Since 2018, Rasika Dugal has become a web series star of sorts, with solid performances in Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur and Made in Heaven and Netflix’s Delhi Crime. Dugal headlines the new Hotstar series Out of Love, adapted from the BBC series Doctor Foster. The release stars Dugal as Meera Kapoor, a doctor who discovers that her husband Akarsh (Purab Kohli) has been cheating on her. Out of Love will be out on Hotstar on November 22.
“The series explores how a marriage crumbles in the face of infidelity,” Dugal told Scroll.in. “It’s a nuanced take on what a couple goes through in such a situation. My character is far from a neurotic, vengeful person. The series doesn’t take sides or blame anyone or take a moralistic view of who’s right or wrong. It very clearly shows that a woman, in such a spot, has many choices. Ultimately, it’s about what choices she takes.”
The series has been helmed by Aijaz Khan, who directed Dugal in the National Film Award-winning Hamid (2019), and Tigmanshu Dhulia. Dugal is currently shooting for Mira Nair’s television adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy. The 34-year-old actress discussed Out of Love, her roles in the films Hamid and Manto, and the series Mirzapur.
Usually, actors tend to not watch something on which their new roles is based so as to not get influenced. But you watched ‘Doctor Foster’.
Just once, but never again, because I did not want to fall into the trap of copying the performance. I honestly don’t know what the correct thing to do is, so maybe next time I won’t see the original. This time, I wanted to understand the intent of the show.
The script has been adapted for an Indian context in such a way, that while working on it, I began making my own connections, and the BBC series receded to the background.
Is it a concern that you are constantly exposed to audiences in the digital medium? Do you yearn to do more films?
On the contrary, I get great joy and pleasure from working in the digital medium, as I am not just working continuously but the roles have such variety. Delhi Crime, Mirzapur and Made in Heaven were all well-reviewed and was a hit with the audience. These gave me more exposure and variety than my films, which have never been mainstream or blockbusters.
Also, I don’t make a distinction between films, TV and digital. I will be part of a story if it’s compelling. The medium doesn’t matter.
You read extensively for ‘Manto’, where you played Saadat Hasan Manto’s wife Safia, and researched just as much for ‘Hamid’, in which you played a Kashmiri woman whose husband has disappeared. Have you ever done a role without any such effort?
The Viral Fever’s Humorously Yours was a project where I just landed on set and had fun. My upcoming film Lootcase was also like that.
With Manto, I did put in a lot of work, but I felt instantly connected to the character also. I did the reading because I felt it was my responsibility to familiarise myself with the period and its pace of life. I had to read all of Manto’s works to understand his relationship with Safia. But it’s actually been one of my most effortless experiences in terms of finding a connection with the role.
More difficult to connect to were my roles in Chutney or Mirzapur, in terms of body language and physicality.
So is finding a psychological connect to a role harder than reading and researching?
You can read books, watch videos, talk to people, and all that, sure, but sometimes, you can read 20 books and find no connection to the character, and sometimes, all you need are two lines.
For example with Hamid, I was nervous about doing justice to the role, because I am not Kashmiri and neither were my director and writer. The story of Kashmir is usually told in the mainstream by outsiders and it’s a place whose people have been through a lot, and I did not want to add to it. So, I even asked them to take a Kashmiri actor early on. Anyway, I had read a lot on Kashmir, and although it made me understand the film intellectually and politically, I wasn’t finding an emotional connection.
Then, I watched a documentary called Where Have You Hidden My New Moon Crescent. In a scene, Parveena Ahanger, the founder of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, and another woman were discussing the slogans raised in protest rallies. One slogan in translation meant I have been waiting for you for very long, please come back. It was haunting, but since I watched it in subtitles, which often don’t convey metaphors or lyricism, I asked a Kashmiri actor on Hamid’s sets to explain it to me. He not only explained but recorded it in tune, and that recording became my entry point for my character.
This connect is beyond intellectualising. I cannot articulate it. The challenge in each project is to find such a connection which your mind cannot comprehend practically. When it happens, it’s truly magical.
How did you find a connect to your ‘Mirzapur’ character, a gangster’s sexually frustrated second wife who did not seem to have much psychological depth?
I found Beena Tripathi very interesting because she is totally unlike me.
I found her very complex, maybe because I was playing her. She had a trillion plans and plots always going on in her mind. Somehow, she got to know whatever was happening in every room in the house despite not being there. And I wouldn’t know what’s happening right in front of me in the room.
Another reason was that her physicality, and the way she owned her body confidently enough to display it, is unlike me. She is the kind of person who’s possibly not very good-looking but drop-dead gorgeous, but there’s something attractive about her when she enters the room. I wanted to experience being that.
You asked the ‘Hamid’ makers to pick a Kashmiri actress instead of you. What are your thoughts on the debate over the need to cast accurately in terms of ethnicity, skin colour or physicality?
There’s no one answer to it. Casting is best understood and taken care of by the filmmakers, writers and producers who take a decision consciously for one reason or another. There are many ways of achieving a compelling story, and different people have different ways. I also totally understand when an actor says they want to and have the right to play all kinds of roles.
As for me, I simply did not want to be insensitive to Kashmir and its people, so I was just nervous.
What can you tell us about ‘A Suitable Boy’, in which you play Savita, sister of the protagonist Lata?
The shooting is still going. We are shooting in some beautiful locations found with great difficulty. One place is Lucknow, where the energy of these old buildings is just entirely irreplaceable. We have an interesting mix of very experienced actors and very new actors. Sometimes, I just hang on the sets to watch them work.
The art direction and costume design are extremely good. The costumes are by Arjun Bhasin, who has found the right material, the texture and colour palette for the period. In period movies, usually the costume feels like the actor never wore it before, but here, they feel lived in. And, of course, much awe and respect for Mira Nair.
It’s difficult to talk about my character now because I am still discovering her. I think of something and go to the set, and then I discover something new about her. Acting surprises you daily, like life. You think you know who you are, and then you are forced to change your mind.