Role Play with Divya Dutta

Screen + Sound + Stage

Text and video interview by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

01:02 Train to Pakistan
03:49 Veer-Zaara
06:39 Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
10:14 Badlapur
12:10 Irada
14:54 Special Ops – Season 1
16:28 Ramsingh Charlie

“I don’t call any of my roles a supporting role. I think they hold their own.” Twenty-seven years after her film debut in Ishq Mein Jeena Ishq Mein Marna (1994), Divya Dutta knows where she stands. The 44-year-old actor from Ludhiana, whose multi-language repertoire extends from romantic blockbusters to thriller web series, is not weighed down by definitions of stardom and success – or womanhood for that matter – and enjoys playing with audience expectations while pushing the limits of her craft and artistic expression.

Often fuelled by nervous excitement on set, Dutta believes she is a more spontaneous, rather than method, actor. Her collaboration with directors like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Neeraj Pandey, Aparnaa Singh and the late Yash Chopra have inspired her to layer roles with unexpected dimensions, which often emerge unrehearsed during a take. “For an actor, it is a high that you are being observed so closely. That makes you so alert, brings you on your toes,” she explains.

While Jalebi, her outspoken character from Delhi 6 (2009), might be the most memorable for many moviegoers, it’s with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) that she sensed a real shift as a performer. In contrast to her natural verbosity, the role of Milkha Singh’s sister had only a few lines of dialogue, challenging her to rely on intuition: “I realised that not only Divya Dutta has a subconscious, even me playing Isri Kaur has a subconscious. […] I think I ‘arrived’ with Milkha.”

Her growth as an actor is evidenced by her more offbeat choices of films. In Badlapur (2015), a neo-noir action-thriller whose plot revolves around a male-centric revenge journey, Dutta commanded the screen in a cameo appearance as the multi-faceted social worker Shobha, with all her passion and sensuality, pain and feelings of betrayal.

And in Irada (2017) – for which she won the National Film Award for the Best Supporting Actress – power rested lightly on her shoulders as Ramandeep Braitch, the harsh-tongued state CM who walked across spaces with a staccato rhythm. Dutta was able to infuse the antagonist’s internal world with a particular vulnerability, recalling how, at the time, she had in fact been “troubled…and zoned out” by the recent loss of her mother.

She is currently making news for her rendition of a non-binary character in Faraz Arif Ansari’s Sheer Qorma. The film, which is yet to release in India, is garnering rave reviews at international festivals. And the actor recently won the Best Actor award for her portrayal of Saira at the DFW South Asian Film Festival in Texas.

“I am an actor, and I would love to do every kind of role.[…] I refuse to be bound in [a certain image], and I’m glad that [the] time has finally arrived, and I don’t have to fight for it,” she emphasises.

Videography: Joshua Navalkar
Styling: Shweta Navandar
Video editing: Viral Shah and Mallika Chandra

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