"My character Sara's and my ideals aren't very different," says Paatal Lok actress Niharika Lyra Dutt
The Amazon Prime Video web series Paatal Lok is certainly one of the most popular web series of the year so far. The gripping storyline and the commendable performances make it a must-watch. A lot has been written about the lead characters policeman Hathi Ram Chaudhury, journalist Sanjeev Mehra, his wife Dolly and one of the criminals Hathoda Tyagi. But little has been said about the character, Sara Matthews, an up and coming journalist working under Sanjeev.
Sara epitomizes the millennial of India. She is ambitious and wants to be successful in her career, but not at the expense of her principles and ideals. Niharika Lyra Dutt who plays the role of Sara is impressive as the fiery young reporter. "Sara's and my ideals aren't very different," says the actress, adding, "But I will stay away from a married man in real life... I thought this role was the right step for me as a person to use my talent and at the same time initiate a discussion among the audience with such a series. The story aligned with the principles I hold in my life and I am very proud to be part of it."
Niharika is the daughter of veteran theatre and film actor Avijit Dutt who has appeared in films such as Peepli Live, Madras Cafe and Piku. However, despite her father being an actor, acting and getting into the film industry wasn't the first thing on Niharika's mind. The actress who was born and raised in Delhi, and whose mother was a teacher, says her middle-class value system restrained her from openly expressing her desire to be an actor. "My parents never asked me what I wanted to be. But whenever my relatives would ask, I would say, 'I want to be a pilot or a doctor', or a particular character from the last movie I had seen. Deep inside, I wanted to be an actor but never told anyone," says Niharika who debuted with the film The Bizarre Murder Of Mr Tusker (2012) that was a popular movie in the film festivals circuit.
This was followed with the web series Die Trying, Pushpavalli and the film Music Teacher. But it's Paatal Lok that has put Niharika in the limelight. Also, the fact that the young actress got to play a role opposite the seasoned and exceptional actor Neeraj Kabi, has got her attention. Recollecting her apprehension about working with her senior co-actor, Niharika says, "I was really nervous. I had watched him in the Ship Of Theseus, and I was daunted that I was cast opposite him. Apart from this, I had also heard stories about him at the Drama School of Mumbai where I studied. He used to teach there, and though he hadn't taught me, I had immense respect for him and his craft."
On the first day of the reading session of Paatal Lok, the actress says it took a while to break the ice but something unusually pleasant happened. "I had a severe cold, and every time I wanted to clear my nose, I would step out of the room. When Neeraj found it, he laughed and said even he has a cold. Later during lunchtime we got chatting, and when he found out that I am from the Drama School of Mumbai, he kind of warmed up and we hit it off from there," she says. This was just the beginning and Niharika got comfortable in her role as the days progressed. Going forward, the actress is working on a bunch of theatre projects. She will also be directing a new production soon. "I enjoy both, being on stage and in front of the camera. I have done a lot of theatre, and I have just started acting on web shows and in films. I am still warming up to it," she signs off.
Quick takes with Niharika
What are you most excited about now?
I am always excited about food and what I will eat next. I think food is the only unpredictable thing that I can say I am excited about, and it's a privilege to say such a thing.
Three things you want to complete before the end of 2020?
Complete another project, stage my play and go on a trip with my family.
One secret about you that nobody knows (until now)?
I always brush my teeth before going on stage when I am acting in a play. It just wakes me up. If I don't have a toothbrush or a toothpaste, I run around to get one, no matter what it takes. I am okay with finger brushing but I must brush my teeth!
First thing you notice about a man...
His wit. I enjoy witty banter.
One thing about a man that you loathe?
The sense of entitlement, it drives me up!
What shows are you hooked onto now?
I finished watching Sex Education and I loved it. I am currently watching Broadchurch. I love detective films and stories.
Craziest memory from before the lockdown?
It was my brother's wedding, and we were in Kolkata. I was the DJ and I made my family, both elders and youngsters dance to my music on the terrace of our house.
Your favourite city?
I love both Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi is where I was born and grew up. Mumbai is where I stepped out of my comfort zone and discovered my independence. This city allowed me to wander and I came into my own here.
Which are the filmmakers do you want to work with?
Everyone! Top of the list are Shoojit Sircar, Anurag Kashyap, Imtiaz Ali and Zoya Akhtar. I love all of Shoojit's films. I can't get over Anurag's Dev D and Manmarziyaan. I admire Imtiaz's approach to romance.
Describe yourself in three words...
Jovial, inquisitive and undecided!