RISING STAR DUGAL ON HER GLITTERING CAREER, SUCCESSFUL PROJECTS AND FUTURE HOPES
by MOHNISH SINGH
A STEADY run of strong performances has turned into a full-blown
sprint for rapidly rising Indian star Rasika Dugal in the past few years.
The talented actress has shown off her impressive versatility in films, high-profile TV dramas and winning web serials. Some of her superb recent successes include perfect performances in popular projects that include A Suitable Boy, Delhi Crime, Mirzapur and Lootcase. She recently returned for Mirzapur 2 on Amazon Prime and her series A Suitable Boy has been made available on Netflix in countries around the world.
Eastern Eye caught up with in-demand actress Rasika to discuss her action-packed career, director Mira Nair, how she manages to keep reinventing herself to avoid monotony, and more.
How would you describe your show A Suitable Boy?
I don’t know whether or not you have read the book, but it follows three families in post-partitioned India in early 1950s. Basically, the story is about the Mehras where Rupa Mehra (Mahira Kakkar) is trying to look for a bridegroom for Lata (Tanya Maniktala). This young girl Lata is trying to find her way about the world and how she feels about it. It is basically about Lata and her journey exploring the world and her coming into her own while India as a country is also trying to come into her own. Any story which has a female protagonist is always interesting to tell.
What do you think is the biggest achievement of the show?
As you know, it is based on Vikram Seth’s classic novel, which is almost a 1,500 pages long book. I think creator Mira Nair and screenplay writer Andrew Davies had this monumental task of trying to set a 1,500 pages long novel like A Suitable Boy into a six-part series. That is the biggest achievement of the show, I think, because I am sure that must have been very hard. I believe in any creative process the hardest thing to do is edit. Every time I find editors and directors having to edit their work, my heart goes out to them. So, I am sure it was very difficult for Mira as it was for Andrew Davies. I feel they did a phenomenal job.
How did you manage to land a role in A Suitable Boy?
The casting for the project was done by Nandini Shrikent and Karan Wahi. I have known them for several years. I have auditioned with them several times and have even done a few projects with them.
How do you recall your first meeting with director Mira Nair?
I had met Mira a few times before and always had a deep desire to work with her. I first met Mira in New York when she introduced my film Qissa (2013) at the South Asian Indian Film Festival in New York. Tillotama Shome, my co-actor in Qissa, had acted in one film of Mira’s. So, she invited her to introduce our film to the audience. I had heard so much about her and was such a fan of her work. When I met her at the South Asian Indian Film Festival, she was so instantly friendly and loveable that my desire to work with her grew even stronger. It was one of the things on my bucket-list. I didn’t know if it would happen at all in my career. Fortunately, it did.
How has it been to work under the direction of Mira Nair?
It superseded my expectations in every way. I totally enjoyed being part of A Suitable Boy and being Savita. I also had a lot of fun with the ensemble cast. I had such good experience working with such great actors. It was great working with people who come to their work with a lot of commitment. Besides working with Mira and watching her work, I enjoyed watching her deal with an ensemble cast, which is her strength, I feel. I also enjoyed hanging out with her. Listening to her and her life experiences was great.
Tell us more about that…
She is such a great storyteller even when she is not directing for the camera. It’s very entertaining and engaging to listen to her recount a story from her life. She spoke about so many things like growing up in Bhubaneshwar – we had a similarity because I also grew up in a small-town, Jamshedpur – to her experience working with Hollywood actors, and scuba diving to motherhood. There was so much to talk about. (Laughs) I think I can talk with Mira endlessly.
What was that specific moment during the narration where you decided you were doing the show?
I decided before the narration I was going to be part of the show. There were no two ways about it (laughs). I was not going to miss out on an opportunity to work with Mira Nair. Because of the body of work she has, I was sure that anything that she makes will be beautiful. I, actually, said yes to the project without even reading the script. But, of course, I had read the novel. Vikram Seth is one of my favourite writers. I was like, “I am on with you guys.”
Do any of your characters live with you beyond the project?
Earlier, I used to shy away from this question a lot. I was very afraid of romanticising my work. I think, for any actor, that is a very scary zone to get into. I have been very wary of acknowledging this, but with the kind of work I have done, it does affect you in ways you might not understand. And in ways that you might not be able to articulate because the experience is very visceral. So, it is hard to say how much and what exactly you take back from something, how it affects you or whether or not you get over it and forget. Or whether that becomes a part of your memory and lived experience.
So it stays with you…
It’s difficult to say because it’s not quantifiable, but definitely, it stays with you and that’s why we do what we do, because we want it to affect us in a particular way. I want something I am working on to be an experience rather than being just yet another day at work.
When you look at your diverse projects, starting with Anwar, then through to Qissa, Manto and a web series like Delhi Crime, is your career anything like you dreamed or hoped that it would be?
It’s more than what I had imagined for myself because, I think, in terms of the quality of work I have done, I have been more than fortunate, especially to get an opportunity to work on projects like Qissa, Manto, Delhi Crime and A Suitable Boy, and people I had an opportunity to collaborate with – whether it was Nandita Das, Mira Nair, Richie Mehta, Anup Singh and co-actors. I mean I have worked with some of the best actors that our country has.
Tell us about that?
Getting an opportunity to work with Irrfan Khan, Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Pankaj Tripathi, Tisca Chopra, Shefali Shah and Tillotama Shome; I mean what else could I have asked for?
So, in terms of quality of work and people I had an opportunity to collaborate with, I think it is more than what I had imagined for myself. I keep telling Anup and Nandita that you guys have spoilt me because now my expectations from any project, any director or anybody I collaborate with is of a very high standard. The only grief was that the films that I have been part of have not had the opportunity to reach a very wide audience, especially Qissa. It was such a beautiful piece of work with Irrfan. It could have been released better. It could have been marketed better. Then it would have reached the audience I felt it deserved. But I think with the coming of streaming platforms and shows like Mirzapur and Delhi Crime, even that has been satisfying.
Was there a moment you considered a turning point for you?
Different ones for different reasons. I think Qissa was really a turning point for me in terms of confidence and possibilities as a performer. That experience opened a new world, for me which I am very grateful to Irrfan, Tillotama, Tisca and Anup for. I think that was really a project in which I understood that there can be magic in performances. Mirzapur and Chutney, a short film I have done, were turning points for me in terms of reaching to a wider audience. My work being appreciated and watched by so many people is a great feeling.
How do you keep reinventing yourself to avoid monotony?
It’s not so conscious. I don’t have a strategy on what I am choosing at any particular point. What I want to do next changes pretty often. I mean if you interview me next week, I might say something else (laughs). It’s really about how you are feeling in that moment as a person or performer. Sometimes things aligned themselves for a project. For every project I sign, I always have a slight trepidation because I think I am prone to being sceptical about things.
Why is that?
While I am very excited, there is a part of me which manages to exercise a healthy degree of scepticism. So, I don’t really know what criteria I have; it keeps changing. Sometimes it’s about the length of the role, or how a certain character is placed within the story. Is that something different from what I have done before? Sometimes, it is also about comfort. For example, I felt that playing Savita in A Suitable Boy was very comfortable for me. It’s set in an era I am comfortable with. At one point, I really wanted to do a part which was driving the narrative, something which happened with Out Of Love. If you ask me one thing that I am really keen to explore is being part of a biopic. I was in Manto, but I didn’t play Manto in the biopic.
Who would you like to play in a biopic?