In A League Of Her Own

Actress Rasika Dugal lets us in on her creative process as she takes us around our newest home in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai

Radhika Bose

Tough but delicate, methodical yet instinctive — Rasika Dugal is a rare performer who imbibes her roles to the extent that you forget that she could exist beyond the character she’s playing. Her subtle and scintillatingly believable performances in Manto (film) and Mirzapur (web-series) this year left us completely spellbound.

As we open our new store in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, we invited her to be our muse and guide to take us around her favourite spots in our new neighbourhood.

Q You studied acting, do you think training informed you better as an actor?

Since I’d had very little experience in acting before I went to FTII (The Film and Television Institute of India, Pune), I had a lot to gain from the training there. We learnt about every aspect of filmmaking. Also, meeting such a diverse set of students from across the social strata, we were exposed to diverse and inclusive stories; both very important to a creative process.

Having said that, I don't think a formal training is essential or the only way to learn, but it worked for me!

Q You’ve chosen some really fierce and fearless roles in your career, has it been a conscious decision?

I believe actors or artists get the kind of work that they truly seek and desire. There was a time in my career that I did not have the luxury of choice but even then I was fortunate to get roles like Chaaya in Kshay and Neeli in Qissa — The kind of roles that actors have to wait years for. Retrospectively, I can assign a pattern to those choices. But at that time they were just instinctive decisions.

Q Tell us about your most memorable character development for one of your roles?

I was shooting for Hamid in Kashmir last year, where I played Ishrat, a girl whose husband is missing. As preparation for the role, I watched videos, documentaries, read books.... whatever I could get my hands on. While I felt a deep empathy, I still needed a stronger connect to truly become Ishrat. One day while watching a documentary by Iffat Fatima, Where Have You Hidden My New Crescent Moon, I came across a Kashmiri couplet recited by two ladies with missing young sons. They often recite it in their protest marches. It translates loosely to "My heart’s beloved, I await you/ Come/ Have pity on me, I’m in anguish/ Come/ Why are you hiding, you crescent of the new moon?" Those words really shifted something within me and became my entry point into Ishrat’s world.

Q Tell us about your most memorable character development for one of your roles?

I was shooting for Hamid in Kashmir last year, where I played Ishrat, a girl whose husband is missing. As preparation for the role, I watched videos, documentaries, read books.... whatever I could get my hands on. While I felt a deep empathy, I still needed a stronger connect to truly become Ishrat. One day while watching a documentary by Iffat Fatima, Where Have You Hidden My New Crescent Moon, I came across a Kashmiri couplet recited by two ladies with missing young sons. They often recite it in their protest marches. It translates loosely to "My heart’s beloved, I await you/ Come/ Have pity on me, I’m in anguish/ Come/ Why are you hiding, you crescent of the new moon?" Those words really shifted something within me and became my entry point into Ishrat’s world.

Q You’ve really dropped jaws in Mirzapur with your role of a lustful Beena. How are the reactions?

As an actor, I was excited about Manto and Mirzapur releasing within two months of each other — two diametrically opposite roles. Most people have been very pleasantly surprised to see me in this role and there has been much praise from them that I have joyously lapped up. Some patriarchs, of course, have been offended. And that gives me even more joy. Never miss an opportunity to offend the patriarchy, I say!

Q Your series Delhi Crime Story, based on Nirbhaya, is going to Sundance soon. Tell us a bit about your role in it and what to expect from the series?

Delhi Crime Story is about the investigation around the Nirbhaya case in December 2012. I play a trainee IPS officer who is assigned to be a part of the team investigating the crime.I think the story, very sensitively sets up the world in which a crime like this happened. While telling Jyoti’s story, it also tells the story of the women around her who are all fighting to stay afloat in a patriarchal society.

Q Tell us about some of your favourite characters in books or films?

Jasmine in Blue Jasmine played by Cate Blanchett is one of my favourite characters in film. Currently, I am totally in awe of Midge in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel too. I do hope somebody writes a part like that for me soon. Just putting it out there! Catherine Earnshaw in the Wuthering Heights has been an all time favourite literary character. In the Indian context, Choti Bahu in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam played by Meena Kumari, and many of the women in Manto’s stories have inspired me — Saugandhi in Hatak, Sultana in Kali Shalwar and Sarita in Dus Rupaiya.

Q What other projects are your currently working on?

I’m working on a more commercial film in the comic space. It’s an exciting new experience for me, both the commercial and comedy aspects! In the more indie space, I just finished shooting for an improvised film. It was so much fun that I almost feel like I don't want to work with written lines anymore! Also hopefully, Hamid, Delhi Crime Story and Humorously Yours (Season 2) will all be out soon.

Q Tell us about some of your favourite characters in books or films?

Jasmine in Blue Jasmine played by Cate Blanchett is one of my favourite characters in film. Currently, I am totally in awe of Midge in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel too. I do hope somebody writes a part like that for me soon. Just putting it out there! Catherine Earnshaw in the Wuthering Heights has been an all time favourite literary character. In the Indian context, Choti Bahu in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam played by Meena Kumari, and many of the women in Manto’s stories have inspired me — Saugandhi in Hatak, Sultana in Kali Shalwar and Sarita in Dus Rupaiya.

Q What other projects are your currently working on?

I’m working on a more commercial film in the comic space. It’s an exciting new experience for me, both the commercial and comedy aspects! In the more indie space, I just finished shooting for an improvised film. It was so much fun that I almost feel like I don't want to work with written lines anymore! Also hopefully, Hamid, Delhi Crime Story and Humorously Yours (Season 2) will all be out soon.

Photography ANAI BHARUCHA

Hair and Makeup SAHER AHMED GANDHI