Rasika Dugal: “Mira Nair is very mischievous & her energy is great”

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Rasika Dugal has her kitty full with projects – she’ll soon be seen in Rajesh Krishnan’s comedy film Lootcase that releases on Hotstar on 31st July. She plays Kunal Kemmu’s wife in the comic caper that revolves around a middle-class man who stumbles upon a suitcase full of cash in a Mumbai local and then gets chased by people after the cash. Rasika also plays an important part in Mira Nair’s six-part series ‘A Suitable Boy’, an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel by the same name. It airs weekly on Sundays on BBC One in the UK and then hits Netflix India later.

BizAsiaLive.com caught up with the 35-year-old Rasika Dugal for an exclusive chat.

You’re known for your serious, gritty roles. How was it trying your hand in comedy with ‘Lootcase’?
It was quite a relief actually, especially because the script of Lootcase came to me at the time I was shooting for Delhi Crime (a series on Netflix). Delhi Crime was a very immersive, emotional experience and that time I was really looking for something light-hearted. I didn’t know that lightheartedness would come from another piece of work or by just me sitting and watching sitcoms but that’s when the script Lootcase came along. Of course it is in the comic space but I found that it had its own intelligent and quirky sense of humour. Not only are the scenes and the situations funny but Rajesh (Krishnan) and the Kapil Sawant have written the screenplay with so much humour, that it almost felt like these are lines from a novel! I felt it was very interestingly written, the makers were very invested in what they were doing and had a very quirky sense of humour. That’s what drew me towards the project, I think I really needed it at that time.

Is comedy a tough genre to act in?
I don’t think that it’s less tough or more tough than anything else but I think it was tougher for me because not having had so much experience in it. I had experience of doing comedy in theatre but I hadn’t had much opportunity of experimenting with it on films. I had done one series called Humorously Yours for The Viral Fever (TVF) which was in the lighthearted space but that was also more slice-of-life and I played this role that the comic person was actually playing off rather than me being that person. Other than that I’ve not had much experience in this genre. In that sense, I was excited because it was sort of new but also a little nervous. I think most of it was a lot of fun, the only work that I had to do was to remind myself that I can go on set and have fun because my usual practice is that I’m very preoccupied in figuring out the nuances of a dramatic scene while working in most of my other projects (laughs). I think the only thing that kept me on my toes was that Rajesh is very particular about the comic timing and he knows what he wants.

What brief did Rajesh Krishnan give you about your character?
He gave me the script to read which I think is the best way to tell an actor about a character, honestly. He might sit and describe something but when you sit and read the script you might feel differently. I appreciate when the directors give me a script first because it’s nice to read a script without somebody having told you something beforehand. It’s interesting to see what you feel about it without the brief and I generally like to work like that and have conversations later on what we would like and not like. We had detailed rehearsals on set before the day of shoot as well and did some improvisations with Rajesh even before we went on set for rehearsals. It was to understand if we are on the same page in terms of how he wants the character to be. He was very particular about the comic timing which kept me on my toes always, that was an interesting and new way of working and that’s always good.

How is Kunal Kemmu as a co-actor?
He’s definitely more comfortable in this genre than I am, he’s had several films in this space. He’s great at it. Most of my scenes were with Kunal and this child actor called Aryan Prajapati and both of them had a great sense of comic timing, so it was easier to play off that energy. It was also fun to watch Kunal work with a child actor because one has also seen Kunal as a child actor (laughs).

Since it’s a comic caper, was it also all fun and frolic while shooting on set?
If you work with Rajesh and his team, you’d realise that they’re always cracking jokes all the time. You don’t know when the joke ends and the seriousness starts. Also, the content is lighthearted so everyone was already in that space.

What according to you makes ‘Lootcase’ stand out from other comic capers?
I think its quirkiness is something that makes this film different or interesting.

‘Mirzapur’, ‘Delhi Crime’, ‘Made in Heaven’, ‘Out of Love’… do you think you’ve sort of become one of the faces of India’s digital medium?
I don’t know, you tell me (laughs)! I don’t know how people perceive me, I’d be very happy to take on that title if somebody confers it upon me.

How was it shooting with Mira Nair for ‘A Suitable Boy’?
Oh, it was lovely. I was in awe of her before we started shooting and I’m still am very much in awe of her. I had a lot of expectations from this experience and it definitely met all of them, if not more. Not only is Mira a lovely director and it’s great to watch that kind of experience play out in front of you and learn from it, but she’s also a really funny person. She’s also very mischievous and her energy is great! I enjoyed all the conversations that I had with her off set, sometimes they weren’t even about the scene at all! We’d talk about the things that we find interesting and she always had such beautiful insights and an interesting way of looking at things and a humorous way of articulating it. I really enjoyed chatting with her. In fact, we’ve been dubbing online and we need to be reminded to get back at work because we keep chattering (laughs)!

Dubbing online was unheard of before the pandemic. How has that experience been?
I was just happy that we are still able to do this while in lockdown… to meet people even if virtually while you’re holed up in your house doing housework. The team of A Suitable Boy from the beginning during pre-production till the end during post-production has been so efficient and professional. They just make things so much easier for the actors, from hair and make-up to spot boys to the caterers to the production people while we were shooting in Lucknow. The team who organised this online had to do a lot of background work to figure out how to make it smooth sailing for everybody. They just made it so easy. I had to make a small soundproof booth for myself, I had to put two step ladders together and a bedcover on top, sit inside that and dub!

How would you describe your character Savita, sister of the protagonist Lata in ‘A Suitable Boy’?
Savita is somebody who’s made choices that fit into the traditional framework of the 1950s India, but not because anybody forced her to do so. Those are her own choices and she’s happy with that.

Can you share any interesting anecdote from the set of ‘A Suitable Boy’?
We were all living in this one hotel in Lucknow where we shot for three-and-a-half months. It really made me feel like I was back to living in a hostel again because we would go for dinners together or take a break together. It’s one those rare situations where it’s a large ensemble and we all became good friends. Shahana (Goswami), Tanya (Maniktala), Mahira (Kakkar), Sharvari (Deshpande),Vivek (Gomber), Vivaan Shah… we all hung out with each other all the time. Vivaan is such a joker and is so much fun, everyone in the cast will tell you that Vivaan Shah is hilarious! The way he tells a joke, I’d laugh and then after an hour remember what Vivaan had said and I’d laugh again. There were actors from everywhere, Mahira lives in New York, Shubham Saraf lives in London, Tanya lives in Delhi… it was great fun.

Lastly, what more can the audience expect from the second seasons of two popular web series’ – ‘Mirzapur’ and ‘Delhi Crime’?
A lot is coming up in Mirzapur Season 2! If you enjoyed season 1, then season 2 has many new things you’ll have to wrap your head around. You’ll see that newer characters have been introduced and the existing characters will be seen in a very interesting light. The wait for Mirzapur season 2 will definitely be worth it! Delhi Crime season 2 is a new case and a new story and that’s all I’m allowed to tell right now.

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