With Manto hitting the screens last week, Rasika Dugal is feeling “encouraged and thrilled” about the reviews on her performance. “The response is very, very warm,” she says as we try to have a conversation with the call dropping every few minutes.
I had last spoken to Rasika when Manto premiered at Cannes, and before that when she walked the red carpet with other women from the film industry for gender equality.
With the movie now in theatres and more reactions flowing in - I catch up with Rasika for a short conversation on playing Manto’s wife, about what interests her outside cinema and how she overcomes daily challenges.
With so little known about Manto’s wife, Safiyah, it took some pressure off Rasika. “Since there wasn’t any preset notion for me to live up and the pressure was not as much on me as it was for Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays Manto, the Urdu novelist, and playwright,” she says.
“I wanted to bring certain nuances to my part so that Safiyah does not come across as weak, strong, or gentle... She had a mix of all these traits - like any person trying to stay afloat through the challenges of life, and be there for her children while she watched the person she loved waste away.”
Rasika felt the enormity and simultaneously the warmth of being Safiyah most when she finally met her daughters. “Even though we had met for the first time, it felt like a reunion,” she says.
While Rasika claims to be quite obsessed with her work, she calls herself a “serial class taker” whenever she has free time. “I constantly feel the need to learn something new - be it a language or a new skill. And I seek opportunities to do that,” she says.
Rasika took up Urdu classes for no particular reason, except a desire to be able to read the writers whose works had moved her in the language they had written in. “I had always felt much was lost in translation. Uncannily enough, the first story I had read in the Urdu lippi was Mantos 'Boo',” she says.
She also played the mother of two hearing impaired children in a small film, Tu Hai Mera Sunday. “I felt I should learn sign language for the part and I did. I continued those classes for almost a year after I finished filming. So yes, hobbies magically convert themselves into work and work leads me to new hobbies. I think the next stop is going to be dance classes!”
She also loves going for a long run as it really clears her head. “I admit I have been bitten by the binge watching bug and get totally involved with the characters of any show I am watching,” she says.
While there are a lot of uncertainties, challenges, and ups and downs in life, Rasika feels it is her deep connect to her work that keeps her going. “Nothing makes me happier, so the drive comes automatically. Even with all its uncertainties, life as an actor keeps me on my toes. The daily challenges are overcome with a lot of love and warmth from close friends.”
Otherwise, she says, “there is always a long run or a good film to lose yourself in.”