Bollywood actress Rasika Dugal, who is riding high after the success of her comedy film ‘Lootcase’, Mira Nair’s web series ‘A Suitable Boy’ and the riveting cop thriller ‘Delhi Crime’, has a pragmatic take on nepotism debate that’s raging in Hindi film industry right now.
On paper, she’s the poster girl for making it on her own steam. She wasn’t born to an acting dynasty and did not have a movie mogul shepherding her, but Dugal has entered our collective consciousness effectively through her interesting career choices. But nepotism, which is about access and privilege, is also relative, believes the actor.
“When I started out in Mumbai in 2007, I didn’t have the pressure to send money home, and even though I was very conscientious about the idea that I will make my own money or spend only as much as I can, I didn’t have the subconscious pressure of a real money problem … Maybe other people didn’t have that,” said Dugal in an exclusive interview over Zoom with Gulf News.
Although she worked her way up in her career, she is aware of her privilege that she could always count on her family financially if she couldn’t survive in Mumbai — Bollywood’s epicentre — for a month.
“So the people around you and the environment around you has a role to play in it and it wasn’t just you and your talent,” said Dugal.
The actress, who endeared to us in her role as a cop in ‘Delhi Crime’ (on Netflix) and a suburban wife in the comedy ‘Lootcase’ (Disney+ Hotstar), talks to us about her life, her career and why web platforms are here to stay …
Q: How have you been coping with the coronavirus outbreak and the halting of work?
A: I am fine, much better than I had expected. Besides the absolute terrible situation, the whole world is in, all of this makes me wonder how and when all this is going to end.
Forget the vaccine and all, but the repercussions of this are going to be felt for a very long time. So, when I start thinking about all that, it gets very gloomy … I feel like we are really going to feel the impact of it now because desperation has set in now in a bad way …
The one thing I find very hard to watch is to see people desperate as they find ways to survive. It’s heartbreaking when somebody you know or work with calls you and says: “Can you help me out with some money?” I mean you just feel devastated that this person has to be in such a position to ask you for it.
Q: But web platforms have thrived this summer as most people are home and binge-watching content …
A: If you are looking for a silver lining, then it’s one for me in some ways. But there is a bigger picture here and have to keep reminding myself about it so that I don’t blow that silver lining out of proportion.
I have an understanding that it’s very small sliver in the big picture. My career and that little benefit is encouraging in a devastating time like this. While I don’t want to discount the sense of joy and warmth that I feel with the way people have responded to my work, I also know that I have been very fortunate with the kind of roles and terrific experiences that came my way.
If any actor in their lifetime have had at least one of these experiences in my life, I would think that their career as an actor is worth it. I have had so many in terms of quality of the work and in terms of the kind of people I have had the opportunity to work with. Honestly, I had not imagined any of this for myself. Even if I had an imagination of what my career would be like, this has surpassed all of that. These things are very hard to get you know they are not easy. So, when people respond to my work with the same warmth that I did, I feel it completes the entire experience.
Q: As an actor, do you care if your movie releases on a web platform or the traditional cinemas? Do you feel cheated when you don’t have that red carpet premiere and the box office bluster?
A: I don’t feel cheated at all. Much of my works have been on the OTT (over the top) platform and there’s a lot to be thankful for. Sometimes, I wonder what my life would have been without it. The two big things that an OTT space has given me is access to a wider audience and the appreciation that I have got. So I don’t think I have anything to complain about.
I also think that OTT is generally a business that is encouraging of healthy competitive environment. Here, there is room for everybody and therefore there is room for newness. Even stars or successful actors are also kept on their toes because of this newness.
Plus, there is so much opportunity for a lot of people are expressing themselves in ways we did not often and unlike Bollywood, there is no hard-wired formulaic understanding of what works and what doesn’t. So I think we have a lot to thank this space and at a time like this: what is the other option? The other thing good about the release of a film in an OTT platform is that they are not chasing numbers [box office figures]. They don’t release numbers yet at least …
Q: Honestly, it’s a relief … those box office numbers are rarely audited and are often distrusted …
A: But somewhere it [box office numbers] does affect you right? If somebody throws a number at you, it does stick in your head. We do tend to describe films that made with 100 crores as 100 crore films. I mean we don’t forget to leave that out from the narrative.
