‘As actors, we are required to be vulnerable’

Rupal Jhajhria
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In Manto, Rasika Dugal plays the writer’s supportive wife, Safia.

Based on BBC’s award-winning series, Doctor Foster, Hotstar’s new original Out of Love is the story of heartbreak and infidelity in marriage. Rasika Dugal plays the role of Dr Meera Kapoor in the show, which also has Purab Kohli in the lead. In an interview, Dugal talks about her new role, her touchstone to find the right script and living vicariously through her characters. Excerpts:

You have worked on numerous projects including Chutney, Manto, Hamid, Mirzapur and Delhi Crime. What was your breakthrough moment?

I think most people would say that it is Manto or Mirzapur. Even though Manto was not a mainstream film, it was still with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and Nandita (Das) was directing it. Mirzapur, of course, had a very wide reach. But, as an actor, the role that I enjoyed, in terms of really understanding and appreciating this profession, was Anoop Singh’s Qissa. Irrfan and Tisca (Chopra) were also in it, and we grew to be friends. It made me understand that something like this can exist in a performance. It made me seek this wherever else I worked afterwards.

Qissa garnered attention but did not travel much. Do you think digital platforms are taking over now?

They are becoming very popular. Are they taking over films? I don’t know. I think there is room for both to co-exist. But right now the kind of work that I have had the opportunity to be a part of, in the series format, has been interesting. The difference primarily lies in the fact that one is not caught in the bottleneck of distribution whereas the smaller platform is slightly more independent that way. The problem is never the audience, it has always been the distribution. The digital space is proof that the audience is quite accepting.

How do you chose a script?

There are a bunch of things. The priority of that list keeps changing. But more or less the five important things that I consider are — is it a compelling story? Is it being told sensitively? Is my role in the story exciting to me as an actor? Will it give me something new to do? And of course, the kind of people and team that I am working with is very important. Because I feel as actors we are required to be vulnerable, it is a part of our job. So the space that you are being vulnerable in should respect that, otherwise it is not worth it.

What matters more to you, the script or the audience appeal?

An appealing script any day. If you are true at telling the story, it will get a good audience, and the required numbers.

Which one of your roles was the most challenging for you?

The most challenging was Beena Tripathi of Mirzapur because I think she is the opposite of me. When I read the role, I felt like she is the kind of person who demands attention. And to top it, she is extremely confident in her body and I think that is the most attractive part of her character. I walk into a room and I am like Mr Cellophane (laughs). Why would someone look at me? I mean, I tend to be in the background. She is also very comfortable with her sexuality. She wears it on her sleeve. That, I think is not so common with the women of our country. The conditioning is so strong, that the physicality sort of internalises. So it was really empowering to play a character like Beena. I lived vicariously through her.

And which one did you identify yourself the most with?

The role that I connected with instantly is Safia Manto of Manto. I had grown up around women like Safia and doing that role was like an ode to my grandmother. I wanted to own Safia so much that nobody should walk out of the film with pity and say ‘haaye bechaari’ somebody should say that even though she went through a lot, she stood strong and took care of Manto and the family. She was the reason he could still write and do what he wanted to do.

How do you prepare yourself for a role?

It is different for different scenes. For Beena, I would not tell you who but I watched many videos of this person, who I felt had that physicality, just to sort of get the hang of the character. Beena’s physicality was very important. It was a role which needed to be worked upon a little extra. So for that, you need a visual reference.

Out of Love was released on Hotstar last month. How is this role different?

For the first time, it is the only role which is driving the narrative. The only other time I did this was in the movie Sheh. Meera Kapoor, my character, is also in every frame of the show. So I was waiting for a role like this. And also the story has been told in a way that you almost feel like you are in her mind. So, this is a very compelling character in that sense.