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You recently saw her play Beena Tripathi in the web series ‘Mirzapur’, a woman who owns her sexuality in the male-dominated interiors of Uttar Pradesh. Rewind a few more weeks and you’ll remember her as Safia, the restrained, supportive wife of playwright and author Manto in Nandita Das’ eponymous film. Suffice to say, 2018 has been a great year for actor Rasika Dugal. Having started off with smaller roles and acclaimed independent films like ‘Kshay’ (2011), ‘Qissa’ (2015), and the short film ‘Chutney’ (2017), Dugal has been increasingly proving her mettle with fine acting that’s got everyone sitting up and taking notice.

This year will again see her make her mark in ‘Hamid’, a film about a child in conflict-ridden Kashmir, trying to deal with his father’s disappearance; Dugal plays the mother. The story revolves around the mother-son duo dealing with their sense of loss. The film premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) last October, and Dugal received rave reviews for her performance. The film will be screened at the Palm Springs International Festival starting today.

Rasika Dugal with Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui at Cannes, for their movie Manto. Interview with Rasika Dugal
Rasika Dugal with Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui at Cannes, for their movie Manto

Acting for nearly 10 years now, Dugal repertoire spans films, short films, television (‘P.O.W.: Bandi Yudh Ke’), web series, and theatre (‘Bombay Talkies’). She may not have always been in the limelight, but her choice of projects has resulted in a rich filmography. The 33-year-old actor has always picked roles with extreme care, choosing those that add to the narrative of the feature. Be it the newly-wed trying to seduce her married neighbour in ‘Chutney’, or the single mother of hearing-impaired children in ‘Tu Hi Mera Sunday’, the actor has created a niche for herself with impactful roles, especially well-fleshed out ones for female characters.

However, acting wasn’t always the career of choice. A mathematics graduate from Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram college, she dabbled in mass communication and being a research assistant before a stroke of fate and risk-taking brought her to Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), helping her realise her love for drama. Dugal spoke to Lifestyle Asia on her acting, the industry, and the challenges of being part of non-mainstream films.

Rasika Dugal in the movie Hamid. Interview with Rasika Dugal
Rasika in Hamid

From a mathematics graduate to an actor — how did the career switch come about?

On one dull day in office I opened the newspaper to FTII restarting their acting course, and thought it’ll be a fun course to do. It was that non-strategising 21-year-old energy. About six months into the course I knew this is what I want to do for a really long time. It was one of those moments in life where you feel like you found a connection like never before.

You’ve mostly picked projects that aren’t mainstream. Is this a conscious decision?

It wasn’t a conscious decision at all, but I believe as artists we attract the kind of work we truly want. I’ve had offers for mainstream cinema, but they’ve been very small parts and not something I’ve been interested in doing. But offers that were interesting to me as an actor were mostly from independent films. I was very happy doing that, because the quality of work that I’m getting to do, many actors don’t get in their lifetime, and I’m grateful for that.
I had a little taste of it when ‘Chutney’ came out – it has over 122 million views today, and just being able to share your experience of shooting and creating that project with so many people was lovely. But I hope the lines between mainstream and independent films are blurring and that with the web space opening up, there’s opportunity for these films to still be watched after their life in the theatres.

Films like ‘Kshay’ have received accolades at international films festivals, but don’t necessarily gain prominence in India. Why do you think that is the case?

It’s a problem of a bottleneck in the distribution system. One, the big players would not make room for the smaller players to enter. Distributors are hand-in-glove with big production houses, and if a big film is releasing, they wouldn’t give the small film good screens. Two, sometimes the producers just lose faith in the film. People would tell them that audience won’t like it, it’s a festival film…and the producer would not get that many screens or spend much on publicity and advertising.

Films, short films, television, web series, theatre — you’ve worked across all platforms. Which is closest to your heart?

It used to be films and still is, but I’m really enjoying the web series format. Because there’s so much room for many more characters and be well fleshed out too. They’re also pushing boundaries in terms of content, especially when they write women characters. And for an actor in a series format, you really get to warm up to a character and see it grow.

Rasika Dugal in Manto. Interview with Rasika Dugal
Rasika in Manto

You’ve been in the industry for a decade now. How have you seen the industry evolve?

I feel like I’ve been on the fringes of it, honestly. It’s only now that it’s opening up. That’s largely because of what the web has introduced. The same actors have gotten work in films, so the number of people getting films is increasing, and there are new writers and directors. So that whole clique of ‘we won’t work outside the 20 of us’ has opened up. The complacency that had set in is also breaking.

Advice for someone looking to enter the industry?

Just be focused on your work and everything else will fall into place.

All images: Courtesy Facebook

Video:
Director & Producer: Nanki Jassal
Assistant to Director: Yohan Samuel Pissurlenker
DoP: Omkar Potdar and Pranav Bhasin
Hair & Makeup: Avan Sethna and Pratiksha Nair
Editor: Pranav Bhasin

Megha Uppal
Associate Editor
An innate love for travel and food has translated into many a trips since childhood for Megha; it also fed her curiosity to know about local cultures. When not writing, she is on the lookout for three things: A great dark chocolate dessert, a beautiful pool where she can practice her backstroke, and art that she can save up for.