So not having those numbers — like you expressed — is a relief because it subconsciously doesn’t make you chase that number. Even if you think you are intelligent or not intelligent enough to stay out of that game, it allows content to be a thriving factor.
Q: These days Bollywood industry is getting a rap for cultivating a toxic, debauched work environment. How do you look at all that surround noise?
A: I am just honestly very disappointed with the level of conversation. While I don’t think that having a conversation about nepotism or about insider-outsider debate is unproductive, but what’s the level of conversation right now?
It’s healthy to have such conversations in a healthy way because it questions everybody and makes people think in a new way which is always desirable. There’s this kind of immediacy and frequency that the social media expects out of all of us. So I find that many are compelled to put out their first not-so-well-thought-out thoughts out there and once they do that they feel the need to always cling onto it because they already have a group that supports it.
And to look like the leader of the group you have to constantly reinforce the idea that they either had to rethink on and feel like they don’t agree with anymore or they just feel more attached to that idea for no particular reason except that there are 100 people supporting that idea.
The conversations we are having right now are mind boggling. The level of conversation is at a level where it induces fear in everybody — either of the system or of speaking out. None of these is desirable and none of these is my idea of free speech.
Q: So you don’t feel the pressure to speak up …
A: I don’t feel the pressure to do so at all. I am against the pressure of taking part in a conversation with the rule: ‘Speak up now. If you do not speak up, then you don’t have an opportunity or don’t have the right to anymore.”
I totally disagree with that. I think we should respect everybody’s right to not speak up and by pressurising them to speak is as much an act of coercion as not allowing anybody to speak.
So that I think all that is happening is a very pointless and unproductive conversation … I don’t succumb to the pressure of anybody asking me to speak. I will speak when I feel I have an insight to give to a conversation which is productive
Q: You worked with award-winning director Mira Nair for ‘A Suitable Boy’ recently. What was your experience like?
A: Working with her had been on my bucket list for a while and every time I watch Mira’s films I felt like there was a lot of “masti” [fun] in everything. Her way of thinking is fascinating and when I worked with her I realised it totally came from her personality.
She’s fun, mischievous and she is great at subverting everything … She can take a scene and turn it on its head and do the craziest things because she thinks like that. It’s lovely to watch that and it’s lovely to see somebody so spunky. I find her fascinating.
My expectations of working with her were very high and working with her on ‘A Suitable Boy’ met all those expectations, if not more. But I also enjoyed the conversations I had with her in between shots, off set and those could be about anything under the sun. It could be about life, motherhood and pregnancy. I enjoyed all my interactions with her a lot. It was a very beautiful life experience in totality.
Q: Are you happy with the way your career is shaping up? You are self-made so nobody can pull the nepotism card with you …
A: There’s a sense of achievement in where I have reached. But I must point out that the idea of self-made is a little skewed because I feel like conversation of nepotism is somewhere about access and privilege.
It is about certain people having certain types of privilege which other people feel are denied and these people are where they are today because of that privilege and access. To be fair, if you look at anybody’s life there has been some sort of privilege allowed to them to be at a certain place at a certain time. So I think the idea of self-made like “I got this in my own talent and my own merit” is something that we need to look at … I feel it is a matter of ‘happenchance’. There are lots of people who are talented as me, while some of them are successful, some of them haven’t had much work.
So there was certainly some kind of privilege that brought me here even if it wasn’t about knowing somebody or having a family member … When I started out in Mumbai in 2007, I didn’t have the pressure to send money home and even though I was very conscientious about the idea that I will make my own money and spend only as much as I can. I didn’t have the subconscious pressure of a real money problem.
I knew the month that I am not able to do it, I can call home, and somebody will send me money in order to survive. Maybe other people didn’t have that. So, the people around you and the environment around you has a role to play in it and it wasn’t just you and your talent. That is something to acknowledge as well.
“I feel like 2007 to 2020 belonged to me and I never felt it didn’t belong to me. Many people would believe me now but had I had said this in 2009 people would have called me nuts.”
On 'Lootcase' stars being left out
“I saw Kunal’s tweet and I retweeted it. I think he handled the situation very gracefully. He said what he had to say the most graceful way. I completely resonated with what he said and the way he said it,” said Rasika Dugal when asked about ‘Lootcase’ actor calling out an OTT platform for not inviting lesser known stars to a Bollywood press conference.