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Interview Hindi

Just because you give the woman a gun does not make it woman-centric: Rasika Dugal on the nuances of Mirzapur's women

Actress Rasika Dugal speaks about the ambition and difference of playing the woman in charge in the adrenalin-driven Mirzapur, choosing roles with a difference, and her first song.

Shriram Iyengar

Rasika Dugal is having fun. The actress, who played the strong-willed wife, Safia, of an equally headstrong writer Sa'adat Hassan Manto has achieved new fame as the ambitious, lusty woman in power, Beena Tripathi, in the Amazon Prime Video original series, Mirzapur.

The actress's turn as the Meena Kumari in this violent Uttar Pradesh gangland tale has come as a surprise to those who have often pictured her in a more demure, quiet avatar. 

"I have always been a bit anarchical," she tells us on the phone. That explains why the actress has also shot for a song for an upcoming comedy film, which she will not reveal right now.

Yet it is Mirzapur that has become the talk of the town. Playing a woman in a very male-dominated, violent drama might be challenging, but the role is certainly not a stranger to her. 

As Dugal tells us, "It is amazing how when you start approaching a role, you find there are many things you connect with. There are these basic human desires and needs by which you can find a connection with the character. Mirzapur was very interestingly written." 

Mirzapur was premiered on Amazon Prime Video on 16 November 2018. Excerpts from the interview follow:

You had spoken about Mirzapur being very different from any other role you have done so far. How was it playing Beena Tripathi? Shifting into this right after Safia Manto feels a little surprising, for the audience at least.

I think it was that finally I was given a role to play where a woman was aware of her desires. She [Beena] is wired very differently from any other character I have played before. 

With Safia, I felt this is a person I know. With Beena, when I read the role, I realized this is a person I don't know. It was that difference and both were exciting for the same reasons. 

Rasika Dugal as Safia in a still from Manto (2018)

When I read Beena, I thought, 'I hope they don't think they have cast incorrectly.'

It is amazing how when you start approaching a role, you find there are many things you connect with. There are these basic human desires and needs by which you can find a connection with the character. Mirzapur was very interestingly written. 

It was the first time I was reading a script where women were not just victims of sexual violence or objects of titillation, or not claiming the space they are in. That is refreshing. There are hardly scripts which allow the idea that a woman has sexual desires and is even acknowledged or talked about. 

I felt that the physicality of her was interesting. When I read her, my imagination of her was of one of those women who have a physicality in their presence which is compelling. That I found interesting to play.

This is very different from Safia, who wants to be in the background. She is someone who is strong enough to be secure, and in the background. 

The physical embodiment is also a byproduct of her being part of a male-dominated world in Mirzapur, isn't it? How did it shape your character?

It [the physical presence] was there in the layers of the script. It wasn't something which was ever pronounced. I found it interesting that in a patriarchal society, a quality like ambition is understood as very masculine. She has a lot of that.

But a quality of crying is also considered very feminine, but the men in Mirzapur do that. The best thing in the writing is that all the character have a bit of masculine and feminine in them. Besides being black and white, and conflicted, all of us have a bit of masculine and feminine in ourselves.

I found her ambition interesting because it is almost that male desire of leaving a seed behind. It becomes the reason for her to be violated in the end. She has that desire to leave something that becomes her own because it has a part of herself. That human quality has been a reason for wars for a very long time.

She is protecting herself in some way. She has been privy to so much that is happening that she understands that it is the survival of the fittest.

There is a Game Of Thrones feel, where every character has a hidden layer and is trying to be one-up on the other....

It is very mysterious, yes. I won't be able to make a comparison to Game Of Thrones because I am the only person in the world who hasn't watched a single episode yet (laughs). Definitely the only person in this country who hasn't.

What is intriguing in this series is you don't know who is going which way. The moment you start thinking this character is starting to behave in a certain way, you will be surprised. It was a big page-turner for me when I started to read the script. 

You recently said 'we have created a stereotype in trying to escape a stereotype for women in cinema'. Could you expand on that?

What I meant was that when we say we are making a 'woman-centric' film, the woman character becomes a male-like figure. The body language and speech becomes masculine. The acknowledgment of femininity is not there. 

When you nuance your female characters well, then that is a woman-centric film. It doesn't have to glorify the idea of a hero. Agar aap aurat ko gun de do to woh woman-centric film nahi ho jaati [Just because you arm the woman, the story does not become woman-centric]. There needs to be a celebration of women with all their femininity, not just women who have in the past taken on the role played by men. 

The digital medium does allow the scope to explore these nuances for femininity or other roles. However, there is growing talk of censorship on the digital platform as well. What is your take on that?

I have always been anarchical to censorship. I have believed that everybody should be left to do what they do, and the story will tell you the rest. People feel they need to have a structure, a system to follow. It is up for debate. 

I always feel that censorship is a no-no. People who are making it are competent enough and truthful enough to their story to not do any injustice to it. 

You had Hamid which was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival this year, and you have Mirzapur, and Delhi Police coming up. How are you taking up such different roles?

As an actor, I have always wanted variety. It is an actor's dream. Very often, it is not possible. People find it safe in casting you in a role you have done before. I am very happy that people are thinking out of the box. The casting directors really thought out of the box to cast me in Mirzapur.

I hope such opportunities are always given to actors. That is what makes our work more exciting. But have I actively gone and sought out such roles? Not really. I feel that any two roles are different anyway.

For instance, Pankaj [Tripathi] was telling me when he did Gurgaon (2017) and when he got Mirzapur, he needed to work at it differently so that they looked like different characters. Variety can be created in the smallest things you do. 

Is the variety also a product of the casting? You have worked with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Manto and Pankaj Tripathi in Mirzapur. These are starkly different styles and treatments of character, aren't they?

It is hard to tell because they were different directors. Their working styles are more on the quiet side, which is something I always appreciate. 

You are also working on the web-series, Delhi Police. How is that going?

Hamid is going to come out first next year. Then there is Delhi Police, which I am very excited about. It is a very interesting bunch of actors. Rajesh Tailang, who is also in Mirzapur, Divya Dutta, Adil Hussain. It is about the investigation in the Nirbhaya case. 

Then, there is another film in the comic space. I am not going to talk much about it because the studio wants to announce it first. In fact, I am shooting a song for that. 

That must be a new experience....

(Laughs.) Yeah, that is a very new experience for me. I will tell you more when I can. 

I am also working on an independent film with a new director, who I had worked with in my first film, Kshay (2011). 

The film is completely improvised. I have seen several American films like that, but very few Indian films. We have a structure to a scene, but what happens in the scene is not known. We had to shoot it linearly. 

It was one of the most relaxed shooting experiences I had. 

About Delhi Police, it must be a lot more restricted in terms of personality than, say, a Beena Tripathi?

Beena Tripathi is on a planet of her own (laughs). I am not so conscious of it. There was a month from the time I finished Mirzapur and started Delhi Police.

It is amazing how well-written scripts can do the task for you. When it is written well, you understand it so well that you automatically find yourself behaving differently. You find yourself doing things you hadn't thought of, because it just happened.

The character I play in Delhi Police is also more in the zone of roles I have been offered, rather than something like Beena Tripathi. 

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