Exclusive: 'We all have to become the heroes we are looking for': Sobhita Dhulipala
ONE OF THE strongest personalities to emerge in showbiz this year is Sobhita Dhulipala. The model-turned-actress made her Bollywood debut with Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 in 2016, and although her performance in the film earned her a nomination in the Critics’ Choice Best Performance category at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, it was her digital debut with Made in Heaven that left everyone showering her with praises. Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti for Amazon Prime Video, the web-series saw her playing an ambitious, hard-working and vulnerable Tara Khanna who has shades of grey and even though you don’t approve of certain things, you can’t help but empathise with her. Her outstanding performance made her an overnight sensation and a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
In the months since then, Sobhita walked the ramp at Lakmé Fashion Week, went to Toronto International Film Festival with Malayalam/Hindi film Moothon, which was also the opening film for ongoing MAMI film festival, and recently did Netflix’s thriller web-series Bard of Blood that saw her playing an intelligence officer. She is also in Kurup alongside Dulquer Salman and has signed anthology horror film Ghost Stories, which will premiere on Netflix.
But, what’s interesting about her is the fact that she doesn’t take this stardom too seriously. She continues to live in the same apartment that she was leaving earlier, she has no help and she cooks herself and until recently, she didn’t have any stylist and makeup team on board. She also pens poems and paints. In a conversation we had with the actress before the premiere of Bard of Blood, we spoke to her about her journey so far from Vizag to Mumbai, her conflicts within, her method of selecting scripts and preparing for a character. Excerpts:
Q: Sobhita, have you finally hired a maid?
(Laughs.) No. I’m still doing everything by myself. This is the first time that I have hired people to do my hair and makeup for promotions. Otherwise, I do that also by myself.
Q: Does it not become difficult to manage, now that you are doing a lot of work?
So far, it has not been difficult to manage. It takes only one hour a day to look after myself. I was brought up in a house where my dad would talk to me about the importance of being self-sufficient, be it fixing a bulb, a tire or cooking a meal for yourself. Also, when you are growing up, you have heartbreaks and they make you question the need for attachment, at least it made me question it. So, I try to be there for myself. It gives me joy to clean, I feel I’m decluttering, even my mental space.
Q: This year seems to be a good one for you. How have things changed in your life?
Personally, things haven’t changed much in my life. I still go for my walks. Professionally, welcomes are warmer now and people don’t see me as a liability, they don’t think, ‘Oh, if we hire a newcomer then how will we pull the crowd to theatres’. That doesn’t happen anymore. Things have really branched out, not in immediate work opportunities but in other avenues.
Q: Tara has become an iconic character. We particularly liked how you internalised the greyness of it. What is your craft?
I think, Tara is going to be my ‘Prem’ or ‘Rahul’ (laughs). I played Tara in Kalakandi, Made in Heaven and I am playing Tara in one more thing that I am doing at the present.
All the characters that I have played so far, they have a certain duality to them, which is actually there in every person — because the way I would talk to you is not the way I would talk to my mother or my childhood friend. All these are realities only, but I am different with different people. And, I feel we make characters very one-note. If there is a good person then he is good with his father, his mother, his children, his colleagues, his neighbours, his wife, which is boring and very unreal. For me, the way Tara speaks to her mother versus how she speaks to Adil versus how she conducts herself at work is the reality and I am very invested in showing that because I wanted to watch it for a long time. I wanted to see something and be like ‘damn, what an a**hole but okay then what happened?’ You want that. I try my best to add those layers. My homework as an actor is - if I take a character out for a drive on Sunday, what would the conversation be like? I am interested in knowing all of that and that’s how I start building my character, and then I dress her in my mind, her emotions, her playlist, her physical nuances. And, then I bring her back to the story.
Q: What brought you on board for Bard of Blood?
Red Chillies had reached out to me, and I had never done action and this world — Taliban and agents — is something that you read in books and papers. But it continues to be very distant in a manner that we don’t relate to people on the battlefield. But, they are also people who get hungry, who sweat, probably get a rash and they are there on the battlefield. The idea of living like that, even if for a brief time, really excited me.
Q: You once mentioned being in a state of conflict while modelling. What was the conflict about? And, the profession that you are in at the present is also a lot about looks. So, what has changed now?
Then, I used to try to belong. Now, I don’t. After college, I was a nerd, someone who was a teacher’s pet and not even remotely close to being a socially hip chic. So, for me, suddenly this idea of modelling and Miss India seemed very appealing. But, while I was liking it, I was not feeling very confident because I don’t have an entire childhood of being told that I am pretty. So, I was unsure and constantly scared. Also, the outer reality was very different from what’s happening inside. I was very timid because I didn’t connect with that world, I was very passionate about academics and so I couldn’t reduce myself to just physicality. I felt that I am punching below my weight but I didn’t know what I could do so I gave myself three years, that is, 2013-15. My deadline was December 2015 to figure out what I want. In 2013, I won the pageant, in 2014, I was modelling and was giving ad auditions and while doing them, I taught myself Hindi. Although I was doing deeper into the modelling world, I knew my deadline. And then I got this film audition and halfway through it, I knew it was my calling.
Q: Which audition was this?
It was for Raman Raghav, but I wasn’t told about the director or the film, as I was a newbie. I was auditioning with Vicky Kaushal. He had done only Masaan which had come out that very month, and I had not seen it.
Q: Since then, you’ve done some very interesting projects. How do you go about picking scripts?
When I am reading a script, it is the story for me, and it should have authentic emotions. For instance, there is nothing real about Harry Potter, but growing up I was so invested in that world. Besides, I am a risk-taker and I like the idea of doing something that is edgy. My thrill lies in being a part of stories that leave an aftertaste. For the longest time, I wanted to look up to this person and say, ‘Man, the choices that they make, or the conversations that they have, just who they are as a person?’ I wanted to feel like that for a long time for someone. It so turns out that with every choice that I am making, I am becoming that person. I think we all have to become the heroes that we are looking for.
Q: From where do you get this strong sense of being?
Over the years, I’ve realised that if you do your work well, that’s enough. I was nominated at the Cannes Film Festival for Raman Raghav, it was solely for my performance. From there on, I found the courage to make choices that meant something for me, be it Kalakandi or the small role in Chef, my Telugu debut Goodachari was made on a shoestring budget, but did well or Made in Heaven, which did phenomenally well. But when I chose them, they were gambles. There was no producer sitting outside my house with a basket of waffles and offering me a dozen scripts. I have done hundreds of auditions with a giant bag carrying all sorts of looks, I have been through the grind. Also, I am glad that I am not obsessed with the idea of being famous because that’s really limiting. I am free because I am not needy of fame or validation or money.
My lifestyle is super simple, I eat dal-chawal or khichdi. If I do something, I want to do it because I feel like it. I want to travel, I want to eat good food and, I want to meet people and have interesting conversations, bus itni hi ummede hai life se (that’s all that I want from life). I don’t limit myself. What if I take a flight tomorrow that never lands? I can’t live a second-hand life.
Also, Watch: Sobhita Dhulipala on books, her fitness regimen, her mantra in life and more