Rasika Dugal says it was refreshing to headline a project like Out of Love: Always wanted to play the protagonist
Rasika Dugal says she always wanted to play the lead characters in all her films/projects, like Manto, Hamid, Mirzapur, and Delhi Crime.
“I am wondering if I should pack any warm clothes,” pondered Rasika Dugal in between sips of coffee in a Mumbai café. After a feverish round of promotions for her latest show Out of Love (streaming on Hotstar), she was preparing to rejoin the shoot of Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy in Lucknow.
As Savita in the adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel, Dugal adds another textured part to her blossoming filmography, which includes Safia in Manto, Beena Tripathi in Mirzapur, and Neeti Singh in Delhi Crime.
In the last decade, since she played Sameera in Agyaat (2009), Dugal has steadily established herself as a performer with a range that includes playing a tribal Punjabi girl (Qissa), a young rookie cop (Delhi Crime), a single parent dealing with a “disappeared” husband (Hamid), and a woman coming to terms with infidelity in her marriage (Out of Love). Besides A Suitable Boy, Dugal will soon be seen in Mirzapur season 2, feature film Lootcase, and begin shooting the next season of Delhi Crime.
As Dr Meera Kapoor, Dugal does the heavy-lifting in Out of Love, the Indian adaptation of British series Doctor Foster, in which Meera, faced with the shock of her husband’s chronic infidelity and betrayal, finds herself hovering on the brink of a breakdown. Dugal said she was drawn to the unpredictability of the character’s arc. “I found that most interesting but I was also nervous about how it would play out. For example, there’s a big transition when she goes to visit her grandmother at the end of episode four. I didn't know how it would turn out. But I am happy with the way it did.”
Dugal watches everything she acts in, and goes back to the meticulous notes she makes during the shoot to confirm if she was wrong or right about her takeaway from the scene and her performance. Having watched Out of Love, she had identified bits she would have played differently. But her greatest learning was the rigour of shooting 15 to 16 hours every day. “I have worked intense schedules before but I was in almost every frame of this show, and I was nervous. As an actor, I have always believed that if you are committed to what you are doing then you don't have to feel the pressure of being interesting. It will be interesting if you have committed 100 percent to the part,” she says.
The positive reviews have been an affirmation of this commitment translating to screen and connecting with audiences. After playing strong, supportive parts, Dr Meera Kapoor put Dugal front and centre, which excited her immensely. “That was the biggest appeal of the show. I was really looking for something substantial.
I felt that I wanted to be Manto in Manto, Hamid in Hamid, Vartika in Delhi Crime, and Guddu bhaiya in Mirzapur. I really wanted that role which drives the narrative, and then this part came along.
It was also interesting that there were thriller elements in a drama.”
What also drew her to interpreting Meera was a mix of familiarity and absolute unfamiliarity. While she understood some things about the character instinctively, there were other things Dugal really needed to work towards playing with commitment. “It was a mix of two experiences,” she said. “On one hand, there was Manto, where when I read the part, I felt like I knew this person instinctively. On the other hand, there was Mirzapur, where I found Beena so interesting precisely because I didn’t know her at all.”
Not surprisingly, the positive response to her newest work is pleasing. “It’s nice to get a good review for a show like this but its even nicer to get a good review for a show in which you are not the centre of attention, because if people have noticed you, it’s because you reached out to them somehow.”
While playing her parts in Delhi Crime, Manto, and Mirzapur, she was aware of the actor’s insecurity popping up occasionally. “I would wonder if I am doing enough. Is my role important or not? I would remind myself that my reason for being in this profession is to experience something new whenever I take up a piece of work. If you stay committed to that, then I think all the reviews —good or bad — stop bothering you.”
Then there is the experience of working with a filmmaker of repute, like Nair, who Dugal described as “great fun”. “She brings a lot of masti to every scene, and has these minute observations of people's lives. I am enjoying my character who inhabits a happy world.”
The explosion of streaming services and episodic content has been a boon for creators and performers. It is a welcome change for Dugal, from the time when when there was a lot of waiting and wondering between projects. “Shooting two series at one time can be challenging, as I did with Out of Love and Mirzapur 2 but otherwise, it is a delight to be a part of a variety of genres and different characters. This is what I had always hoped for, and I just hope I am able to do justice to that,” she said.
The downside is carving out downtime, a break in which she can refuel, which she hopes to grab between A Suitable Boy and Delhi Crime 2. Her aim is to be more like her Qissa co-star, Irrfan Khan. “I need to find a way of decompressing alongside shooting the way Irrfan did during Qissa. Even after pack-up, he would find the time to watch one film almost every night, and then the next morning, he would come and discuss it with me. But right now, I am so consumed with the detail of everything that I am doing — learning lines, ideas for scenes, considering the best choices, filtering what I should discuss with the director, the postmortem after a scene — that it doesn't leave me with much time while I am shooting.”
If she could pick one part, one genre she could explore, Dugal would choose to play the lead in a biopic. She has the greatest admiration for her co-star Nawazuddin Siddiqui. “He had a difficult task with Saadat Hasan Manto in Manto. When you are in a biopic, you have a lot of responsibility towards the person and their story. You are also dealing with people's understanding and image of that person, and the family’s emotions. You have to be sensitive, but not glorify (the person). It’s a hard job,” she said.
So whose life would she like to explore on screen? “Amrita Pritam (novelist and poet),” Dugal said, without missing a beat. “I first read Pritam as a student in Delhi and was taken by her biography, Raseed Tikat (The Revenue Stamp). I could really relate to what she wrote about her obsessive love for things. I felt she was so brave. Not apologetic. Not guilty. But just writing about the things she felt. She talks about both romance and revolution, which is the best combination.”
As we were leaving the café, a waiter followed us out. He coyly praised Dugal’s work in Mirzapur and Delhi Crime, and asked when the second season of Mirzapur would be out.
“The fans of Mirzapur amaze me,” she said after he had left. “They are always asking for season 2, and they will ask the question on social media numerous times every day. It does not matter what I post. I can put up a picture of a flower, and they will reply asking about Mirzapur season 2. But I value this engagement with my work,” she said.
So when will season 2 be out? “Soon,” was all she would say.
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