A rendezvous with Sobhita Dhulipala

by April 7, 2019 0 comments

Sobhita Dhulipala, a former Miss India, has several layers to her personality. While she opted out of the beauty business to act in niche films, it is with her latest outing in Made in Heaven that she has grabbed eyeballs. Here’s her talking about the way characters are no longer black or white, why marginalised communities should have a voice and the way she approaches a role. In a conversation with Saimi Sattar.

Even though you’ve acted in films like Raman Raghav and Kaalakaandi, it’s the web series Made in Heaven that has catapulted you into the limelight. How are you dealing with your changed circumstance?

I am so jumpy because it has been so successful. But now expectations are more. I am somebody who loves to punch above her weight and chew into a role like hell. Unlike the limited bandwidth of a film, this series allows me the amplitude to explore every facet of human dynamics. So yes, that’s new. The success of Made in Heaven really motivates me. The acceptance and appreciation of a content-driven project validates and encourages  filmmakers to tell relevant stories in a changing India.

As an outsider in the industry, I’ve always got my breakthrough moments through a patient process of auditions. So I responded to a call by Excel’s casting director Nandini Shrikent. I was stunned to find  a flawed protagonist, unabashedly unapologetic and yet honest enough to admit to her frailties. Yet she has this cool demeanour and holds a sea of emotions within. I was very curious and a month-and-a-half later I was called for the look test. I was naturally excited because I’d be working with big filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Alankrita Srivastava and Nitya Mehra. All of them have independent voices. During the look test, it was clear that they wanted me to crack it. A week later, I was locked for the role. They sent the script and I finished it overnight, it was so riveting.

Tara’s character has many shades and is unlike the linear characters that have been assigned to women in the past in either films or television. This is different. How was your prep?

When you audition for something, whether you get it or not, you know what’s working and what isn’t. Then you face your shortcomings and learn from them. Once I was on board, it was not that complicated therefore. Besides everyone who had been hired, the cast and crew, was so good that not much discussion or training was required. We just had to be sincere about what we were doing and be honest to the world we created, which was a mirror of reality.

There were different directors for different episodes. Did that make it difficult for you as an actor? Or would you say it was a learning process?

All four directors had different perceptions of the same character. Of course, they worked in the same zone set by the script and they had discussions but there was a slight difference in the way they saw the character. Each had their own reason for shaping Tara the way they did and I think that enriched her character. We weren’t shooting it in a linear fashion either, so it required me to be very present in the moment as an actor. I had to be aware of what each of the directors wanted while at the same time give myself a window to experiment. I had to do it to their liking but also knew that my loyalty lay with the spine of the script. It was a creative jugalbandi.

At one level Tara is a go-getter and trying to fit in with the upper crust, South Delhi gentry. Yet when she gets what she wants, she also feels guilty, as if she had cheated her way into it. How difficult was it to get into the skin of the character?

Actually it wasn’t very difficult but very liberating to admit that you are imperfect and can still go on. So she is courageous and strong. And she is passionate.

What were your reference points to develop a complex character?

I am someone who believes that acting is not lying. It is revealing the different kinds of emotions and experiences that we have and want to have. I just believed that being vulnerable and sensitive was human even though we know that to be guarded is more secure. As people, we have become a little cynical. I choose to stay fragile and vulnerable even though I know that I have to deal with a disappointment, betrayal or heartbreak later. I am open to all kinds of experiences like a child. The most difficult part of acting for me would be to retain that innocence and child-like enthusiasm about situations within me. This approach has so far enabled me to adjust to any character.

Most gay relationships have so far been caricatured in films with a few arthouse exceptions. Here it has been depicted as a dynamic between two people. Also the male and the female protagonists are true friends without the sexual equation. How refreshing was this for you as an artiste?

Art of any kind — whether it be literature, painting or music — has reflected the conflicts and the dilemmas of the particular time that it was made in. It’s high time that cinema reflects the dilemmas of our times. It’s important to be inclusive, to represent the voices of  different groups of people. You can’t marginalise communities because they aren’t a majority or choose to be quiet about their circumstance. I felt fortunate to be a part of this project. They’ve handled homosexuality delicately and sensitively. At the end of the day, we are all human beings.

