'Irrfan Khan Taught Me How To Be A Good Co-Actor': Rasika Dugal On The Film That Shaped Her Career

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Thu 23 May 2024, 10:01 PM

From her captivating portrayals on television to her riveting performances on the silver screen and in the digital realm, Rasika Dugal has carved a niche for herself as a versatile and compelling actress with standout performances in Qissa (2013), Manto (2018), and Mirzapur (2018). In Qissa, she portrayed the role of Kanwar Singh, a character struggling with gender identity issues, which earned her widespread praise from critics and audiences alike. In a conversation with wknd., we delve into the multifaceted journey of the actor - from her humble beginnings to her breakthrough roles with a repertoire that spans across genres and platforms.

As we unravel the layers of her acting prowess and delve into her insights into the craft, Rasika reflects on her fleeting encounters with the city. Despite her frequent work-related trips, the actor confesses to having only experienced Dubai in transit or during film festivals and expresses her desire to explore it further, perhaps even trying out skydiving on her next visit! Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q. Welcome to Dubai. What have you been up to in the city?

I haven't been here much. Every time I come, it's for work, and it's always a fly-in, fly-out kind of visit. The last time I was here, I was just in transit to Abu Dhabi for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. In 2011, I was here for the Dubai Film Festival, and we stayed in a place called Madinat Jumeirah. That place was so big it took me two days just to navigate it. I haven't seen much of the city at all, but I would love to explore it another time and maybe go skydiving.

Photo: Shihab/KT

Q. Tell us about your formative years.

I grew up in a small town called Jamshedpur, and it was quite an idyllic childhood. There was no traffic, plenty of open spaces to play, and many films to watch. It was quite a fun time. You knew everybody in the town, so it never felt unknown or strange. It's a very well-planned and beautiful city. I can't really recall how my days went by because most of my time just went by 'being' and not 'doing' much. After growing up in Jamshedpur, I went to university in Delhi, then Mumbai, and later attended film school in Pune, at Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). And now, I've been working as an actor in Mumbai for almost 17 years.

Q. You mentioned an interesting word-you said you were just 'being' in your childhood. Now, being in Mumbai, with so much happening around you, especially in your profession, has it become harder to just 'be'? What do you do to keep yourself grounded?

I think it's becoming harder and harder to just be, not just in the city, but in the world. There are a million things vying for your attention, and they are very easily accessible, like a phone. As soon as you think about something, you can reach for your phone and execute it. You haven't even finished that thought or mulled over it as long as you would have if that device wasn't there. But this is the reality of our times.

Interestingly, I find it very easy to disconnect from everything else when I'm shooting. In fact, I actively seek that experience. That is my meditation. When I say that, I'm laughing because if you look at a film set, it's anything but a meditative space-it's chaos. But I am able to find time to be with myself in that space.

Q. What do you miss the most about your days from FTII?

When you're a student, you don't really know what you can do or can't do. You're very unaware of your strengths and weaknesses, and you can explore so much. At FTII, I was mesmerised by the space a lot. The Film Institute is located where Prabhat Studios used to be, one of the first studios of Indian cinema. There was a legend at the institute that if you sat under a tree called The Wisdom Tree, you would learn everything about cinema.

Q. I bet you sat there...

I did. But there were some people who only sat there (laughs). FTII had a very rich library, and I remember spending most of my free time looking through artwork. I found that very inspiring for my work. Every evening, we would watch a film, either at the Film Institute or at the National Film Archives, which unfortunately shut down a couple of years ago. When I heard that news, it was heartbreaking because it was a place where I watched so much good cinema. I watched The Shawshank Redemption on print. The time you had to explore and watch films as a student was invaluable. There's nothing to lose when you're a student, and that freedom is so liberating.

Q. You also studied mathematics before getting into media. What caused that transition from the world of math to then choosing a completely different field?

After I finished my three-year degree in mathematics at Delhi University, the one thing I knew was that I didn't want to pursue mathematics (laughs). I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn't want to do, and that's a start, I guess. Much like other decisions in my life, this one happened pretty much by chance. I had attended a workshop at LSR College in Delhi and coincidentally watched a couple of clips from Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray. I was mesmerised by the film.

Satyajit Ray's 'Pather Panchali'

Then there was a workshop on conflict resolution, where they used cinema to explain concepts, and I found it fascinating that cinema could be understood and dissected in that way. One day, I saw in the newspaper that FTII was restarting their acting course and just decided to apply, still not with the idea that I wanted to become an actor. I just thought, 'This sounds like fun. Let's go'. But within six months, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for a really long time.

