The adage ‘Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time’ may ring true for Sobhita Dhulipala, the breakout star who gained notoriety and fame in the glossy and wicked web series ‘Made in Heaven’.
Her turn as the have-it-all Tara, an ambitious wedding planner in Delhi married to a suave business tycoon Adil (Jim Sarbh), put her on the proverbial map, but success came to the former beauty queen slowly.
“It’s a tricky ground... If you are an actor who’s not from the entertainment industry, you feel as if you are at the bottom of the food chain... When you don’t have a back up, it’s purely merit that counts,” said Dhulipala in a phone interview with Gulf News tabloid! .
A few fruitful auditions, three films in Hindi, one smash hit in a Telugu film later, the enormously successful web series on Amazon Prime Video ‘Made in Heaven’ happened.
The Andhra Pradesh native got a foot in when director Anurag Kashyap, with immense indie-film credit, chose her to be a part of his dark, gritty thriller ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ in 2016.
“I got that role in my first audition ever. It was a turning point for me because that gave me some direction. I knew I wanted to give a lot as an actor, but he gave me clarity on which direction to go… I feel I have made choices that weren’t conventional.”
To say Tara is a conflicted character in ‘Made in Heaven’ is just scratching the surface. Directors Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar showcased a checkered protagonist who wore her flaws and her innate fabulousness on her fashionable sleeves. She is ambitious, a bit of a social climber and is crafty when the situation demanded it. So how liberating was it to play such a complex character?
“Being ambitious like Tara gave me a sense of liberation. More often than not, such women are made to feel inadequate in movies. To play someone who’s flawed, but vulnerable was liberating. Human beings are complex and that’s life. ‘Made in Heaven’ showed that it’s OK if you are not perfect. That really struck a chord in me,” said Dhulipala.
She began working on ‘Made in Heaven’ when the web series boom hadn’t happened and it was a shot in the dark.
“We approached the series knowing that it’s a wonderful story with a lot of balance and unique characters. It was helmed by filmmakers who knew what they were doing and are passionate story tellers. I didn’t think about how it’s going to be received.”
‘Made in Heaven’ is also one of the few shows that explored brushed-under-the-carpet topics like intimacy and homosexuality in a healthy manner. Tara’s best friend and business partner in her wedding planning start-up is gay and he doesn’t hide it.
“As human beings we experience all kinds of emotions … We have all felt love, desire, jealous, it’s the navarasas [nine emotions of humans]. It’s applicable to any living being, but because of our social norm we tend to make sex look like some big, crazy thing… Girls getting raped or showing someone being punch into a pulp in a film or series is normal, but this is not? It’s so bizarre.”
Dhulipala found it liberating to normalise emotions, even if they are uncomfortable.
“Actors are able to do a lot more. Sometimes, it is the producers and distribution channel who make you aware that the actors may be morally judged if you go too far in a film or that it is a risk you take socially as an actor… The series has normalised sex and ambition.”
Dhulipala was game to experiment with Tara’s dark side too.
“I am not playing this nice, sweet, giggly girl that you see often… our idea of sweetness or innocence in a woman is so bogged down in films and shows. Somebody who’s a good woman doesn’t have to be shown as this raging teenager. She can be someone who’s also sincere at work. That must count for something.”
While Dhulipala is working on plum projects like Netflix series ‘Bard Of Blood’, produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, and director Jithu Joseph’s thriller ‘The Body’, her mother only recently caught up on her hit web series. Like good Indian parents, they wanted their daughter to complete her college education before venturing into the unfamiliar, fickle world of films.
“I come from a simple, upper middle class family where education is important. While they support my choices, they are passive participants in my life… They care for my sense of sanity and security. They don’t know much about the entertainment industry and they consume what I tell them. It’s a beautiful equation.”
Dhulipala, the Miss Earth India 2013, is pursuing her masters in corporate law. But acting is her first love and being a part of unconventional, content-rich film is high on her agenda. She is a textbook case of a Bollywood outsider scaling new heights. Does the lack of clout and family connections bother her?
“I don’t bother about being an insider or outsider. I just want to be a part of films that are hopefully respected and allows for conversation and dialogue. I want to find my home through that. I am not needing to be accepted or belonged… I am not in this for fame.”
While she may be not in the world of films and TV shows for fame, pop culture fans have been quick to compare her to Priyanka Chopra and Bipasha Basu.
“Everyone works really hard to be somebody. But I don’t want to be a second rate somebody. I had rather be the best version of myself … I want to work with filmmakers who are credible and help me grow creatively.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Made in Heaven’ is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
“Such conversations are so important. Unless somebody addresses them, how can such things be acknowledged? If someone has wronged you, then you should have the voice to speak up. But #MeToo isn’t always black or white. There’s a huge grey space,” said Sobhita Dhulipala on the #MeToo movement that has erupted in Bollywood.