It also shows the inner turmoil and the ups and downs in a marriage. The institution has been all about pretence in regular films. Truth is both partners change, evolve, go through disappointments. We all feel jealous one moment, excited the next. Depending on our sense of security and self-confidence, we go up and down in our graphs as we are all shades of grey.

Did you realise that the show would become so big?

I had done Raman Raghav and Kaalakaandi before this and both were niche films. Because of that, I somehow learnt to detach myself from the commercial outcome. I have developed this habit of getting completely involved during the process of  film-making, which is a creative journey, and enjoy that instead. I was never attached too much to the perks and the benefits of a hit.

So I feel grateful and motivated but it hasn’t rocked my boat because I know I am a story-teller in the truest sense. I tell a story and attaching money to it is trade. I don’t involve myself there. If my film isn’t doing well and I say I don’t involve myself then, I should also say that when it does well.

Having said that, I was hoping for Made in Heaven to be successful. We were honest in the way it was done and gave it a year of our lives. And it is such a relevant subject, so I was hoping that it would reach a large number of people. But I don’t have the kind of experience to know which project will crack and which won’t.

Before the web series released, Zoya said you were ideal for the role as you have many layers.

(Laughs) It is so nice of her to say that. That is such a huge compliment for anyone who considers himself/herself to be a creative person. I do feel there are so many facets to my personality. I am not a super-enthusiastic, bubbly person. I am very sensitive and emotional. I am going to channel my moods and my different personalities into a variety of projects.

You were a model and a self-confessed nerd. Many people would see the two as mutually exclusive.

When I was in college, I took part in Miss India because I was very curious and excited about it. There was not much thought to it. It was just a 20-year-old kid trying something new. Then I did some modelling. But I felt very disconnected soon enough and I am glad that I went through the trial and error method to find myself. When I started out, I gave a lot of auditions. I really enjoyed my first audition and said to myself, ‘Man, this is what I really want to do.’ Then Raman Raghav happened. My whole experience has been about going out every single day and trying, no matter how many ups and downs or rejections I face or whether something works out or doesn’t. I am glad that I did it.

What is your take on Indian weddings?

I don’t know. I think I am very far away from that. I think when I do have one, it will be a simple affair because I have had a simple upbringing and that is the person that I am. I cannot relate to showsha.

There is a sequence where the couple wants a simple wedding and then the guy starts asking for dowry and Tara decides to inform the girl. But a real wedding planner would perhaps be looking at her financial bottomlines.

She has started the company and she is fairly new. She is in such a turmoil. She is edgy and getting affected by the weddings in her personal life. And her personal life is getting affected by the decision she takes at work. At the end of the day, she is also a young woman trying to make a career and at the same time is married in a home dealing with conflicts, with ups and downs. At some level, what she does is not calculated. She is sometimes driven by her head and at other times by her heart. This makes it so interesting because in one moment she is so in control and at other times she is so fragile. But that is what makes her human. That’s something I found very interesting.

Have you consciously picked up content-driven projects?

I was more stubborn about doing films which were content-driven earlier but now I have enough assurance that even if I was a part of completely commercial film, I would still be able to hold my own. I am assured of that.

What are your future projects?

I have one more project with Netflix called Bard of Blood releasing in August-September produced by Red Chillies. There’s another one called Body by Jeethu Joseph who made the original Drishyam in Malayalam. It stars Rishi Kapoor and Emraan Hashmi which releases at the end of the year. There’s a small film that I did last year called Moothon by Geetu Mohandas. It’s an extraordinary film. The writing, screenplay and everything is brilliant. It will be out in June. It has Nivin Paully, a superstar in Kerala. So, three very different projects from everything that I have done so far. I have my hands full at the moment. Of course, there’s the second season of Made in Heaven.

Writer: Saimi Sattar

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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