Q. When you know, you know...

Yes, especially when you've done many other things, you know that this is different. If I hadn't flitted around so much, doing different things and exploring, I wouldn't have realised how special this was for me. I've never looked back since then. Even through the toughest times in this career, I've never thought that I shouldn't have been an actor. Finding something you truly want to do doesn't happen for everyone, so I feel like it was a gift for me.

Q. If you could pick one project that you feel has shaped you as an actor today, which one would it be?

It's clearly a film like Qissa, which I was very fortunate to be a part of early on in my career. This was a film that I did with Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, and Tillotama Shome-wonderful actors-and with a wonderful director, Anup Singh, who really knew how to give an actor that space. In the middle of chaos, you find that moment with yourself, with your co-actors, or with your director. Had I not had that experience, I wouldn't have known it. I could have easily fallen into things that were just chaotic and wouldn't have known how to find that space.

Still from 'Qissa'

I also learned a lot from Irrfan, Tisca, and Tillotama about how to be a good co-actor. For instance, Irrfan was much more experienced at the time I worked with him. He was a well-known actor, and his work was being celebrated. Despite his upward trajectory, not for a single moment during the shoot did I ever feel that he was looking down on me or being patronising in any way. It was a true collaboration, and I felt like an equal. From those experiences, I learned how to be with someone in a scene, no matter what the dynamics or hierarchies are otherwise.

Q. When you started out, there was a significant conversation about the division between parallel cinema and the mainstream. Over the course of your journey, have you seen those two worlds come together?

Throughout the years that I've worked, I've seen these two worlds move ahead simultaneously, intersect, and diverge. All of that has occurred. When I began working, there was a film called Bheja Fry, which did well at that time. It started the notion of the one crore film, where people felt they could make a film on a smaller budget. Additionally, things were transitioning to digital. Many production houses sprang up with groundbreaking content, and they managed to produce it. I was a part of many such 'indie' films.

However, distribution remained a bottleneck because nobody knew how these films would see the light of day. Then there were initiatives that tried to get those films out to audiences. Then, the streaming services emerged, which celebrated content that is not formulaic. Now, there is both formulaic and non-formulaic content in the streaming space. So, I've seen all of that happen.

Q. Has OTT made it somewhat easier for people outside of the film industry to find their way in?

Definitely, because I think in the initial years, it was really a space where newness was encouraged in every way, whether it was new stories, new content, new directors, new writers, or new actors. But of course, the formula sets in very quickly once you have success. So far, I think we're seeing a little bit of both in the streaming space, and I think that's still healthy. Everything can't be breaking barriers.

Q. In the age of social media, there are also a lot of frills attached to the job, where you have to consider everything from the way you dress, how you present yourself, endorsements. How do you ensure that all the noise doesn't interfere with your craft?

I don't think I can realistically keep myself away from it. Every actor has their own journey. Some actors refuse to do promotions, and they're comfortable with that. Personally, I've looked at it as part of the overall experience. It's like when I'm on a film set and I need a moment to really be within myself. Initially, I would struggle to find that space amidst the chaos, wondering if I should isolate myself, or listen to music. But I quickly realised that to truly be with myself, I have to accept everything happening around me. I can't reject any experience. So, I look at all the extra aspects like promotions as something that gives me opportunities to do something different. It helps me explore a side of myself that I might not have otherwise.

Still from 'Mirzapur' Season 2

Q. Lastly, what can we expect from your work going forward? And what can you tell us about Mirzapur season 3, 4, 5?

Wow, I'd love to be Beena Tripathi all my life (laughs). But unfortunately, there's nothing I can tell you about Mirzapur Season 3, except that it's going to come out very soon. Some other projects have been shot, some are doing festival rounds. There's a film called Little Thomas with Gulshan Devaiah. Then there's a new series that I worked on last year, still in post-production, where I play a very sassy, spunky role. I got a new haircut, so it's a new look for me, and I'm excited to watch that. Also, there's Delhi Crime season 3, which I'm scheduled to shoot for this year. So, a bunch of exciting things.



Khaleej Times

Legal Disclaimer:
MENAFN provides the information “as is” without warranty of any kind. We do not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, images, videos, licenses, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in this article. If you have any complaints or copyright issues related to this article, kindly contact the provider above.