• Saturday, April 13, 2024

Arts and Culture

Rasika Dugal: Spirited away by indie films

The actress talks about her latest film, Fairy Folk and  the importance of telling independent stories in Bollywood

Rasika Dugal

By: Mohnish Singh

WITH a filmography that boasts independent gems, mainstream films and streaming shows, Rasika Dugal has carved her own unique path in showbiz, captivating audiences with her remarkable talent and nuanced performances.  

In her one-and-a-half-decade-long career, she has breathed life into a diverse array of characters, leaving an indelible mark on each role she essayed. 

 Eastern Eye caught up with the talented actress to talk about her latest film, Fairy Folk, the importance of telling independent stories in Bollywood, how she adapts her approach to acting in independent projects with smaller budgets and tighter schedules, and much more.

The actress also opened up about how the late actor Irrfan Khan and filmmakers such as Mira Nair and Nandita Das significantly influenced her approach to her craft. 

 Your film Fairy Folk has received positive reviews from critics. What does it mean to you?

 I’m very happy whenever an indie film is in theatres and gets reviewed. I started my journey with independent cinema and it has a special place in my heart.  

The fact that people are still passionate about these films, and they watch them, talk about them, and review them, is always very encouraging to me because I feel this is a space that is very pure in its passion. Any support towards it is very encouraging to me as a performer and artist. 

 Tell us something about the film and the character you are portraying in it.  

I would love for you to watch it. It’s difficult to answer this question because it’s so much. It’s not one thing, especially a film like this. Fairy Folk is an improvised film.  

If you see the trailer, it does give you a sense of that – the sense of the improvised nature of the film. Basically, this film is very different in its style of filmmaking, which I believe has never happened before in our country.  

There used to be a rough structure to every scene. There wasn’t a regular screenplay you have for films where everything is written in the utmost detail with dialogue, entries and exits and often actions for actors, etcetera.  

This had a very basic screenplay in which the director had written three or four lines for every scene, which conveyed to us what he wanted to achieve from the scene, and the dialogue was not written at all. 

 Did you have fun working on a project like this?  

It was great fun for me as an actor because I previously worked as an improviser with a Mumbai-based group called Impro Comedy, and so had the other actors. Mukul Chadda (Rasika’s husband and co-star) has worked with them extensively.  

Avinash (Varma) and Ankit (Challa), two other actors in the film, are seasoned and talented improvisers. We’d all worked together before, so we were familiar with the art of improvisation. 

It sounds fun but, at the same time, very difficult. 

 It’s not like you do anything. There are rules to the game. It’s like a sport, and you have to have all those rules. You have to have practised it, and you have to have practised it as a team.  

That’s when good improvisation can happen. Otherwise, things can go all over the place. So that’s how we made this film.  

How was it working with your co-actors? 

 It was an absolute delight as an actor to work with them and experiment with something like this.  

I have watched some improvised films made in the West, but mostly they deal with very simplistic issues and a simple story or a simple relationship drama. Fairy Folk takes it a notch higher by dealing with magical realism and a relationship drama in an improvised film.  

So, it is a really brave exercise on the part of the director, but a very fun exercise for actors.  

What can the audience learn from this film?  

Films are not meant to teach people. They’re meant to leave people with a feeling. They’re meant to leave people with thoughts they can linger with. And that’s the beauty of a well-told story; it allows you to take away different things from it. It doesn’t tell you one thing and it doesn’t tell you how to think. It leaves you with a certain set of ideas that you can make something of. 

 That’s my experience every time I watch a good film, and I hope that’s the feeling that stays with audience when they watch Fairy Folk.  

Why do you think it’s important to tell independent stories in Bollywood? 

 It’s important to tell a well-told story. I don’t think independent films are always well told.  

There are some good alternative films and there are also some bad ones in the same way there are good mainstream films and bad ones.  

Just because the film is independently made, does not mean that it is done well or it’s a well told story. 

