Actor Rasika Dugal talks to Governance Now about her acting career and the new face of creative content
A BSc in Mathematics and an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Rasika Dugal has acted in Hindi and Malayalam films, web series and television serials besides hosting shows. She is the recipient of the Best Actor Award at Rajasthan International Film Festival for her role in the film Hamid. She is best known for her role in the movies Kshay, Qissa and Manto.
The book you are reading at the moment: ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama.
Acting to you means: Everything. It is the only thing I am very deeply connected to. I fell into it by chance and I am so glad that I had the ability at that time to be free enough to wander around and look for things I really wanted to do which otherwise I wouldn’t have found. I haven’t felt a connection more special than this for anything else in my life.
How important formal training in the art of craft of cinema is: Because I did have a formal training so I don’t know how I would have been if I hadn’t. When I went to FTII, I had very little experience in acting. But, having said that, I don’t think that’s the only way to learn it. You can learn by observing and by being on the job. I am not good at self-teaching and usually need a little bit of structure to learn something. It worked very well for me. FTII was the perfect balance between structured and unstructured because I feel that any kind of good learning happens that way. Some people are better at self-taught things and I know many brilliant actors who didn’t have any formal training so that too works.
How the digital and web space is changing the industry: It definitely introduced the idea that good writing is very important. If you look at the content which is becoming popular in the digital space much of it is very well written. The length and format is almost like five films and allows multiple tracks to coexist and have space within a narrative. Also, a lot of very interesting things are being written because of the luxury of time in the situation. Because of some exciting writing which is really pushing the boundaries and breaking formula there is a realisation that audiences have been ready for a while for good and different content which is non-formulae and breaks stereotypical thinking. Moving forward, I don’t know how it will be, but at least in these two-three years there has been room for new players to enter. Moreover, against the conventional norm of all the work going to people who are considered more saleable, the work has gone to people who have talent to execute it. That has been the primary importance and I hope it will continue to exist as a free space.
The challenges you have faced in your acting career: Many and I continue to face them every day. In one sense it is the joy of being in a career that keeps you on your toes. But one thing that I found very hard to get used to and still struggle with is the uncertainty of the business and bagging a role which is like almost a miracle – leaving much of your life to chance. I think I have sort of gotten used to it and at some level begun to enjoy it as well.
The changes you would like to see in terms of the availability of roles for female actors in the industry: I think because of the series format there is room for many more tracks to be seen through a narrative and, therefore, there is space for woman characters as well. Usually the first victim of an edit at the script level is the woman’s role. I think that is changing. The roles that are being written are better than before. I also feel that, as a reaction, we should not fall into the impression where the idea of strength, freedom and liberation is equated to women resembling men. Good roles are about women celebrating their femininity, being well nuanced and not about the display of male or female like characteristics. Some of the stuff that I have seen recently show the idea of freedom and strength for women as smoking and drinking which is not really moving away from stereotype but falling into another one.
How stereotyping affects the growth of actors and cinema in totality: In terms of roles, it is very uninteresting to watch something not well written and well nuanced. In terms of writing, I think we have moved ahead. I have never been wary of stereotyping because I feel that scripts by different directors are also different. If the role is well written it is bound to be different from the part that you have done earlier because they exist in different worlds and scripts and is envisioned by two different directors. If somebody calls me for a role because they feel it is similar to something that I have done earlier I am happy to do it because there is more work. But I will still imagine it differently because the character exists for me in spaces.
Your greatest strength: My complete love for my work.
How you see the #MeToo movement going forward: I hope that it converts to real change. There has been a lot of conversation and people have come out with their stories which are very encouraging. Sometimes the conversations have been problematic and we have to have both. I can only have admiration for the strength that these women have and hope that it leads to a change in the system where production houses can implement POSH guidelines and making actors and women in the industry aware of a system to fall back on when things do go wrong. There is an active need to understand what we can do legally. It is very hard to overcome the prejudices that exist in the society. I think that we are moving possibly in the correct direction.
Governance issues that matters to you the most: Extreme polarisation and clamp down on free speech in the last five years is a matter of huge concern. I wonder where we are going with that.
The greatest influence in your life: I am not really in awe of one person all the time. There are different people at different times. Recently, it is some of the directors I have worked with, like Nandita Das for the kind of difference she wants to make with the stories she is telling. In college, I was extremely in awe of my journalism teacher P Sainath and some of the ideas he introduced which opened up my mind in a different way.
How does the social and political environment in our country impact your creative expression: As artists, we are all influenced by what is happening around us. In fact, being a part of the film Manto which is about freedom of speech and expression, and which I think Nandita made to address what is happening today... It is becoming increasingly rare in our country and around the world and all of us need to actively protect that today.
At present you are busy with: I am going to start shooting for Mirzapur Season 2 and Delhi Crime Season 2 soon.
– As told to Geetanjali Minhas
(This article appears in the May 31, 2019 edition)