Actress Dilnaz Irani is a well-known name in the Mumbai theatre circuit, having done about 55 plays. On screen, Dilnaz is known for films such as Aligarh, Heroine and Jodhaa Akbar, and web series like Aarya Season 2 and Decoupled. After the success of her debut Tamil show Mathagam on Disney+ Hotstar, Dilnaz is ready for Sukhee, headlined by Shilpa Shetty Kundra.
In a candid chat, the actress talks about her character in Sukhee, working with Shilpa and the girl gang, her experience of working in the Tamil industry and her acting aspirations.
How are you feeling about Sukhee releasing in cinemas?
Dilnaz Irani: We are all feeling happy and sukhee. It’s a feeling that Abundantia (producers of Sukhee) and director Sonal Joshi have managed to create. This was the same feeling when we were on set too. We were all having masti and dhamaal. Of course, we are nervous about how it is going to be received. The makers have also taken a risk in the times of OTT to have a theatrical release for Sukhee.
How did you come on board for Sukhee?
Dilnaz Irani: When I got a call from casting director Mukesh Chhabra that I was finalised and needed to meet the director, I was not sure because I had read only a few scenes and not the complete script. I insisted on meeting the director because I feel that at this stage, I need to meet the director to see whether we are on the same page or not.
So, I went and met Sonal. I thought it would be a half-hour meeting but we spoke for more than two hours. By the time I left, I was convinced that I wanted to be a part of what she was trying to say via Sukhee and the way she was trying to say it. There are women empowerment films out there but Sukhee is different. Sonal was trying to say things in a lighter way. She gave importance to every character. I liked her vision and wanted to do the film.
At that time, I was also shooting for the Tamil web series Mathagam which has just been released on Disney+ Hotstar. So, the dates had to be worked out. There were times when the dates were not working out and I thought that I might have to drop out of Sukhee. But then my manager adjusted a few things and the makers adjusted a few things and it all worked out. If it’s there in your destiny, things align.
Tell us about the character you play in Sukhee.
Dilnaz Irani: I play Mansi. Mansi is working in London; she is single, independent and completely different from where Sukhee is right now. She lives on her own. She has some issues at work with her boss. She has her own fight going on for the promotion her boss is not giving her. But still, she makes time for the reunion with Sukhee and others. During the reunion, she does things that are uncharacteristic of her. The stupid things that Mansi does are really fun to watch.
It’s an interesting bunch of actors in Sukhee’s girl gang. What was your experience like working with Shilpa and the others?
Dilnaz Irani: I was always in awe of Shilpa for the way she carries herself. I have done 55 plays and 2,000-3,000 shows, so when I am acting on stage, I’m confident. But when it comes to the press and media interactions, I am so nervous.
And then I see Shilpa… even when we were shooting in Chandigarh, the press would come to know about it and she would always be flocked by people. But the way she would handle it… even at the trailer launch facing media questions… the way she handles any situation with humour is amazing. I am learning that from her. I really look up to that facet of hers.
Similarly, Kusha’s (Kapila) experiences are a lot from social media. The way she conducts herself is very different from what I would normally do. I learnt how to feel light and joke about things.
Pavleen (Gujral) comes from Delhi and has her own experiences. She has been an emcee. Pavleen is always well-dressed. I would go in my shorts and T-shirt to the sets. She would always advise me, ‘Dilnaz, don’t be a jhalla… Dilnaz, dhang ke kapde pehenna. Dilnaz, have a stylist.’ We shared a nice bond despite coming from completely different walks of life.
How was your experience of working in the Tamil entertainment industry for Mathagam?
Dilnaz Irani: Mathagam happened when I was tending to get a little bored here (in Mumbai). I got a call for Mathagam because the director had watched me in Aarya Season 2. We had a meeting and things just worked out.
Their way of working is very different. I sometimes feel that in Bollywood, things have become more corporate, in a good way. Mathagam was very raw. It was a bit more casual too. They shot Mathagam on real locations. They told me that they don’t shoot in studios. That was also the style of Mathagam. The director was extremely sure about what he wanted.
But language was a big barrier for me because nobody speaks Hindi there; maybe the director or an assistant would speak in English. Everyone was speaking Tamil. They had to help me with the language and translation.
However, the language barrier added an extra challenge which made it interesting for me because I had to put in that extra effort proving my mettle. A lot of times we actors get into a particular way of acting and doing things, but for Mathagam, I changed my way of playing a character.
The vanity vans there were very basic. But they were very hospitable and took very good care of me. I am glad that I had that experience because it helped me get out of the rut that sometimes one gets stuck in.
You play a cop in Mathagam. Does wearing a police uniform give a sense of power?
Dilnaz Irani: It does, automatically. Your walk changes. Holding a gun, even if it is a fake one, gives you a sense of power – good or bad, I don’t want to get into it. The external characterisation helps you feel more confident and more powerful which is what the role requires.
What are your aspirations at this stage in your life and career?
Dilnaz Irani: In life, it’s very simple, just peace and happiness. Ultimately, that’s all that all of us want. In my stage career, there’s nothing more that I could ask for. I have worked with everyone I wanted to work with. In Bombay theatre, everyone knows who Dilnaz Irani is. I have done some great roles on stage.
In my screen career, whether it’s OTT, film or TV, my aspiration is to get more meaty and prominent roles. At some point, I wish I am able to sell a film. I hope that at some point people come to watch a film because Dilnaz Irani is in it. I don’t know if it will ever happen but I hope and pray to the universe that it does, however long it takes.
After Sukhee, what are we going to see you in next?
Dilnaz Irani: It’s a big film franchise part two. We are still shooting for it, so I am not allowed to talk about it. I have finished shooting for a web series by Rohan Sippy. That should come out on an OTT soon. Mathagam Part 2 will come out soon. I am doing two new plays.
On the first weekend of September, we had four houseful shows of my play After Life at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. At the end of the month, we’re going to Delhi to perform at the Habitat World Theatre Centre for a festival. I am going to Kolkata with another play, The Vagina Monologues. Sometimes I also do dubbing for a lot of Netflix shows. I am one of those actors who are always busy. I’m blessed like that.