 It’s upto the viewer to make a decision on their own, whether a story is well told or not, or whether it’s mainstream or art-house.  

A still from Fairy Folk.

Alternative films often have smaller budgets and tighter schedules. How do you adapt your approach to acting in these genres? 

 Your approach to acting remains the same no matter how the project is mounted or what the resources are. But yes, in an independent film, there are very limited resources.  

Sometimes that can become very hard on everybody. But that’s something you know before you sign up for an experimental film.  

You know that the resources are going to be very limited and there’s going to be no hair and makeup team or any vanity vans and all of that. None of this was there for Fairy Folk.  

How did you and your co-actors manage? 

 All of us doubled up for an entire film unit to get the project done. It’s an interesting exercise. 

 As an actor, it’s always important to have varied experiences at times in your career. When I started out, I had done so many independent films, so I knew about this way of working. 

 But when Karen (Gour) came to me again with Fairy Folk after our 2011 independent film called Kshay, I was like, ‘Karan, I don’t know if I still have the physical capacity to work like we did in Kshay’. 

 What made you say so?  

Because in Kshay, on the best day, we had four people on set. On Fairy Folk, we got an upgrade as we had 10 people on the set.  

But I think it’s important to put yourself through this physically exhausting and gruelling process. It sometimes gives you something very good to work with as an actor. 

 What’s the criteria that guide your selection of projects?  

It’s different things at different times. But if you ask me today, I would say I’m really looking for a role which asks me to learn a new story or requires a significant physical transformation, or it emotionally takes me to a space where I haven’t been before, or I might not have the opportunity to in the normal course of my life. 

 I also choose projects where a director is very invested in what they’re doing, that the film and the world of the film is all that they can think of, because I like that way of working.  

When a director has that and expects the same from me, it’s a project which is really exciting to me. 

 Are there any fellow actors who have influenced your approach to your craft? 

 Of course. I have had opportunities to work with some good actors and filmmakers early on in my career.  

I did a film called Qissa, which turned out to be such a special experience in my life because I got to work with experienced and terrific actors like Irrfan (Khan), Tisca (Chopra), and Tillotama (Shome). It was such a learning experience for me. I learned really how to be a good co-actor from Irrfan because when we shot Qissa, he had so much more experience than I had as an actor. But there was not a single moment on set where I felt that he didn’t treat me as equal. 

 Irrfan always gave me respect for what I had to offer to the film.  

I will never forget that. That really taught me how to respect co-actors no matter what the difference in your experience levels are. 

 And what about directors?  

Right from Anup Singh to Nandita Das and Richie Mehta to Mira Nair, there is a long list.  

They all are so inspiring as directors and as individuals. They have had long creative journeys and have done such phenomenal work.  

I am grateful that I got an opportunity to be a part of their world for a while. 

 When can we expect season three of Mirzapur?  

Very soon. We will not make our fans wait too much. They have been very loyal to us and we respect that. Soon we will have a new season and the wait will be worth it.  

And what about Lootcase 2? Have you heard anything from director Rajesh Krishnan?  

No, unfortunately, I have not heard anything about Lootcase 2, but I would love to.  

If they have an idea for it, I am ready. I think there is a lot that can still be explored with that family. Lata was such a fun character to play.  

What is next for you?  

Mirzapur 3 will hopefully be my next release, but I have about seven other projects which are at different stages of completion. 

 I have shot for all of them. There are some very interesting ones.  

I have done two new shows. One of them is with Kay Kay Menon and Ranvir Shorey, which is called Shekhar Home. 

 The other one is with Applause Entertainment where I am playing a very new character, something that I have not done before, so I am very excited about that.  

There are two films, one with Arjun Mathur called Lord Curzon Ki Haveli. There is Little Thomas with Gulshan Devaiah. There is one more film which I am not allowed to speak about right now. 

 There is a sports drama series called Spike. There are a bunch of things coming out. 

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