‘I don’t put labels on cinema’

Debarati Palit Singh
Thursday, 14 March 2019

While promoting her new film Hamid, Rasika Dugal talks about how web is encouraging good writing which is breaking formula in terms of content and drafting women characters

Aijaz Khan’s Hamid has already travelled 10 prestigious film festivals across the world. The heartwarming story of a young Kashmiri boy trying to connect to god for the sake of his missing father, has garnered a lot of praise. Rasika Dugal, who plays Hamid’s mother Ishrat, says that no amount of preparation could have been enough to prepare her for the film. “Because it’s about understanding a world beyond my realm of experience. As an actor, you want projects like these so you have an opportunity to experience different worlds. But at the same time, you feel nervous thinking whether you will be able to do justice to the character,” says the actor while promoting Hamid which is releasing today.
The actress says that she was nervous because she has always been an outsider to the story of the people of Kashmir. “In fact, the first time Aijaz offered me the role, I turned it down and told him, ‘You should sign a Kashmiri actress.’ But he was confident that I would pull it off,” she says, adding, “I did not have enough time to prepare for the role. I did whatever I could — I read a lot of material and watched lot of videos and documentaries on Kashmiri women. Iffat Fatima’s documentary Where Have You Hidden My New Moon Crescent which has interviews of many women whose sons have gone missing, was important. I also followed some of the women to understand Ishrat’s world.”
She shares that Ishrat is also trying to find her missing husband and in the process ends up ignoring her child. “She has to take care of the family all by herself. So the story is also about Hamid trying to get his mother’s love,” says she.  

From established directors like Nandita Das to new talent like Aijaz Khan, Rasika has worked with a long and varied list of names. She points out how all directors have their own unique style. “As an actor, it is very interesting to try and adapt to the style of your director as it pushes you in different directions. Of course it was absolutely lovely to work with Nandita, but it was equally fun to work with Aijaz because his style is completely different from hers.” 
The conversation moves to Nandita’s Manto which got rave reviews and critical appreciation but still couldn’t reach the masses. “Of course I want my film to reach as many people as it can but every film has destiny of it’s own. Those things (marketing and release) are beyond my control. I might feel disappointed that it did not get the kind of release it deserved but there is nothing I can do,” she says. Rasika believes that the reach of such films is stunted not because audiences don’t want to watch it but because at some point distributors and producers feel that certain films need to be marketed and distributed in a certain way. “But I feel if you market anything with good content, it will reach a large audience,” she says. 
While it may seem like the actress is concentrating on independent films, Rasika says, “I don’t put labels on film. I don’t think of films as commercial or independent, other people do that. Everybody have their own way of putting labels-- some do it based on box office returns, some consider the production budget, but I think the lines are blurred. I choose a project depending on whether it interests me as an actor or not,” she says. 

In the web space, the actress will be seen in the second season of Mirzapur and the Netflix series Delhi Crime. “The digital space makes way for new people to enter the game and make a mark. It is also encouraging very good writing which is breaking formula and pushing the boundaries, not just in terms of content but also revolutionising how women characters are being protrayed. There are some very good women characters that have been written recently which I haven’t seen before. Most of the time, women characters are stereotype cardboard cutouts and not really shown as nuanced human beings,” she says pointing out that there are good and bad qualities in everyone and that’s what makes them human. “These web series make an effort to consciously move away from stereotyping of women. Implying that a female character is strong and liberated only if she drinks and smokes is also a form of stereotyping. Women, who are possibly choosing to be the caregiver or a mother, are not looked upon as strong and confident, and I don’t agree with this notion at all,” she explains. 

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