Getting in touch with actor Rasika Dugal (32) is a tough task. Her phone is either switched off or out of coverage area most times. After a few days, we finally manage to get an appointment. But we are warned beforehand by her PR agent that it might be a hurried conversation: she is flying to New York the same night for a screening of her short film, The School Bag. However, much to our surprise, she is at her chirpy best when we meet her, and we end up spending three hours together: first at her Bandra apartment, then at Door No 1 (Bandra) for a photoshoot.
Dugal explains her habit of disconnecting from her phone as a way to keep distractions at bay when she’s on sets. The most recent location (a nondescript mansion at Malabar Hill) for her upcoming film didn’t have any connectivity, which she says was a blessing. “Otherwise, somebody or the other’s phone keeps buzzing, and it’s difficult to focus.”
Our chat is full of references to the writer Saadat Hasan Manto. That is a result of constant preparation for her forthcoming film, Manto, a biopic. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the author while she plays his wife, Saifia. “These days, I read his books, try to speak Urdu, and weave him into my daily conversations wherever possible. When I go to New York, I want to sit at Central Park and read his works,” she says.
At the end of the shoot, she is a bit fidgety. “I am extremely bad at planning and prioritising. I should be packing for the trip right now. Instead, here I am, munching on fries,” she says.
She takes up several projects at once. She utilised a recent week-long break from Manto’s schedule to act in a comic sketch. Titled So Basically… This is an Actor’s Life, it released on April 26 (on a YouTube channel called Blush), and has clocked over 18,400 views. In the video, Dugal plays 11 characters that actors deal with on an everyday basis. In most parts — producer, hair stylist, assistant director, fan at the airport — she is beyond recognition. “The writing is inspired from real life. I have some more characters in store. For example, a journalist,” she chuckles.
Luck by chance
At 18, Dugal, who is from Jamshedpur, went to study Maths in Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi. In 2006, when Film Training Institute of India (FTII; in Pune) revived its acting course after 26 years, she signed up for it. “My batchmates were either acting professionals or hailed from a film background. I was a misfit. I guess FTII was looking for a blank slate they could mould the way they wanted to, and hence accepted me,” jokes Dugal, adding that six months into the course, she knew she had found her calling.
After FTII, like most struggling actors, the suburb of Versova was home to Dugal. There were periods of no work and too much work. But she never lost steam. Today, her plate is full with a couple of short films and Manto. However, she doesn’t want people to draw parallels between her progressing career graph and the change of address — from Versova to the now upscale neighbourhood of Bandra. “I just happened to marry a man (Mukul Chaddha; actor) who refuses to leave Bandra. It’s not an indicator of my success,” she laughs.
Platform no bar
From theatre and web series to hosting and acting in TV shows and feature films, Dugal has tried her hands at every medium. Some of her popular work include Vikram Kapadia’s play Bombay Talkies, the feature film Qissa (2013), and the TV show POW — Bandi Yuddh Ke. Of late, we haven’t seen much of her on the stage, except for a few shows of Kissa Yoni Ka (the Hindi version of The Vagina Monologues). But she assures us that she will be back. “Theatre requires a lot of commitment. I cannot back out of a show. And I am not a big enough an actor either to ask a film crew to put things on hold to accommodate my schedule. But one thing is for sure, I will never leave theatre,” she says.
The actor, however, wishes to disconnect from work completely for a proper vacation at some point in the near future. The last long vacation she took was in 2015 during the ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia. No, she is not a cricket fan. “I don’t even understand the game. My husband is interested in it. There are a few weekend getaways every now and then, but I have forgotten what a long holiday even means,” she says.