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“Playing a flawed character was very liberating”

Sobhita Dhulipala talks to Titas Chowdhury about life after the success of Amazon Prime Original Made In Heaven, her dreams and her upcoming projects

Congratulations on the massive success of Made In Heaven. Has life changed after that?

I am more assured as a person and I don’t feel lost among the filmy crowd any more. We shot for it two years ago, so I had moved on from this project a while ago. We shot for it in 2017 and in early 2018. So I had moved on emotionally and creatively. But to see that it has been accepted and appreciated so much is definitely motivating because I have largely made content-driven choices throughout my career. To finally see that one of them has done well and is validated makes you feel like it is not so bad, after all (Smiles).

People now know you as Tara.

I know! I think it is a compliment. People keep calling me ‘Tara! Tara!’ (Laughs)

In an interview, you had said that when you read the script, you realised that Tara was not all vanilla and marshmallows. How did you crack a character so complicated, layered and conflicted?

Isn’t everyone like that in real life? I have experienced fear, jealousy, disappointment and desire. It is human to feel all these things. To actually have a character that is so real, or a protagonist that is so flawed, is so liberating. It is very liberating to see somebody who is flawed and aware of it. It is very empowering.

After being part of unconventional and experimental films, do you dream of seeing yourself as the quintessential Hindi film heroine?

The quintessential Bollywood heroine changes every decade. They all want to play characters that don’t have any connection to reality. Playing a fantasy character is completely different. I don’t think I am drawn towards playing someone dumb. Different people are attracted to different things. But to reduce somebody to a caricature is something I don’t want to endorse. I hope I don’t feel the pressure of doing something like that because I will not be happy.

Let me share something with you. I was at the India Fashion Week. There was a 17- or an 18-year-old who was queer. He walked up to me. With tears in his eyes, he said it was the first time he felt represented. He said he had watched the show with his mom and then he told her that he was gay. It was such an important and moving moment for me. That is when I realised that we make caricatures of the minority with our movies. I don’t want to be a part of that. But, let’s see, as I am often amused by my own choices.

You have had quite a journey. If given a chance, is there something that you would like to change?

No. My first film was shot in 2015 and came out in 2016. From then to now, I have done eight projects in total out of which only some are out. Raman Raghav 2.0 gave me a lot of strength. It was very important for me that people take me seriously for what I bring to the table and not being reduced to someone who is ‘model-types’. The tag was terrifying and it was important for me to be recognised for my skill. To be part of a film like Raman Raghav 2.0 with a director like Anurag Kashyap felt great. And I was nominated at the Cannes Film Festival for it which meant so much to me. When you are a 23-year-old girl who is figuring things out, you realise that sticking to things that mean something to you even if they don’t bring you that much money, fame or any of the perks that come with being a known actor is important. But it gave me strength that can’t be substituted by anything else. I did Kaalakaandi after that which didn’t do so well, but it was an interesting experience for me. Then I did a Telugu film called Goodachari that came out last August.

That was a commercial success.

Yeah, so I believe that break-even ho raha hai kahi ka kahi (Laughs). That’s not bad, right? Made In Heaven has done well too. That makes me feel really good. Just before Made In Heaven, I didn’t exist to people and I didn’t matter. And now there is a tenderness with which I am welcomed. I see and understand the difference and it is nobody’s fault. I think it grounds you. You realise that your worth depends on public consumption. The fact there success is not permanent makes it charming as you are always chasing it.

While you were growing up, you did not have a movie-watching atmosphere at home…

(Cuts in) I still don’t. I have to make an effort.

You were mostly into reading books and then modeling happened. When did you realise your love for acting?

After college, I took part in Miss India out of curiosity. I wanted to know where I stand. I was also very young, emotionally. After I won, I did some modeling. I was very new to the whole beauty business and was charmed by it. I was very curious as to what it was like. I thought I would enjoy it but I didn’t really connect with it. I gave hundred and thousands of auditions for ads. Raman Raghav 2.0 was actually my first film audition. I was auditioning for it and half through it, I knew that this is what I want to pursue. Film auditions have a story, a narrative. Ads have no solid story to it. You feel like a salesperson with really nice makeup (Laughs). Within an hour of the audition, I got the part. In two days, we were shooting the film. In the next six months, we were in France for the film festival. It was like a dream. The whole exercise left a huge impact on me because of the people I was surrounded by; Anurag Kashyap and Nawazuddin (Siddiqui) who are very passionate and who believe in putting honesty and individuality on high regard. It made me believe that if people like them can receive so much respect, why can’t I be like them? Why do I have to succumb to something lesser? That is how I fell in love with the whole acting world. Also, I have a great affection for imagination. If I am able to live in a different world even for two months, that is great.

