'When you have a gentle character, people tend to define them as meek.'
'Today's brash understanding of strength is very masculine, of somebody who is aggressive.'
Rasika Dugal says she is not judgemental about her characters or their politics as long as the story doesn't reinforce existing prejudices.
Dugal, who has been a part of two important shows -- Mira Nair's adaptation of post-Partition novel A Suitable Boy on Netflix and the two seasons of Amazon Prime Video's popular series Mirzapur -- believes there is always an attempt to write or present progressive ideas in art and literature.
"There is no denying the fact that our society is still patriarchal and there is a lot of sexism in our everyday life which we are still struggling to address. But in the art and stories we are telling today, there is an attempt, like there was in 1940s and '50s, to write things that are progressive and tell interesting stories that acknowledge the prejudice but the takeaway from them would be to open your mind to another point of view," Dugal told PTI.
The actor said stories that are just for entertainment have their own value but they should not promote 'regressive ideas'.
"I am for entertainment as long as the stories that are told are not reinforcing the prejudice because then it is detrimental and in the name of entertainment, you are promoting regressive ideas," she said.
A story is about interactions between people who disagree with each other because by definition, it has to have conflict, Dugal added.
Giving the example of her character of Savita Mehra in A Suitable Boy, the actor said she was worried that Savita, who is gentle by nature and opts for an arranged marriage, should not come across as meek through her portrayal.
"Very often when you have a gentle character, people tend to define them as meek or disempowered. Today's brash understanding of strength is very masculine and of empowerment is not of somebody who has a choice but of somebody who is aggressive."
"To me, empowerment is about choice and Savita embodies those things for me. Every time I play a character like this, I hope nobody says she was 'bechari'. Even while playing Safia Manto (writer Saadat Hasan Manto's wife in the biopic, Manto), I had this concern," Dugal said.
The series adaptation went through a bit of 'back and forth' after she was confirmed to play the part but Dugal said Nair always saw her in the role of Savita.
From the moment she got a call for the role, the actor said she wanted to work with Nair who finds 'interesting things to do in a seemingly ordinary scene'.
"The way she deals with an ensemble cast, the attention she gives to every actor is something that I have always been in awe of. After interacting with her, I realised where it comes from because she is a spunky and mischievous person. There is so much energy in her that she finds interesting things to do in a seemingly ordinary scene. It was a treat to work with her."
The 35-year-old actor had read Vikram Seth's novel, published in 1993, during her college days and went through it again after she was finalised for the BBC series.
Dugal said her job is not to play one kind of a character as she enjoys essaying parts that give her the scope to understand another point of view.
She believes actors shouldn't judge the characters they play and rather the aim should be to give a nuanced portrayal.
"It is not entirely in my hands how a character gets portrayed as an actor. The only thing I have control over is the detail I give to my character and to understand that director and story is aligned with me and I have understood the politics of the story, that is where I have control.
"I would love to play a character whose politics is against mine... As an actor, when you don't judge the characters you are playing, then you are able to understand another way of doing (things). That's a beautiful journey for an artiste"
The setting of A Suitable Boy is 1950s India and as someone who loves period dramas and literature of a certain era, Dugal said she was easily drawn to the story.
Citing the period dramas she has done in the past, including Manto and Qissa, Dugal said she enjoys the works of writers like Rajinder Singh Bedi, Amrita Pritam and others.
"I am more comfortable in the 1940s and 1950s than I am with today. I feel I was born at the wrong time. The pace of life of the '40s and '50s is more in sync with my personality than the pace of things today."
"Qissa and Manto were set in the era when the country was trying to find its place in the world and people were dealing with the grief of Partition. I have read a lot about the era and have seen a lot of plays so I feel I know that time."