how dangerous they can turn out to but I never knew we had a stuntwoman! I always was keen to know about the technical things but when a particular shot didn’t show the heroine’s face I presumed that maybe it’s a stuntman dressed as the heroine and doing the stunt. I was not aware that it would turn out to be Reshmaji .

How hard was it for you to pull off the professional stunt scenes in the film?

Bidita Bag : I did a lot of prepping up. I practice yoga regularly and then I got trained in martial arts. That helped me pull off the basic shots. I also watched and observed particularly difficult film scenes which Reshmaji had done like the ones in ‘Sholay and ‘Karz’. While I was prepping, the character, the plot, the entire story, the schedule were still under development as there was no time beforehand for a more elaborate routine. And the thing is though I portray a stuntwoman I had stunt doubles for myself too! For its impossible to pull off the scenes which had been done at Reshmaji’s level. Thus, I was told to focus more on the acting involved and not to worry about the stunts. The unpredictable risk would do no good to the already determined release date. It took Almaas(a professional dancer), one sixteen-year- old’s somersaults , a horse rider and another set of trained horses to make the scenes look authentic and perfect. Even the harness cables for safety were limited. Apart from coffee, Sai here understood me a great deal, because she is not only producing the project but also an actor herself. She knows that difficulties are bound to happen even more, without any prior workshops.

Sai, you made your debut as an actor in “Saara Akash” Then you went ahead and became a producer and now you are directing a project yourself. How do you multitask?

Sai Deodhar :  I am a mother as well and that too of a crazy cute seven-year-old! But on a serious note cinema is my source of excitement and inspiration and every woman is empowered you know. I think it’s just upto us to go ahead and explore it. No matter which aspect of a film I am dealing with it always has something new in store for me. For instance, in ‘The Sholay Girl’ I learnt a lot about the grading and scoring of background music from Aditya and Gulraj (music directors).

How challenging was it for your team to put up large number of sets in limited number of days given that production itself is a comparatively new realm for you?

Sai Deodhar : We had a mammoth task of putting up around 20-22 sets that too within a period of just 16 days. So per day we had to be done with three sets. Given the pace, it was indeed difficult to recreate the required era. If the details were not authentic enough it would affect adversely. It’s a period film and everything had to be taken care of. Aditya would point out if a frame or a space was not correct and whether or not it needed to be filled out or not. My entire team,my art assistants, my DOP, our scriptwriter(Faizal Akhtar) and my beautiful ensemble cast especially Bidita all have had their part in making this production come alive.

Like ‘The Sholay Girl’ we have very few biopics made on women. Do you think the industry is really patriarchal?

Sai Deodhar : You know if we speak in context of the film there are women directors, producers, DOPs, scriptwriters and every other profession which is filled them but we don’t have them in stunts. Also, we don’t have a stunt director who is a woman till now. And it’s sad because we should have one. So imagine how male dominated the profession is.

Reshma ji, Stuntmen and women are not given their due recognition even today. What is your take on it?

Reshma Pathan : I want to say that let my biopic be an  answer to that. I have often had a very good rapport with the actors especially Hema ji(Hema Malini) directors and producers I have worked with. I was praised as well. But it was forgotten soon after and that did really hurt me and left me sad. I hope the biopic will encourage all the filmmakers to give everyone their due recognition and importance because everything , no matter how minute it might seem is important when it comes to film making whether its music, dance, dialogue, technicians and not just the actors. I am not saying that actors don’t work they in fact work hard but unlike us stunt members they get awards. I really am grateful to Sai, Aditya…Bidita and the ZEE5 team for this recognition. Another thing I wanted to say is there is nothing wrong in being an ambitious girl. A girl should be educated, well supported and her dreams are valid too just like boys. I had strong opposition to not go ahead with the career I had chosen not just because it was dangerous but also because I am woman But if I had listened to the ones who opposed me I wouldn’t have been able to support my family. I might have started out of choice but my profession has left me feeling brave and strong in spite of going through some physically tiresome experiences. But I couldn’t let them hinder me for I was on a mission to support my loved ones. I would always wait for my body to heal so that I could show up for the work the next day.

Which were the most difficult stunts for you to pull off in your career?

Reshma Pathan : Oh there were some memorable ones! In ‘Kasme Vaade’ I fractured my leg. The doctor had advised me against work for six months but as I thought of my family. I myself cut all the plaster after two months and showed up for work. And of, course the ‘tonga scene’ in ‘Sholay’ I appeared for it without any prior demo or prep and just followed the master’s instructions. While I was recovering from the injury Hema ji had come to visit me to see how I was coping up. And then the scene in ‘Karz’ the director had called me for just one scene where the character gets hit by the truck. But I ended up having a severe blood clot and was in the hospital without getting paid for the extra expense caused by the injury. On top of that the shifts were continuous. Luckily my sister helped me sooth, despite the pain. Family and human mind can shape the extent you are willing to work. Whenever I go through physical pain, I try not to let it rule me. I can’t, especially when your profession depends on your health and strength. I deliberately divert my attention and with that pain and tears in my eyes I would again show up for work. I followed that policy even when I was asked to come in for the meetings with the film crew (thinking I was being pranked at, like how I did to my friends when I was younger !) and most importantly during the shoot days on the sets of the film. I wanted to give Bidita and her stunt doubles as much of input as possible. The honor and respect which I received made me forget that just a few days back I was going through a painful condition due to my ailing pancreas but it was just worth it.  It’s my parents’ blessing that has protected me and enabled me to live this far. Tthey died right in my arms I still work though I am 65 at present. I am a woman but to my family I am their son.