Richa Chadha is one name in Bollywood that is known for never shying away from speaking her mind on everything from the treatment of actresses in the industry to the rising #MeToo movement. So it comes as no surprise that Richa would be playing a lead role in the upcoming film "Section 375", a no-holds-barred drama which follows the case of a director being accused of rape by a costume assistant. The plot follows the case as it plays out in the courtroom, with Richa's character Hiral Mehta fighting for the alleged victim's case against Tarun Saluja (played by Akshaye Khanna), a criminal lawyer representing the accused rapist. In this exclusive interview with Masala! Richa reveals what sets "Section 375" apart from the rest and why audiences should leave any presumptions about the film at home.
When Richa is asked what drew her towards playing a character like public prosector Hiral Mehta in the upcoming film, she is quick to point out that it wasn't just the character, but the film as a whole that caught her attention. "I was really excited to play the part of the lawyer," answers Richa. "I read for my character to see if my character has something interesting or unusual about them. But I also read the whole script and when I read the whole script (for "Section 375") I found it to be a very balanced narrative. I found it to be something that was something that was topical, because it is about a case of harassment within the film industry. I just thought that I should not waste being a part of this movie."
The point about the film being "balanced" is certainly relevant. The trailer for "Section 375" is chock-full of scenes and dialogues that are reminiscent of real-life scenarios we've all heard about in regards to sexual assault cases. From calling out questions towards the victim (e.g. "Were you sexually active before the rape?" or "Why did you go to his room in the first place?") as inappropriate, to Akshaye's character explaining that even a convicted rapist technically has the right to a legal constitutional defense, there is an intention to present both sides of the narrative on an equal playing field. But the subject and research behind the movie was taken very seriously. "When you play a character like this, there has to be a certain amount of responsibility. We've been really careful even with the promotions of the film. We want to make sure that people understand that at no point are we saying something that is not correct," says the actress.
Considering the sensitivity of a topic like sexual assault, Richa clarifies that this is a film purely based on the law. "It has a lot to do with the legal system, more than anything else," says Richa. "This film is a proper courtroom drama. There are certain sections of the Indian penal code which are, on paper, supposed to help women through that process of going to the police and filing a case. But what happens thereafter? Is the law properly executed? Do we find that people have a bias, people presuming men to be guilty and women to be innocent, or vice versa? Is there victim-shaming?"
As for assumptions that viewers may have about any victim-shaming being promoted by the film, the actress believes that audiences should see the film first before making any judgments. "Bollywood has made problematic films about toxic masculinity, like very recently. I just think people should watch the film before they judge it. People should understand where it's going what the intent of the filmmaker is. That is easy to judge. And I think when people will see it they'll know what I'm talking about."
“Section 375” is directed by Ajay Bahl and stars Akshaye Khanna, Richa Chadha, and Meera Chopra. It’s slated to release in theatres across the UAE this Thursday, September 12.