Rasika Dugal talks to Titas Chowdhury about being part of some of the biggest Indian web Originals of recent times, Delhi Crime, Made In Heaven and Mirzapur
It was a spine-chilling experience watching Delhi Crime. Tell us about the emotional impact it had on you, when you heard the script and were shooting for it?
When I first read the script, I was absolutely stunned by the detailing. I knew that Richie (Mehta) had spent a lot of time on it. It was very evident that he had done extensive research. The way he chose to put that research together was brilliant. Besides being procedural, Delhi Crime sensitively examines the lives of the women who are investigating this case, how they negotiate patriarchy and talks about a world in which a crime like this happened. That is what touched me when I read the script.
But I felt its full impact only after I actually watched it. When you are shooting for something, you don’t see it holistically. When you are reading a script, you can visualise it to some extent. Sometimes, the result may disappoint you or surpass your imagination. In this case, it surpassed mine in just the way he chose to pitch the performances.
Richie and Johan (Heurlin Aidt), the DoP, chose to shoot the actors very sensitively. Our editor, Beverly Mills, remained on one shot for a long time. All of it was done so sensitively. Watching it was so overwhelming for me in spite of the fact that I had been part of it. Every time you are approached for something like this, you are always nervous about whether it will be treated sensitively. But I have known Richie for a while. So I trusted him totally in the way he dealt with this subject.
The time he had spent on it, the research he had done and the script was proof of that. With any other team, it would have been difficult to sign up for a project like this. With this one, I was certain it would be handled with sensitivity. It would have been very hard to shoot for this if I hadn’t trusted the director. I don’t think I would have been part of this series if I didn’t have that trust because it can so easily be exploitative.
It is a very thin line.
Yes, it is a very fine line. And sometimes a script is well-written but does not translate into a visual, which was not the case with this series. The intent of the director and his skill were at par with each other. Sometimes, people intend to visualise things sensitively but there is a gap between the script and the visual.
Shooting for Delhi Crime must have been like revisiting the tragedy. In the series, we see you interacting with the family of the victim. How did you internalise the situation and the emotional graph of your character?
When you are part of a project like this, you have no choice but to give it all you’ve got. While it was disturbing to revisit the tragedy while filming, I really wanted to revisit it to experience one of those things that I had experienced as a civilian when I had heard the news. I felt like I had moved on too quickly. I thought it was something that deeply affected me at that time and it was important to remember these incidents. It is also important to fight for a society which doesn’t allow this to happen again.
We forget the victims very soon, we slip back to our lives and other things take over. I felt guilty for forgetting an incident like this. I wanted to remind myself and this project, in a way, was assuaging my guilt. Even though it was disturbing and painful, it was important to revisit it. What I found compelling about this character, Neeti, was the spirit and idealism that she comes with and how she begins to change.
It happens for a variety of reasons such as her realisation that she is working within a system and her disappointment at everything around her. Hence, her idealism begins to crumble and that is very heartbreaking. The breaking of a woman’s spirit is something we see all the time. Rape does that too. Every day, something like that happens through an act of violence or even smaller things that erode a woman’s morale. I wanted to tell that story and be part of it so that I could trigger conversations among people. If I can do that through my work, then I would be happy (Smiles).
In Delhi Crime, we get to see the human side of the police, which we do not generally see in our Hindi films…
(Cuts in) Yes, yes! That is why it was very new for me. The police are either valourised or they are villainised in our films. I don’t have any friend or family in the police service. So this is the first time I learnt about their lives. It was fascinating and the detailing was very interesting. The kind of the things they have to fight for in their jobs was a revelation to me. Delhi Crime, like you said, really humanised the police for me. As Neeti, I met a lot of IPS officers who were training at that point.
Was that part of your research?
Yes! All of it was present in the script but to own what is already there, you need to do your own work around it. What I hadn’t expected was to meet a bunch of people who were extremely idealistic and wanted to change the world. That, to me, was very heartwarming because that was not the image I had of the police. I had not met people in a while who were so idealistic. It was very encouraging.
Through the process, I had begun to feel that they were already becoming a little jaded since they knew they had to work within a particular set-up that may not always support their politics. All that had begun to seep into their minds. It was very interesting hanging out with him. One of the girls who I met is now an ACP. I would like to meet them again for Season 2 and it would be interesting to see how things have changed for them.
Is Season Two on the cards?
Yes! I don’t know what is in it yet, but it is around.
Mirzapur, Made In Heaven and Delhi Crime are among the the biggest web series India has had of late, and you have been a part of all three of them. What importance do they hold in your filmography?
It feels so good to be part of these series. I have always had good work in terms of content, roles and scripts. But my films, unlike these shows, did not have this kind of reach among the audience. So it is lovely to see that the web has room for all sorts of content. There can be a Made In Heaven and a Mirzapur. They belong to two completely different genres. And then there is Delhi Crime, which is again different. All three of them are getting a very wide viewership, which means there are audiences for all kinds of genres. That is very, very encouraging and I think this is the best time to be an actor (Smiles).
When I made my acting debut, there were lots of good films that were being made at the time but they would always get stuck in distribution. That was the bottleneck for small films and it still is. The smaller films just don’t get a chance even if they are accessible. I felt very disappointed when my film Qissa did not reach a wide audience. It deserved a lot more. Lots of people told me back then that the film was not accessible. I told them that we underestimate our audiences and they said to me that I am too much of an indie artiste who doesn’t understand the film business.
Then there was a film called Tu Hai Mera Sunday, in which I played a small part. People labelled it as a very accessible film. Even that didn’t get the viewership it deserved because of the same issues – stuck in distribution, very few theatres and odd show timings. But things have changed for actors like me. Now content is more important. The web platforms already have a viewership. They are not yet star-driven even though I have already begun to hear a lot of murmurs here and there and that is disappointing (Chuckles). But I hope it doesn’t change.
Does it give you a high to see your work reach out to 190 countries across the world?
Yeah! None of my films has experienced that. So it is new territory for me. The other day, I got a message from somebody from Israel on Instagram. He said he had watched Delhi Crime. It is nice to get feedback. It tells you things you might not have thought about. It is nice to see that your work has affected people, stayed with them and it is something they will carry with them because this is why you do it.
When it comes to the web, the biggest plus is that there is no censorship. But there has been talk of regulation. As an artiste, how do you look at creative freedom?
I believe that a story will dictate how it is to be told if you are true to it and if your reasons to do it are not exploitative. If you are telling a story with integrity and truth, it will tell you how it should be told. Therefore, I don’t feel like there should be an outside body governing and telling an artiste what to do and what not to do. I know that society feels the need for rules and that is how we live with each other. But I hope the web remains a free space and we are allowed to say what we want to say through our stories.
What is next on the cards for you?
There are two films I have shot that are yet to release. One of them is more in the commercial space than anything else I have done. It is in the comic zone. That should be out in the next two or three months. They have not announced the date or the title of the film yet. It is in its post-production stage right now.
Then there is this independent film I did, which is an improvised film. We had a rough structure to every scene but we didn’t know how exactly we were going to achieve the intent of the scenes. So I worked with a lot of improvisers from this group called Improv Comedy Mumbai. My husband is part of that group. I have worked with him in this film. Then there is Mirzapur Season Two, which I will start shooting for next month. After that, I have Delhi Crime Season Two.