In her nearly two-decade career, Lara Dutta Bhupathi played glamorous women who turned heads and set hearts aflutter, but hardly ever a tough-as-nails cop staring down male subordinates. That has changed with the Disney+ Hotstar series Hundred, in which Dutta Bhupathi plays Saumya Shukla, an assistant commissioner of police in Mumbai.
In the trailer, Shukla is up and about brandishing her badge and gun, but can also be heard bemoaning, “Where I once wanted to be James Bond, now I am the department’s item girl.” Circumstances take a turn when Shukla hires the terminally ill Netra (Rinku Rajguru), who is in search for some excitement in the last days of her life, for a mission that needs to be wrapped up within 100 days.
“Since I was a Miss Universe, all throughout my career I was projected in a certain way,” Dutta Bhupathi told Scroll.in. “With this character, I got the opportunity to be someone more real and identifiable. In films, cops are usually action-oriented vigilantes, someone who wakes up and fixes society, but Saumya Shukla is flawed, funny, and yet badass. Roles like these are rare in films, where a woman is usually the hero’s love interest, so when I was approached, the actor in me instantly said yes.” Hundred will be out on April 25.
Playing Shukla opened up a new world of experiences, Dutta Bhupathi said. She travelled to and shot in locations in Mumbai that she had never set foot in during the 25 years she has been in the city. To do the role of a cop justice, Dutta Bhupathi interacted with female assistant and deputy commissioners of police in Mumbai.
“Shukla is not a constable or inspector, she is an ACP, so she commands a certain respect,” Dutta Bhupathi said. “So I had to note how a female ACP or DCP behaves with their juniors, their small behaviours, which I imbibed in my character.”
Understanding the mind of a woman who has to survive in a man’s world was not difficult for the actor, since her sister, Cheryl Dutta Mishra, became an Indian Air Force helicopter pilot at a time when very few woman flew helicopters for the armed forces.
“The female cops I met were tough and not ladyike, as they said they don’t have the space to be ladylike,” she said. “Over time, their mannerisms became manly, because if you come across as a woman, you will be taken advantage of. So you become one of the boys.”
Dutta Bhupathi, 42, and her 18-year-old co-star Rinku Rajguru are different in several ways. The generation gap aside, Rajguru, for whom Hundred is her first Hindi project, has played small-town characters in her Marathi films, notably Sairat. Dutta Bhupathi has mostly portrayed stylish and urban women.
This difference, Dutta Bhupathi feels, added to their characters. Calling the casting “smart”, she said, “Saumya Shukla has seen the hard side of life, is jaded from functioning in a misogynistic environment. For her, you needed an actor with a certain amount of life experience. I couldn’t have played her in my twenties and thirties, as I needed to have certain experiences in life to draw from. Rinku’s character, on the other hand, is inexperienced, and her life nearly ends before it can begin, with her having an X number of days to live.”