BEING MANTO’S WIFE
Rasika Dugal, who plays the writer’s wife in Manto, insists that it was important for her not to idolise the author in order to do justice to her role
AActor Rasika Dugal, who plays the writer’s wife Safia in Nandita Das’s film
Manto that was screened at Cannes a few days ago, says the pressure she faced was nothing compared to Nawazuddin Siddiqui. “After all, he portrays a writer who has not lost his popularity. Everyone is so excited to see how Siddiqui has conceived him,” she says.
Of course, she had her share of challenges too. Like portraying someone who has not been written about much. Though it was the director who spent time with Manto’s family and collected
anecdotal information, Dugal, who made her debut with Anwar (2007) and was last seen in Anup Singh’s
Qissa (2014), made sure she familiarised herself with Manto’s work. “I read the five volumes of his
Dastavez, his essays, short stories and columns.” More importantly, Dugal ensured she was not in awe of him. “After all, one does not wake up next to a great writer, but a husband. It was important that I concentrated on the man-woman aspect and the times they lived in.” Still in touch with Manto’s youngest daughter Nusrat, the actor says she just had long conversations with her, and didn’t make any “enquiries” about her mother. “That would have led to a linear portrayal.”
Now that studios are investing in smaller projects, Dugal is cautiously optimistic about contemporary Indian cinema offering more interesting roles. She says, “Let us not forget a small budget also means less risk. Don’t ignore the economics.
Also, Nandita Das had to fight hard to keep me in Manto as the studio was looking for a bigger and better-known star.”
After her role in Amazon Prime’s
Mirzapur, she’s also excited about the opportunities in web series. “One can experiment with content, design and push boundaries. They have come as a boon for actors like me looking for solid roles,” she says.
Not happy with the kind of insignificant roles being offered in ‘mainstream’ films, Dugal, who will next be seen in Hamid, says it makes little sense for her to accept a project that offers no complexity. “What will I learn in a straitjacket portrayal? I am interested in building a profile that boasts of strong characters.”
Is that the reason she is interested in serious and grey roles? Like any actor, Dugal refuses to be typecast: “Look at my comic twist
in Eve Ensley’s The Vagina Monologues. I’m not looking for grey ones. That they manage to find me is another matter.”