Rasika Dugal Opens Up About Hamid!

Rasika Dugal is one of the finest actors the audience watches on screen. With Hamid, Rasika Dugal delves into unchartered territory for herself as an actor, and shares with us her initial reluctance in doing her role in Hamid, how she prepared for it, and the experience of working with her co-actors, specifically the child actor.

Hamid: film festivals have lauded it, critics have really liked the film. When you get into the head of a character, that too of a character who is in a state of despair, everything around is muddled, there are fractured souls, that's actually what is used in the trailer, but you still have to be a mother. How do you get yourself into the headspace of a character like that?

Actually it is very difficult. In fact, I was very nervous about taking it on, especially because I felt like I will always be an outsider to the story of the Kashmiri people and that I would never be able to understand them. In fact, when the director first called me, I said you know why don't you get a Kashmiri girl to do this part. Because this is about the family that has lived in a conflict region. A region which has been in conflict for so many years and I don't know how I can get myself to understand that. It is too beyond my realm of experience and also I had very little time to prepare for the film. So yeah, I had that nervousness.

But my director was very confident that I would be able to pull it off - I think primarily because of the confidence he showed in my work, I finally said yes. This is an interesting question to ask ourselves and I think the question we must ask ourselves all the time, despite what we decide to do eventually, is that who is an insider and who is an outsider to telling a story and I think if you work with that consciousness, it is good. 

So, if you didn’t have much time, how did you prepare?

I just didn't know how to start preparing for it. I just knew that I had to get out of Bombay. Because you know when you are in a city, you don't get the time and space you need to really absorb yourself in your work. And I’m very delighted every time anybody says we are shooting out of the city. I’m like that's great. Even though it's a nightmare to manage dates and other work, I think it is well worth it for the quality of the work. So I said, ‘please let me go to Kashmir at least ten days in advance also’ because I wanted to pick up on the accent a little bit. The way Hindi or Urdu is spoken there is different from how it is spoken elsewhere. You know, even within Kashmir, every fifty km it is spoken differently. I had shot in Kashmir before. I had shot a film called Tahaan in 2008 with Santosh Sivan and I remembered I had never been so moved by the beauty of a place as I was by Kashmir. And really it's almost like the valley of hope for someone to tell a story. There is something that happens to you when you are in Kashmir. You somehow understand the grief you know? Or you are made to believe that you can. 

Of course, I did all the other things that you do when you prepare for a role. I read all the books, watching any documentaries. I also spend a lot of time with the women of this village in which we were shooting in and there was this family that was helping us out. They had three lovely daughters, three lovely, vibrant and very intelligent girls, so we had a very good time. Just spending time with them was a very lovely experience. 

But I think there is always this one moment when you are preparing for a role which I call the ‘AHA’ moment. It doesn't happen in every film and it happens at different times in different films. I think my one moment of connection with this character called Ishrat was really when I was watching this documentary by Iffat Fatima called Where Have You Hidden My New Moon Crescent and there was this conversation between these two women, about two girls that are 15 or 16 years old who disappeared in Kashmir and they don't know what happened to them. So there are these two women who are talking about them and they recite a couplet which is a couplet that they recite often in their rallies and just the matter of factness with which they were talking about the event was so haunting. So I think that scene in particular, those two lines, in some intangible way, made me feel what a women like Ishrat might be going through.. I never feel prepared and I don't know if I have prepared enough or not but all I can say is that the entire experience really moved me and something inside me shifted and I felt very moved by the whole experience. 

I feel that I watch child actors and it is very refreshing to see a new face or a face that seems to just go into every scene very naturally. What was your working relationship like with him and were there any challenges?

You know, child actors are very interesting because they are very instinctive. So in one way they are the perfect co-actors because they aren't judging you for anything. They are not burdened by your process and they are naturally instinctive. The older the actor, the harder it is to keep their instincts intact. So it’s lovely. But also you have to find a way to communicate with them. First, you can't talk down to them. You have to totally steer clear from that. You need a game between you two, I feel that always works. With Talha, the good thing was that this was his first project so he wasn't clued into one kind of acting. What I found very endearing as well as surprising was that he was very ambitious. The first day that I met him, he asked if our film will be a hit. I said I have worked as an actor for ten years and I have never thought of that. And then he is like you know if it becomes a hit, that's what I don't know, it might, it might not, who knows. He's like if it becomes a hit, do you think I will get three more films? (laughs) And he was just asking me questions about successful acting career and I was like listen, I'm not successful (laughs). I would also practice my Kashmiri accent with him sometimes and every time I had worked on one word from the scene, I would suddenly see Talha smiling. He would be like I have seen her say this word over and over again (laughs). 

Hamid sends across the message you require but it keeps the message light – that is the political strife in Kashmir is still captured but the story is of a child within his world. Do you agree with that?

You are absolutely right. I think that it's very important to tell human stories of conflict situations because those are the stories that get left out of mainstream narratives. What happened to people when there was a war, what happened to those people when there was a curfew? You know, those are really stories which reach across where other people relate to the experiences of people living there. People then really understand they are human beings and not just a homogenous mass of people living in a land and I think those stories are very very important to tell. I think the strength of Hamid and the appeal of Hamid to me was the innocence of thought and that it is a human story about a conflict situation. 

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Armin Sethi

Bollywood Film Fame Canada has been a source of original content consisting of real conversations, reviews, and news of everything film, music, and entertainment for 15 years.

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