Rasika Dugal is emerging as a prominent name in the Indian theatre scenario. Her work is quite extensive and one is hardly unaware of some of her remarkable productions such as Kshay and Qissa. Apart f rom being a member of one of India’s biggest theatre productions, The Vagina Monologues, Rasika has also started making forays into indie cinema with films like Qissa and soon will be seen with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Nandita Das’ directorial venture Manto.
She speaks to Guardian 20 about working with directors like Anurag Kashyap and Ram Gopal Varma and about her upcoming film Manto among others.
Q. You started your career with famous directors like Anurag Kashyap and Ram Gopal Varma. How was the experience like? How much does it help as a starting point in one’s career?
A. My first time on a film set was on Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking. I had just graduated from Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and had only recently had the opportunity to watch a director’s cut of Black Friday. This was long before it finally released. Needless to say, I was completely in awe of Anurag. The first thing that struck me about Anurag was how sharp he was about understanding which of the actors should take on what character within the scripted lines. It was like he instantly knew what you would be good at playing after having only a brief conversation with you. He knew exactly what to tell an actor and what to not tell an actor. I guess, an understanding of this only comes with experience. And I was lucky to be guided by that experience because till then I had none.
What I admired about Ram Gopal Varma was that he had then created a space for himself, where he truly wanted to experiment and he did so without worrying about what the consequences would be. He was curious about something, he wanted to try it out and he had created a space for himself to do exactly that. That is real power and I admired that.
I would say I was very lucky to work with experienced directors who were sure about what they wanted. The most confusing thing for an actor, especially while working on a film, is an unsure director.
Q. You are best known for your roles in Kshay and Qissa. How did these roles have an effect on your career in the long run in Bollywood?
A. I don’t know what works in Bollywood and what doesn’t. There is no standard path for success in Bollywood. In fact, in my opinion, the ones who have survived are the ones who have experimented with new content and even with new media. I feel it’s best to take on roles which appeal to you instinctively or even roles that are available to you at that time and do a good job with them. That is the only way to hone your craft.
Whether offbeat or not, I think the roles I had in these films are very rare for many actors to find in an entire career and I think I was very lucky to have them so early. I wouldn`t trade those parts for anything in the world.
Q. We see that you choose unconventional roles in both films and TV. Like Powder and Kismat. Can you elaborate over your inclination towards such roles?
A. I don’t see roles as conventional or unconventional. I see them as interesting or not. These are the questions I mostly think of before signing for the role like: is this role going to help me learn something more than I already know about my craft or is it going to help me to challenge myself and take on something I have been nervous about? Is it going to help me learn a new skill or are the people involved like directors, co-actors going to be interesting to work with and also financially comfortable?
If the answer to even three of the above is yes, I usually take it up. And this is how I have ended up doing these projects.
The decision is not always easy. I am, of course, heartbroken when I get rejected for a role I want to do but also equally heartbroken when I reject a role. I am greedy as an actor. That’s what makes this decision a very tough one.
“There is no standard path for success in Bollywood. In fact, in my opinion, the ones who have survived are the ones who have experimented - with new content and even with new media. I feel it’s best to take on roles which appeal to you instinctively or even roles that are available to you at that time and do a good job with them. That is the only way to hone your craft.”
Q. Tell us about your experience of sharing screen space with Shefali Shah and Neeraj Kabi for your next international co-production Indo-German film Once Again.
A. It was such a treat to get an opportunity to work with actors like Neeraj Kabi and Shefali Shah. It is rare to find actors who have consistently done good work, who have only grown as actors over the years and managed to sustain the quality of their work. They have that magical combination of skill and experience. My most valued experience on this film, more than experimenting with my own role, was to just watch Neeraj and Shefali work. That is my biggest learning from this film.
Q. You are currently working on a mythological show Devlok with Devdutt Pattnaik. How is hosting different from acting?
A. Hosting is entirely different from acting. In fact, I don’t see why people approach actors to host shows. Hosting requires you to communicate to the audience, acting (especially for a film) essentially requires you to experience and quietly so. I think both require completely different skill sets. I decided to take it up because I am interested in mythology and Devdutt worked for me.
Q. You will also be seen opposite Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the Nandita Das film Manto. Tell us about this film and how was it working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nandita Das?
A. We are going to start filming Manto in either November or January. We are currently in the process of beginning readings and rehearsals.
I am going to be play Safia Manto (Manto’s wife). I think it’s a beautifully nuanced role which can only be brought out by a sensitive and intelligent director. Because it’s all too easy for a role like this to become a stereotype of how we think of women in the 1940s. I wouldn’t trust anyone more than Nandita to keep the politics of that intact, as she has already done in the script. Also, only her impeccable research can do justice to the enormous task of recreating a period and exploring Manto’s work. I have always admired her as an actor and I am looking forward to being affected by her infectiously vibrant energy along with her signature gracefulness.
The greatest high for me besides getting to play a really beautiful part is to watch a talented and gifted actor play a beautiful part. I am going to have my eyes peeled on Nawaz during the shoot to learn whatever I can. I am excited to watch him pull off this role with great aplomb. I have worked with Irrfan Khan, then Neeraj Kabi and now Nawazuddin Siddiqui! What more could I ask for?
Q. You did a remarkable role in The Vagina Monologues, one of India’s longest running and most successful theatre productions. How did you land this role?
A. I had watched the play when I was a student of acting at FTII , Pune. Besides the content of the play, I also thought such a play was a gold mine for an actor. One could play so many characters and also experiment with different accents. Two years later when I finished my course and came to Bombay, I was looking to do theatre and I happened to chance upon a notice at Prithvi saying the producers of The Vagina Monologues were looking for actors to open the show in Hindi. I auditioned for the part and got it.
I started with The Vagina Monologues in Hindi and later also joined the English cast. I now perform in both. In fact, now it’s been so many years that I feel I can even perform it backwards!