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Rajshri Deshpande: Doors are opening for actors like me, but change is happening at a slow pace

Sacred Games and Manto actor Rajshri Deshpande says that people in the film industry are still obsessed with box-office numbers, which makes it a bit difficult for artistes like her to get total acceptance.

bollywood Updated: Aug 13, 2018 20:38 IST
Juhi Chakraborty
Juhi Chakraborty
Hindustan Times
Rajshri Deshpande,Anurag Kashyap,Vikramaditya Motwane
Actor Rajshri Deshpande is winning hearts with her role in Sacred Games. She has also played Ismat Chughtai in Manto.

With the film industry exploring newer avenues in terms of content, it has opened doors for a new set of actors, who might have otherwise found it hard to bag the right roles. Rajshri Deshpande is one such actor. She made her mark with films such as Angry Indian Goddesses (2015) and Sexy Durga (aka S Durga, 2017), the controversial Malayalam film that toured 50 film festivals. She was also recently seen in the hit web series Sacred Games, directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane.

However, total acceptance in this industry is still some time away for actors like her, says Rajshri. According to her, the film industry is still very much obsessed with social media popularity and physical appearance of female actors.

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“I’m glad that platforms are opening for actors like me or Pankaj Tripathi... Doors, no doubt, have opened up. I also think that this is the best time to be a part of the film industry. But at the same time, I feel that the change is happening at a slow pace,” says Rajshri, who has done small roles in the films Talaash (2012) and Kick (2014), and also dabbled in television with Kuch Toh Log Kahenge and 24. She adds, “I still feel that people are stuck with box-office numbers, the number of followers a female actor has on Instagram, her high cheekbones and flat stomach... I think it’s okay if you don’t have a flat stomach and if you are a normal-looking Indian woman as now there are roles, but still the number [of roles] isn’t enough.”

Also, the terms mainstream cinema and off-beat cinema are mystifying to Rajshri, as she feels that an artiste is an artiste. She shares an incident: recently, two filmmakers approached her — one from the commercial genre, and the other an independent director. However, the commercial film director couldn’t cast her despite wanting to, because his producer wanted a saleable face.

‘The independent filmmaker said that if I agreed to do the film, he’d get funding for it, because I’m a big name in the festival circuit’ — Rajshri Deshpande, actor

A baffled Rajshri says, “In each of my films, I look different. People can barely recognise me, so how can you decide whether I have a saleable face or not? I don’t want to look beautiful on-screen; I want to look like the character.” The interesting thing is that she is, in fact, a saleable face in her own way. “The independent filmmaker said that if I agreed to do the film, he’d get funding for it, because I’m a big name in the festival circuit,” says Rajshri, smiling.

One of her films that made waves at festivals is Manto, directed by Nandita Das, and with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the lead. In the film, Rajshri had to put on a lot of weight to play writer Ismat Chughtai, but her apprehensions over the weight gain disappeared when Chugtai’s grandson, Ashish Sawhny, looked at her picture and said that she looked exactly like the writer. “That was the biggest compliment. I’m very glad that I resembled her,” says the actor.

There’s another thing Rajshri has in common with Chugtai. The actor, just like her on-screen character, does some social work and has founded her NGO, Nabhangan. “I look up to Ismat aapa. I look up to her work,” says Rajshri. “She was a social worker and I also run an NGO that works in the field of all-round rural development and community building in order to empower villages. I don’t believe in just working in the reel world and say that I’m going to change the [real] world. You can never change the world like that. You have to be on the ground. I’ll always make sure that the reel doesn’t get in the way of the real.”

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First Published: Aug 13, 2018 20:38 IST