'Bollywood demands obedience to... power'

Bollywood demands obedience to... power

Model-turned-actress Dipannita Sharma tells Khalid Mohamed why she has been, and will remain, an outlier in the Hindi film industry

The camera adores her. Although she hasn't been in the forefront of the heroine brigade, whenever she does fetch up on the screen, you wonder, "Hey, why isn't she seen and heard way more often?"
Now that's Dipannita Sharma, who lately made her presence felt even in a brief appearance in the male-dominated espionage thriller War, in the company of Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff. Right away, I sought her out for a chat over avocado salad and pomegranate juice at a cool café in Bandra, Mumbai.
As soon as she entered the cafe, heads turned. She was recognised as the 1998 Miss India contestant who was adjudged Miss Photogenic, which she is. She went on to become a supermodel and then an actress who has featured in big-budget glossies, off-the-beaten track films, including the award-winning Rainbow Fields (2018), shot in Assam, where she was born. One of the very few faces from Northeast India to strike an impact in B-town, she turns out to be a refreshing interviewee, fielding questions with laughter and a sense of bemusement.
Over to the excerpts from our conversation:

Where has your career gone right. and wrong?
It has gone right because of my attitude towards life. I've managed to balance the personal with the professional. I lucked out on marrying Dilsher Singh Atwal, who's more than okay about me being a working woman. He looks after farmlands in the north, and he's supportive of my career. Supportive is an overrated word, though. I think we have been perfectly aligned - in love - for the last 10 years. I met him at an event in Delhi and that was it. Since I'm a traditional girl, I waited till he made the first move.
As for the wrong factor, I haven't been a perfect fit for the film industry. It operates in a certain way,  demanding obedience to the people in power, to be in their good books. So, I've created my own path by being resilient.

But aren't you in the good books of the hefty Yash Raj film production banner?
What! I've met Aditya Chopra only a couple of times. Whenever I've been offered a role by Yash Raj, I've grabbed it, first in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (2011) and now, War. And I must have done something right. Even though mine was a guest appearance in War, I was overwhelmed by the upbeat response, particularly on social media.
Workwise, it's been a chicken-and egg situation. I haven't lobbied for roles. I was supposed to be in Imtiaz Ali's first film Socha Na Tha (2005), along with Abhay Deol and Ayesha Takia, but was replaced rather inexplicably.
Hence, I've gone with the flow. There was a time when I was auditioning for international projects, including one for an early edition of The Fast and Furious franchise. The audition was liked but it was difficult to get a work permit in the US. The part eventually went to an African-American actress. No regrets, it happens.

I noticed that for a crucial scene in War, only your voice was used over the face of Tiger Shroff. Were you upset by your exclusion in that scene?
I was taken aback, yes, and said so on Instagram. Yet, in the larger scheme of things, it's important to be in such a big, upscale film. Despite my disappointment, I thanked the War team for giving me an opportunity to be with them.

Do you lack that crucial killer instinct?
I'm not the sort to indulge in cut-throat competition. I'm guarded and I see that as a strength. I'd fared well as a model. I was ranked fourth at the Miss India contest. in which today's eminent minister Smriti Irani had also participated. I made my debut in 16 December (2002), in which, like War, quite coincidentally, I portrayed an espionage agent. I was asked - why are you doing a film in which you have no songs and dances? The role was excellent, why should I have worried? It's not as if I can't dance; I'm a trained Bharatanatyam and Latin ballroom dancer. Subsequently, I did get offers to do some item numbers but frankly, the films were a bit cheesy.

At one point, there were rumours about your link-ups with Abhishek Bachchan and Kunal Kapoor.
Heavens! That was years ago. One of those chapters I've deleted from my mind. It shook me up; it became an emotional trauma since the so-called link-up went public. To recover, I threw myself into fashion shows, films and mini-series for television. As for Kunal, he was a sweet guy but we were both so young. We went our separate ways.

Which films and books have you been influenced by?
My dad was a doctor and he'd keep playing DVDs of the great yesteryear films of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. I'd grumble then, but in retrospect, those films were an education. Of the actresses over the years, I've admired Waheeda Rehman, Tabu and Madhuri Dixit. And my go-to books are Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected and Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.

Have you charted out your future course of action yet?
I'm setting up a production house with an accent on north-east projects. And of late, I've been shooting for two thrillers called Pepper Chicken and Mareech. Incidentally,  I don't believe in the concept of apna time aayega (your time will come). I don't suffer from such delusions. As the great poet Rumi said, "If you can step away from your need for self-approval. all that you do will be approved."

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