She’s a powerhouse of a performer, having done roles that have consistently stood out for the sheer intensity she brings to them. After 20 years of being part of the film industry, Divya Dutta, was awarded the Best Supporting Actress for her performance in ‘Irada’ at the 65th National Film Awards. Irada, a movie about environmental pollution and politics, and the unhealthy nexus of the two also features Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi, The film was awarded the Best Environment Film Award at the 65th National Film Awards. Divya played the character of an ambitious politician in this one, a character she essays brilliantly. Her film, Manto, is also going to be screened at Cannes, another high for her as a performer. SheThePeople. TV spoke with Divya about winning the award, women protagonists and characters in Indian cinema, and bringing passion to your work, always.
If I am offered two roles as options, I will always prefer the one which has the greater impact, it might not be lengthy – Divya Dutta, National Film Award winner
A national award is always, a recognition, a validation of a creative person’s effort over the years. You’ve had some power house performances across your career. Did you think you would win it for this one?
One never really expects it, of course. I have won awards before, but this is the highest award I could have hoped for and it is always such a joy to have one’s work recognised at the national level. I think, for me it was always to do the best work I can.
You’ve done roles which have been short at times, but have always left an impact. Were there any roles you’d done previously that you felt merited such recognition and perhaps got passed by?
I think it always people’s perception that perhaps this role was more impactful, or that a certain performance deserved an award. I’m just delighted to have won this award for such an important and relevant role, and for this film Irada which deals with such a vital issue.
I remember reading your book on your mother, and it left a powerful impression on me. She would have been really proud to have seen you receive this award today. If she were here today, what would you have liked to tell her?
I’m sure she knows about it, that she’s up there working her magic for me, and watching over me. She will always be within me. This is all her blessings and her love.
Tell us about your role in the film Irada? How did the character resonate with you? How did you prepare to essay it, given it is on such an important ecological issue? What is your preparation process for roles?
I am a very instinctive actor. With the character in Irada, I did have to work a lot with the director, we had multiple sessions discussing and working on the character because it was such a different character. She’s an ambitious, uncouth woman, and we had to work on all the aspects of her character, and bring them together beautifully.
She’s an ambitious, uncouth woman, and we had to work on all the aspects of her character, and bring them together beautifully.
Also this was the time when I had just lost my mother, and I was working through the grief of her death, and the personal crisis I was going through added to my performance I would think, added an element of rawness to it, a certain vulnerability. I remember a scene in the movie where the mother tells the girl, you are a devil and she goes to count her teeth because she remembers something about the devil having a certain number of teeth. That scene will always stay with me.
I had just lost my mother, and I was working through the grief of her death, and the personal crisis I was going through added to my performance I would think, added an element of rawness to it, a certain vulnerability.
Similarly, is there a process to your selection of roles you would like to do, as an actor and a woman, do you think it is important to choose one’s roles carefully, to know that there is a role model message one gives out to young women out there?
For me it has always been about the meatier role, not necessarily the lead role. If I am offered two roles as options, I will always prefer the one which has the greater impact, it might not be lengthy. I look for something that challenges me as an actor, something that I will have a blast doing on the set, that makes me look forward to going on the set every day. Having said that, I do have ten films coming out, with me in the lead role, but those are roles which have been all immensely challenging characters to play, which is primarily why I choose them.
Are we doing enough strong female characters in Indian cinema, are women moving away from being the decorative element in our movies? What would you like to see changing?
We’ve always had strong roles for women. Back in the black and white era, we had films that were shouldered by actresses like Meena Kumari, Nutanji, Nargisji, and later too, we had Madhuri and Sridevi who had movies they shouldered completely, we’ve had female leads who had roles written around them. Now I think the process of film-making has changed, there is experimentation with characters and even a protagonist is first a character and then the best actor for the role is sought, rather than the other way round as it was earlier. I don’t like to segregate films on the basis of how the women are portrayed in the films, for me it is a good movie, versus a bad movie. A good movie will have strong, well fleshed out characters, a bad movie won’t. Having said that I think, films are moving away from being as male dominated as they were, there is more gender equanimity in our movies today.
I think, films are moving away from being as male dominated as they were, there is more gender equanimity in our movies today.
Has there been any role you’ve done, that when you think back you think you could have essayed it differently?
That would always happen, you would look back and wonder if you could have done something differently. I’ve done all kinds of roles. In my twenties, I did the masala movies as a heroine and the dancing around the trees that those roles demanded and I enjoyed it at the time, because that was my dream back then. But then, I changed and wanted to do roles that were more demanding, and satisfied me as a performer and that’s when I began looking for roles which now, I think, have given me my niche.
You’ve said that you’ve lost roles because you didn’t have a sugar daddy. In the wake of the entire #MeToo movement last year in Hollywood, why is it that Indian cinema and popular Hindi cinema has emerged unscathed from the movement? What holds the women back from talking about these things that everyone knows does exist?
I think this comes from a space in India where women have been told to not talk about things that happen to them, you would know a woman socially but not know what is really happening in her life. Having said that, in every field where there is opportunity and ambition, you have the option to say No. Sometimes, perhaps, you don’t. You can report it, even on social media women are naming names, but see what happens to them, look at the actress from the South who protested recently. All I say is that when a woman says something, listen to what she has to say, give her your ear, don’t sit in judgement. Because, it takes courage to speak up. There is definitely a movement though, although we do have a long, long way to go.
All I say is that when a woman says something, listen to what she has to say, give her your ear, don’t sit in judgement. Because, it takes courage to speak up. There is definitely a movement though, although we do have a long, long way to go.
And finally, is there something you’d like young women today to learn from your journey? What is the one piece of advice that every woman should follow?
I’ve had an unconventional journey. Most actors have a fabulous start and then slow down, and gradually phase out. I’ve been doing the reverse, and I’m thankful. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years now, I’ve done the romancing and the dancing around the trees and I’ve been lucky enough to do the experimenting with roles and genres that I’ve desired. I must say it is a lot of perseverance, a belief in yourself, and patience. Naseer sahab had once said if you come with a time limitation in your head then acting is not the profession for you, go home. And that is true. When you become an actor, you never know when things will go right for you. If you’re in it for the glamour and the fame, you might get it, and it might go away. But if you’re in it for the sheer passion of being a performer and for the love of the craft, every day is a challenge and everyday is a chance to learn something new. I still feel like a newcomer. I still feel I have a long way to go.
Also Read: Me and Ma: Divya Dutta on growing up, scooter rides and love of her mom