Living her life on her terms, Rasika Dugal has always listened to her heart when it comes to her career. Acting, even though it happened by chance she has carved quite a niche for herself in Bollywood. From critically acclaimed movies to content driven web series she has always given her best. The very pretty and talented actor talks to Anandita Bartake about what clicks when she is choosing her projects as well as her future projects.
How did acting happen for you?
It was pretty much by chance. I think it was a combination of the ability to follow a whim, a constant need to experiment and a general inability to strategize. I was working as a research assistant after a post- graduate degree in social communication media which was interesting at the time but I didn’t see myself doing that for many years. At office one morning, I was browsing through the newspaper and found that FTII was restarting their acting course. I had enjoyed doing theatre in college (in LSR), had thoroughly enjoyed the paper in film studies at my post-graduate course and was totally mesmerized by the idea of being in a film school especially one with a history like FTII. So, I applied and was one of 20 students to be selected. Even at the time of joining the institute, I didn’t really look at this as a serious career decision. I was just following a whim. But six months into the course at FTII, I knew this was something I was going to be doing for a very long time.
You did your debut with Anwar, how has the journey been since then?
It’s been an interesting one with many ups and downs. And it continues to be. I have learnt to not take either too seriously. The uncertainties of the profession and the insecurities that come with that are still around but I think today I know how to deal with them better. And have learnt to enjoy the journey in spite of the challenges. I have loved working on the films/shows/short films that I have been a part of. I think I have been extremely lucky when it comes to the scripts, the directors and the co actors that I have had an opportunity to work with. And in the last few years, the warmth and appreciation from my peers and from the audience has been so special. These are good times for actors with the quantity of work and the variety. So right now, I am feeling celebratory !
You have done both movies and web series, what were you more comfortable doing?
Well the idea is not to be comfortable but to always try something which challenges you and pushes the boundaries. I have been fortunate that the kind of scripts I have had an opportunity to work with , both in films and in digital series,have been that for me. So it’s not really the medium but the specific script or the set up of a project or the nature of the part which are reasons for me being excited about a particular project over another.
How was it working on the web series, Delhi Crimes?
Working on the series brought back memories of 2012. And in one sense, I wanted to remember it because I felt I had forgotten about it too quickly and moved on from what I had felt in the aftermath of the 2012 gang rape case. I feel that as a society we need to remember it (even if it is painful) in order to constantly strive towards building an environment which does not allow a crime
like this to happen again.
I was also very moved by the idealism of the IPS officers who I spent some time with as part of my preparation for Delhi crime. They were in training on the field (the same position that Neeti has in the series) Most of them were extremely idealistic and had joined the services with a view to change things for the better. But even at this early stage some of them had begun to realize that the system has its limitations and that they would have to work around that. Also, they were beginning to realize that essentially civilians distrusted the police. To many, this lack of faith was very demoralizing and disappointing. I had never looked at things from this point of view. It humanized the police for me.
How did you get into the skin of Ishrat, A Kashmiri girl in your movie Hamid?
In Hamid I play the part of a woman (Ishrat) whose husband has gone missing. Even though it was a beautiful script, I was very skeptical of being part of a film on Kashmir. I felt no matter how much I prepare, I would always be an outsider to the story of what Kashmir and it’s people have been through. I was nervous about not being able to do justice to the part and therefore doing disservice to the narrative on Kashmir.
As preparation for the role, I watched videos, documentaries and read books. Whatever I could get my hands on. I was very moved by Parveena Ahangars ( a human rights activist ) interviews and her work through the APDP – an organization started to provide support to the families of Missing persons in Kashmir.
While I felt a deep empathy, I still needed a stronger connect to truly be Ishrat. One day I was watching a documentary by Iffat Fatima ‘ Where have you hidden my new crescent moon’. In that, there is a scene between Parveena Ahangar and another lady. Both women had young sons who had gone missing. At some point in the scene they recite a couplet in Kashmiri. One that they often recite in their protest marches. The way those lines were recited really stayed with me. I asked one of the Kashmiri actors on the film to translate them for me. He did that and gave it a lovely tune while we were waiting on set in between shots. That music and those words really shifted something within me and became my entry point into Ishrats world. It stayed with me for a long time, much after we finished filming.
Will we be seeing you in the second season of Mirzapur?
Yes! I have started shooting for it and that’s all I am allowed to say for now. No spoilers!
Do you think that with so many women centric movies gaining momentum the image of women in the Bollywood will change?
I think it is a very interesting time to be an actor. More interesting, nuanced and important roles are being written for women and thank god for that. Sometimes I feel, some parts are written to check a box of ‘women oriented films ‘ or ‘strong women characters’ but are those stories really progressive? Or are we simply falling into another stereotype in an attempt to move away from one because our inherent prejudices are still intact? Has the definition of a ‘strong woman’ become one who resembles a man? These are important questions to ask. I feel we are in a moment of change. And while we must celebrate that we must also have these conversations.
How was your experience working with the very talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nandita Das in Manto?
I have always had a lot of respect for Nawaz as an actor. He has pulled off a variety of roles with such aplomb that one can only be in awe. He is incredible to work with – Always responsive and present as a co-actor. And never with an air of superiority considering he has a much larger body of work than me. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing some scenes with him. I also really enjoyed observing him prepare for Manto. What he would do in between shots…before some scenes. I am always fascinated by watching other actors at work especially ones who I have so much regard for.
Nandita is the most straightforward person I have worked with. With Nandita there was an instant connection and we are now friends. She speaks her mind fearlessly yet sensitively. It is a rare quality in the Bombay film industry and I have so much admiration for her for that. Her attention to detail was something that I have always desired in a director. Her attention to my character Safia and the sensitivity with which she chose to tell the relationship between Manto and Safia was so beautiful. We were always on the same page about so many things. It was a lovely collaboration.
Also, unlike their ‘no nonsense and serious’ image, Nandita and Nawaz both have a crazy sense of humor which I totally enjoyed. Therefore, there were many laughs and many light hearted moments on set!
What projects are you currently working on as of now?
I am currently shooting for Mirzapur season 2 while juggling dates with a new project. And soon going to start shooting for Delhi crime season 2 and another new project. In the middle of that somewhere I am promoting a film. So the next few months promise to be crazily but happily busy.
What are your future plans?
More and more interesting and challenging acting work. I hope I get an opportunity to work with the many directors and co actors whose work I admire. I hope I get to be a part of films which tell important stories and tell them sensitively. I hope…. There is a long list and it keeps growing .
As an actor what will you prefer working in, a content driven film or a commercial film, why?
I hope that those will not be mutually exclusive. And that I get to do projects which are content driven and do well commercially ! With films like Stree, Badhaai ho and Andhadhun doing so well last year….there is hope !