Lara Dutta
Lara Dutta in her new web series 'Kaun Banegi Shikharwati' Image Credit: Zee5

Bollywood actress and former beauty queen Lara Dutta, who has always been a staunch advocate of equality in arts, claims her advancing age is a symbol of her newfound freedom.

The Miss Universe 2000 winner is now 43 and has observed that the acting jobs that are coming her way at her age are far more substantial and solid than expected.

Entertainment industries across the globe are notorious for giving better opportunities to women in their youthful 20s and early 30s as opposed to women in their 40s and 50s. They are also known for being more forgiving towards men in that same age bracket. But the dynamics are slowly shifting in the actress’ favour, claims Dutta.

“Honestly, age has liberated me. Since I have come into my 40s, I am finally doing age-appropriate roles and I am finally playing the kind of characters that I have always wanted to portray as an actor,” said Dutta in an interview with Gulf News over Zoom.

Dutta was on call to promote her latest web series ‘Kaun Banegi Shikharwati’, streaming on Zee5 now, in which she plays Princess Devyani, a member of royalty and the eldest of four siblings vying for the crown.

In her recent film, hit hijack thriller ‘Bell Bottom’, Dutta played the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who is forced to make some tough life-and-death decisions in her life of duty. In another series ‘Hiccups & Hookups’, she plays the fierce 39-year-old divorcee Vasudha Rao who is trying to navigate the modern world of dating. All these recent roles have been diverse and versatile.

Lara Dutta who plays a political leader in 'Bell Bottom'
Lara Dutta who plays a political leader in 'Bell Bottom' Image Credit: Supplied

This is Dutta’s second innings as an actress, after her self-imposed sabbatical since having a baby with ace tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi. But the break hasn’t derailed her career as she seems to have returned to the world of films and web series with greater purpose.

“You know, I’ve never been somebody who’s come into the industry saying that I want to be the leading lady or that I want to be a hero. I wanted to be an actor and we’re finally getting those kinds of roles being written for us. I honestly believe the cohort of women between the ages of 35 and 55 years was never addressed. Nothing was made on them,” she pointed out.

The lack of representation in that age bracket used to rile her up. Even though she’s grateful for the success that she has enjoyed so far, she does have a bone to pick here.

“Either you play that long-sacrificing mother or that pati-vrata [husband-adoring wife] lady, but that’s such [expletive]! Pardon my French, but you get so tired of being tasked with such roles … At some point when I entered my 30s, I just got tired of playing the same kind of characters. And so that sabbatical when my daughter was born … was a blessing in disguise,” said Dutta.

190421 Lara Dutta
Lara Dutta Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

She’s currently enjoying this phase as an artist where meaningful and flawed roles are being written for female characters in both films and web series.

“Ten years ago, such roles didn’t exist for my predecessors and I feel incredibly lucky,” said Dutta.

Things are going so well that her latest comedy series ‘Kaun Banegi Shikharwati’ — also starring Naseeruddin Shah as her eccentric king/father and actresses Soha Ali Khan, Anya Singh and Kritika Kamra as her bickering sisters — was even written by a woman Ananya Banjerjee. That was a big draw for Dutta and her co-star Singh.

“And when you have a woman writing female characters, there’s so much more depth and more layers to you … A woman will write a female character with flaws and she will write in a way where she’s is not constantly living up to that ideal of what a perfect wife or perfect sister or perfect daughter should be,” said Dutta.

A still of the web series 'Kaun Banegi Shikharwati'
A still of the web series 'Kaun Banegi Shikharwati' Image Credit: Zee5

All the norms and stereotypes of a perfect woman ideal is being shattered, with one good female-fronted project at a time.

“Now we get roles where women are diabolical or they’re unapologetically ambitious or they are just confused and I love it,” said Dutta.

Plus, all the women from this series got along and weren’t catty to one another. Actress Anya Singh, who’s the youngest and the least experienced actress on set, vouches for Dutta and how they all had each other’s backs.

“To the dismay of everyone, we women got on like that house on fire … We were all a little eccentric and we all have our distinct personalities and our keedas [quirks], but we got along so well! But our board game nights at each other’s homes now can get intense, but we are a tight set,” said Dutta.

Don’t miss it!

‘Kaun Banegi Shikharwati’ is out on Zee5 Global now.