When it comes to the digital space, the biggest advantage is the absence of censorship. But there is talk of curbing the freedom one enjoys on the web. As an actor, what importance does creative freedom hold for you?

Freedom is not the right to do what we want; it is the opportunity to do what is right. We need to understand why we are given that freedom and learn to use that in a fair manner.  We cannot just jazz things up because they will be consumed faster. That will then go in some other direction. I hope that does not happen.

We had some intimate scenes in Made In Heaven. I don’t know if they would have made it to a feature film and we would have been scared because of censorship; people would have rebelled. In Made In Heaven, there was a certain normalcy about the intimate scenes in the way they were shot. Initially, in our films, they could not show two people kissing and so they would show flowers as an excuse for the emotions. We are okay with showing violence and knives going into someone’s body. Bullet shots, death and violence are stylised. Villains raping girls are also shown. How is that normal? And how is it abnormal when people kiss? That is weird! In fact, people kissing is more normal. I hope the opportunity of a free web space doesn’t get abused.

You have worked with filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhtar who have such different visions. How have they helped you?

There is this jugalbandi. I have to react with stimulus to what they throw at me. Made In Heaven, for example, has four different directors who had different perspectives about my character. My script is my Bible; it is my standard. I keep some elements from my script and get some elements from what they want. The same emotions and the same story can be viewed in different ways by different people. It is as basic as my sister who shouts when she gets angry and I get very quiet and start cleaning things up when I am angry. That is the same thing with storytellers. The same story can be told so differently. I am so lucky that I worked with Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and my other directors. They are so passionate about their stories. I am a small part of a big dream.

Was it difficult being directed by four different filmmakers in Made In Heaven?

It demanded me to be very alert because we were not shooting in a linear order. I also had flashback parts. In my head, I had an emotional graph. I had to bring back the abandon and the recklessness in my character when I was shooting for the flashback scenes. In the other scenes, Tara was messed up. I had to really pay attention. Each director had a different note that they most connected with. It demanded my presence of mind. One must be challenged to be able to push themselves. So I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t difficult. Only when it is difficult do you know that you can overcome this and that is when you realise that you have grown. If you are in your comfort zone, how will you ever feel you are any different from the person you used to be? Crisis complements change.

What is the next goal for you?

I want to do a lot of good work. I want to do good films and be part of art that reflects the conflicts of our times. Our social dilemmas are very different from those of the ‘70s. I really hope I get to be part of projects and play characters that resonate with reality. Cinema doesn’t have the responsibility of sending out social messages but it has to reflect socio-political situations. I hope to read more books. I also want to have lots of children (Chuckles).

Is there any part or genre that you really want to explore?

I would love to do a historical film because I am obsessed with mythology and history. I am a classical dancer. I have learnt Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi. I started learning Kathak. I am very enthusiastic about that. I think it would be really nice to do something in that space. I also did some action for this Netflix project called The Bard Of Blood, which I just finished. I was very surprised to find that I am pretty decent at it and I enjoyed it (Laughs). I felt like I can do it without a beard. It was fun. It was all about machine guns. I am very excited about that..

What else is in the pipeline?

I have done a film with Emraan Hashmi and Mr Rishi Kapoor called The Body. I have done a film for Geetu Mohandas with Nivin Pauly, who is a huge star in Kerala. It is an adventure fantasy. It is about prostitutes, mermaids, drug peddlers and a child lost at sea. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be part of that project! It was a character-building exercise for me. 

And what about the second season of Made In Heaven? Where do you see Tara?

They have started writing it. I have no idea where the plot is going to take us. I feel there is so much that can be explored. How it is that Tara is so non-judgmental of Karan? She comes from a fairly lower middle class family where homosexuality is mocked at and laughed at. How come she finds it so normal and healthy? How did she arrive at this point? Their friendship can have a back story. I don’t know if she is going to go back to Adil? Will she get pregnant? There are so many things that can happen. I am so excited. And the wardrobe (Laughs)! It was so much fun wearing those clothes.

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