“We Need To Find A Vocabulary To Show Female Desire”

Archita Kashyap - 70 weeks ago

Rasika Dugal has transitioned from popular TV shows to films with alternate, quality roles. Spotted in festival circuit films for a while, the actor’s controlled, quiet and convincing performance in Delhi Crime, the popular series, has gotten her noticed. She talks to The Film Hashery about her journey through good cinema that few got to see here, to becoming a popular face thanks to streaming and the future. Next up from her is a commercial comedy and a unique, improvisation driven film called Kshay by Karan Gour.

Do you think the journey from Qissa to Delhi Crime has been educative in terms of your recall with audiences? Did a series on Netflix make this difference to your visibility as an actor? 

Definitely it is. It was always gratifying to do the kind the work that I got an opportunity to do. I wasn’t preoccupying myself with what happens to that work, and was just happy to get so much work. But after Qissa, I really felt the loss of the film not being watched by enough members of the audience. The digital space has begun started changing that for me. It started with Chutney, the short film by Tisca Chopra which has millions of views. Then of course, there is Mirzapur (on Amazon Prime Video) and now, Delhi Crime (on Netflix). The digital audience has most definitely helped me reach a wider audience, it’s a whole new experience while I am still understanding the nuances right now. The kind of scripts that accompanied both these shows felt path breaking, and were definitely trying to break formula in many ways. Both were also very sensitive scripts. If it hadn’t been written or filmed with such sensitivity, I wouldn’t have signed up for Delhi Crime. The digital space has opened up room for writers to write content that breaks formula, and perhaps always wanted to do so, but simply couldn’t because they didn’t know if they would find any takers. Distribution has often been a problem because there have been enough and more films in the past that have broken formula but have not gotten the kind of backing that they required. 

(Rasika Dugal, Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui during the photo call for Manto at 2018 Cannes Film Festival)

You mentioned Qissa. I recall seeing it being screened outside a small theatre at St Michel in Paris, but I never saw the film getting visibility in publicity in India. Did the experience of Qissa’s India release teach you the challenges of film distribution in India? 

Qissa had French producers (Johannes Rexin and Bettina Brokemper) so the film got a decent release in France. Here in India, it did release theatrically but it was hardly marketed. It had more than enough buzz going for itself, having premiered at Toronto International Film Festival and having won the Netpac award there. That many people didn’t get to see it here in India was disappointing. Films in Europe have an entirely different game with distribution working very differently. Here in India, films are big business so the big monies, bigger productions take over. I just feel that there should be room for all kinds of cinema to co-exist. There should be a system where the big and small, alternate and mainstream, can flourish. All over the world, all kinds of films have always been made, those made to escape reality and the neo-realist films that adapt reality around us. Both have co-existed in the West and I think that’s a healthy environment. I also feel that in any situation where the big dominates over the small and there is a skew, the system balances itself out. Which is what is happening with the acceptance that streaming has found here in India. 

(Rasika Dugal along with the cast of Qissa during the premier of the film at Toronto International Film Festival in 2013)

How different was the response to Manto? Like Qissa, it’s a festival circuit film that opened here in India in theatres and quickly transitioned to streaming. Did you get a different reaction from audiences to this film? 

Manto had more responses also because it is about Manto which found a lot of interest amongst people. With Nandita Das at the helm of things,, Manto as the subject and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the lead star brought the project a lot of positive attention. I am also glad that people are keen to know more about him and the progressive writers of our country because they have influenced me in a big way. It was better released than Qissa but I still feel that Manto could have gotten more of a chance. The number of screens assigned to it were few and timings weren’t great. When a smaller film releases around a bigger film, the bigger film tends to get all the best shows in multiplexes. Consequently, smaller films suffer. That primarily happens because distributors and exhibitors lose faith in the film and assign it lesser screens because it’s from the festival circuit. People have often told me that the business works this way and both films like Qissa and Manto are not accessible films for audiences. To that, all I would have to say is that I am not putting these labels on my films. What about Tu Hai Mera Sunday where I had a small but good part? It’s a perfectly feel good film that people have now watched on streaming and said good things about. It hardly got a chance in theatres. 

(Rasika Dugal in a still from Qissa)

So would you say that streaming, as medium, has changed life for the better, for an actor like you? 

Definitely it has changed my life completely. Apart from the opportunity to reach a wider audience, it has given my films a life beyond theatres. Earlier I used to hang around with a DVD of Qissa. People I know had only seen posters on Facebook. Often I would get the reaction that we wanted to watch the film but couldn’t see it. So I would just hand over the DVD and say, just watch it and tell me what you think. Now, I don’t have to do that. I can tell them to log on to Netflix and watch Manto

Finally, this whole digital space has given importance to a department which we were ignoring for the longest time, which is writing. Everybody is investing and giving the right amount of attention to good writing. The mainstream has also had to do that. Now everyone realises that if you have a great script, your film is half done. That is a very welcome change. 

There is quite a sincere attempt to write better characters for women, I don’t know how far we have succeeded, but there is effort to do this bit right. 

There was some criticism about the female characters of Mirzapur having little to do or add to the series. Do you agree?

I don’t know if that happens in terms of screen time. Anybody who has experience in the film industry would tell you that screen time is not the criterion to go by at all. The intent to write these female characters were nuanced and beautiful. Finally, I felt like I had a part where a woman is acknowledged as a sexual being. We never acknowledge female desire and if we do, we view it with sympathy. If we talk about it, people get uncomfortable. Which is shocking because in our films, we tend to talk endlessly about male desire; so much so that it’s exhausting. I think we need to develop a vocabulary on how to talk about female desire. I don’t think we have one. I think we do it in a sexualised way and often use the male gaze. I am not saying that Mirzapur has corrected all of this but it is definitely trying to do new things, and doing it with the right intention. Some of it is working some of it is not. But at least there is an attempt to change.


Rasika Dugal / Delhi Crimes / Mirzapur / Qissa / Manto / Netflix / Amazon /

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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