An actor who decides to debut with a psychological thriller based on a real life serial killer, and for her second film, chooses to be part of a black comedy with a bag full of surprises. This clearly indicates a lot about the actor’s sensibilities. Former Miss India Earth, Sobhita Dhulipala, is one of the luckiest debutantes in Bollywood. She bagged a pivotal role in Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 (alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal) on her very first audition. The film premiered at Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes Film festival, 2016, where Sobhita was nominated for Critics’ Choice Best Supporting Performance.
And now, her opening line has you hooked. She says, “I don’t take cinema very seriously. Actors are overvalued. They are the monkeys and this industry is like a circus. It is like a mela. I don’t want to be part of something that I don’t believe in. I don’t want to sell out. I am not obsessed about the idea of fame or social power, so that really sets me free. I can do those films that I feel for without worrying, ‘Oh my god, if I do this then what about my graph, my image?’ I respect storytelling as a medium and choose in a responsible manner,” she adds.
Sobhita will be next seen in Saif Ali Khan-starrer, Akshat Verma’s Kaalakaandi. The film hits the screens on 12 January and is touted as a celebration of the spirit of Mumbai. “Not only it’s a fun film but it shows Mumbai’s diversity. There is one story about Saif’s character who is from Breach Candy, then there is another one about Tara(played by Dhulipala), a Bandra girl, who is conflicted and can’t seem to balance her relationship and ambition. Then, there is Deepak Dobriyal, who plays a gangster from Versova. All these characters are so real,” says the actress, who is paired opposite Kunaal Roy Kapur in the film.
It’s also working with an “assured” director like Akshat (who also wrote Delhi Belly) that attracted Sobhita to the project. “Akshat is so secure and he lets you feel that you can also participate in the process of creation. It’s like a collaboration and everyone feels empowered,” she says.
Sobhita, who belongs to a traditional South Indian family from Vishakhapatnam, shifted her base to Mumbai about seven years ago after her schooling. A literature buff and an Economics geek, Sobhita, until Raman Raghav 2.0 happened, had watched just 20 films of which eight were Harry Potter movies. “I had no influence of cinema in my life. I come from a family where focus is on academy. Entertainment industry was just like timepass,” says the actress, who firmly believes in cinema that reflects reality and truth. She is of the opinion that a film with poor content makes us regressive, but she is extremely happy about the choices she is making.
“First Raman Raghav and now Kaalakaandi, I feel my foundation is so strong. I am able to do films that I would watch. That I feel for and I believe in. I don’t want to do something that I would otherwise mock. If I do that then I am a hypocrite and don’t deserve to be called an artist. I am happy about my association with people who are real and passionate story tellers. If they have an opinion, they will say it as it is, they won’t try to please you, whether it’s Anurag or Nawaz. They value the opportunity they get. Even in Cannes, cinema was treated as the medium of empowering people which is why I can’t do stupid films even if I am getting crazy money, or due to that I will get 10 brands, 10 endorsements, or 10 million people will know me. That will not make me happy, I want to feel good about myself.” she says.
“But it is slightly changing now, it is getting better. When a smaller, or experimental films make money, or is appreciated, 10 more such films are green lit. Slowly, even the mainstream ones are getting a bit sensible. Of course, we have the ridiculous ones that make money, and every time a sh*t film becomes a success it breaks my heart because it takes us back by five years. They may have large impact on people’s minds. When I was a teenager, I would watch these films and feel, ‘Oh it is cool’, but people’s idea of cool has to change. If you want a change then you should be willing to be part of it,” she asserts. “There is so much falsity, the disparity is crazy. The reality of what people are and what they are projected in cinema? The need of the hour is honesty in terms of emotions. It is all very patriarchal; so judgmental with pseudo intellectuals and false feminists everywhere. Films should reflect reality and make you think,” Sobhita further adds.
Going forward, the actress is reaching out to directors who are churning out good stories, and she says that she’s refusing “nonsensical” films even with a big studio backing those. “There are a handful of good storytellers. Every time I watch a good film, no matter how small, I reach out to them because I respect them. Because they respect the opportunities they’re getting,” says Sobhita, and that is how she approached director-actress Geetu Mohandas whose first directorial venture Kelkkunnundo won recognition at several film festivals. Sobhita will be seen as a sex worker in Mohandas’ upcoming bilingual Moothon which will release next year in Malayalam and Hindi.
And Sobhita has a lot of clarity on the characters she wants to portray. “I want to celebrate anonymity. I want to be in the background and play characters that represent the ordinary. I want to play a housewife, or maybe, a tailor’s daughter, or a government school teacher… those parts that actually exist. I don’t want to be that girl casually walking on the streets in ridiculously expensive makeup and blow dried hair. That doesn’t represent the majority of my country. In a third world country you can’t be selling first world dreams. That is brutal, emotionally. If I want a change, I have to act on it. There are many who say that Bollywood doesn’t make good films, but how many of us act on it?” she says.