“An improvised film is an actor’s delight”– says actress Rasika Dugal

By Neeru Saluja

Actress Rasika Dugal has never limited herself to specific genres, leading the path in versatility and variety. Known for her powerful performances in Mirzapur, Delhi Crime, Hamid, Qissa and Suitable Boy, she always brings a fresh perspective to the female character she plays.

Her latest film ‘Fairy Folk’ will be premiered at the Sydney Film Festival starring her husband Mukul Chaddha as her co-actor and directed by Karan Gaur. Fairy Folk is a magical realist drama where a genderless woodland crashes into the life of a jaded couple. What follows is an examination of identity, relationships, and the choices that shape them.

Congratulations on Fairy Folk’s premiere at the Sydney film festival. How do you feel about bringing this film to the Australian audience?

Thank you so much. I’m really looking forward to the film being screened at the festival and to see the response that the audience would have, because I think the audiences that come to film festivals are the most discerning. Many of my films have premiered at film festivals before they’ve been released. And it’s always very hard for me to listen to those responses. And when they tell you things about your film that you wouldn’t realize or didn’t know, and there’s a lot of that in Fairy Folk, which will be left to interpretation. I think you’ll find something new every time you watch the film, that’s the kind of film it is.

I recently talked to the Sydney Film Festival director and he was taken aback by the story which has never been seen in an Indian film. Will this film break barriers in stereotyping Indian films for international audiences?

There is so much content happening in India right now that I don’t think there is a type honestly, and I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening. There seems to be room for a lot of genres to coexist. So I think maybe a few years back, we could say that there was a typical Indian film and therefore this one is different, but I don’t think it’s like that anymore. I think the environment that we are working in right now is actually very beautiful creatively. I think that’s a very important and essential aspect of a thriving and creative environment.

Therefore, I don’t think that this is different from that because there is no one type to begin with. But I think Fairy Folk is a very interestingly told story. It’s an improvised film and maybe we haven’t seen that before in India. You shoot linearly, you don’t have to make others’ lines your own. You come up with lines yourself. An improvised film is an actor’s delight. Of course, it’s a delight only if you are an actor who is sort of comfortable with improvising. And we had all those actors in Fairy Folk, including my husband who plays my onscreen husband in the film.

What drew you to this film when you read the script? Was it the improvisation aspect?

Well, definitely the idea that it was an improvised film made me say yes. Also I had worked with the director Karan Gaur in his film Kshay many years ago. This film was made more independently than Fairy Folk between 2008 and 2010. We would shoot over weekends as Karan had a day job at that time. Whenever he would have enough money, we would shoot the film and then we would stop shooting it when we had no money. I remember I would go on Karan’s bike driving for hours to a far location, deep into the suburbs of Bombay. We had four people on the set and it was the best shoot ever! The film was premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival.

For a global audience, what theme does Fairy Folk explore?

That’s an interesting question. The film is very complex and has many layers to it. But I think it says something very beautiful about gender identities, love and marriage. And I think those are the three things for me, which stand out in the film. The idea that you would want to control a situation such that you want to sort of have control over reimagining the person you love, or trying to sort of get back one’s success. I think it says something very beautiful about relationships, love and gender identities. So every time I watch that, I’m very moved.

So is now a time to narrate new stories?

I think it’s a great time to tell good stories. There is room for it, people willing to and newer talent.  I hope that the space remains as free as it has been so far. There have been issues with political dramas and I hope it does not lead to too much self censorship.

The roles you have played are marked by variety and are deeply complex. Do you choose them or do they choose you?

I think a little bit of both. I’d love to take complete credit for it, but that would not be right. It is also a matter of luck. There are people whom I have known for years and I have approached them for their project while there are times when I have been approached for a role. That’s how we work in Mumbai. It’s all about the right time and right choices.

We have loved your work so far, what can we expect next from you?

I recently worked in a nine episode sports drama series. It’s one of my favourite genres, and I didn’t think that I would get an opportunity to be part of one. I have also experimented with a new genre, which I’ve never been in before, which is supernatural horror. And there’s an independent film called Lord Curzon Ki Haveli.

Fairy Folk is screening on 12 and 15 June, for more information go to https://www.sff.org.au/program/browse/fairy-folk

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