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Lara Dutta Bhupathi speaks about her role in Charlie Chopra & The Mystery Of Solang Valley

'Wilayat is probably the most Vishal Bhardwaj-esque character in this series' 

Priyanka Roy  Published 25.09.23, 12:19 PM
Lara Dutta Bhupathi

Lara Dutta Bhupathi

Lara Dutta Bhupathi stars as the enigmatic Wilayat Hussain in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Charlie Chopra & The Mystery Of Solang Valley. An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s whodunit The Sittaford Mystery, the SonyLIV series (that premieres on September 27) boasts a rich ensemble cast and marks Lara’s first collaboration with Bhardwaj. A t2 chat.

What excited you about Charlie Chopra & The Mystery Of Solang Valley?

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The biggest draw is that this is a project being helmed by Vishal Bhardwaj. Everyone knows what a master of adaptations he is. And, of course, one just needs to look at the cast that’s part of the show. All incredible actors, both old and new.

The pilot episode that was released a few months ago on SonyLIV got us a lot of love. It also got us gaalis (laughs) because viewers wanted to know why we hadn’t released the whole series at once.

Vishal sir and I have been trying to collaborate for a long time. There were two separate occasions in the past when we came close to working together, but they didn’t materialise. This time, when his office called me for the role of Wilayat (Hussain) in Charlie Chopra, we were completely sure about the fact that we were not going to let the third time pass us by. I made sure that I cleared everything on my schedule to do this role.

How would you describe your character Wilayat?

Lara as Wilayat Hussain

Lara as Wilayat Hussain

There is a distinct understanding and viewpoint from Vishal sir’s side about how he sees her. Wilayat is probably the most Vishal Bhardwaj-esque character in this series. This is also a show which is very different from the things that he’s done in the past. To be honest, Wilayat is a character that is closest to his heart and to be able to portray her was a huge honour for me.

Also, this series gave me an opportunity to work very closely with Rekhaji (Bhardwaj, singer and Vishal’s wife). She was very kind and very patient with me. She put in a lot of time to teach me a skill set — which I can’t give away too much of — that I had no talent for (laughs) and which I had never portrayed on screen before. To collaborate with both of them was a very special experience.

How is Wilayat different from any character you have played in your career so far?

She is the biggest enigma. She is the newest entrant in the close-knit community of Rockford. This is the environment in which all the murder suspects in the story live. No one knows where she has come from, what her past is and who she and her daughter really are. They are also the only two characters who aren’t related to Brigadier Rawat, played by Gulshan Grover, who is murdered. Hence their presence there becomes even more intriguing. With Wilayat, everything is not what meets the eye. You can sense that she has a past which is definitely a little dark.

She’s nothing like who I am in real life. She portrays herself to be someone who she is not. Through the course of the series, the discrepancies start showing up because she has a dual nature. As an actor, it was challenging to strike those different and diverse notes very, very carefully.

Are you a fan of the whodunit genre?

For sure! I have read about 80 per cent of all the Agatha Christie books out there. I read The Sittaford Mystery many years ago.

Apart from acquiring a new skill set that you just mentioned, how has this role contributed to you as an actor?

In many, many ways. Before this, I had not portrayed a Muslim woman on screen, except for Begum Samru in (Gurinder Chadha’s) Beecham House. But that was based on a real-life figure and was very different from Wilayat. She has a very distinctive way of speaking, of dressing which is typical to that demographic. I got beautiful inputs and guidance from both Vishal sir and Rekhaji. I also worked with someone who helped me with my diction.

I love taking on projects like these that leave me with something. Wilayat has left me with a whole different dimension as an actor that I didn’t have before.

Vishal sir is a director who deconstructed me as an actor. With every new project, I want to work with a director who can undo every learning that I have acquired in the last 20 years. Vishalji is able to do that and that’s why he’s so brilliant. He can pick apart an actor, pick out the pieces of him or her that he wants and then create an all-new actor altogether. Most directors are happy to accept what an actor brings in... very few challenge an actor to go beyond that.

Is this one of the biggest acting ensembles that you have been a part of?

This is definitely one of the most impressive ensembles I have been part of....

Yes, I just realised that you have just signed up for Welcome to the Jungle which boasts 24 actors....

Yes, exactly! That’s going to be crazy! (Laughs)

So what was it like getting to work with and learn from the likes of Naseeruddin Shah and the other veterans in Charlie Chopra?

For me, it was a fangirl moment pretty much every day on set! (Laughs) I have had the opportunity to work with Naseer saab before; he played my father in (the web series) Kaun Banegi Shikharwati. All the nervousness of sharing screen space with him was taken care of in that project. Neenaji (Gupta) and Ratnaji (Pathak Shah) are just wonderful, wonderful human beings. They always take care that they don’t make anyone feel intimidated or lesser on screen.

When I wasn’t shooting, I pretty much hung around the set with my mouth open watching these actors interact with one another, listening to their stories of the drama school that they were all a part of in their younger days. When the camera rolls, especially in a series like this, which is a very taut thriller, magic only happens when you feed off each other as actors. Even the younger ones were so good. It was a huge pleasure to work with both Wamiqa (Gabbi) and Priyanshu (Painyuli).

Do the offers coming to you now give you the chance to do something new?

I am now getting characters that are far more complex and have a lot more breathing space at the same time. I am looking forward to playing characters who are diabolical, who are unapologetically ambitious as well as vulnerable. I am grateful I am getting such parts.

What then does a Welcome to the Jungle give you at this stage of your career?

I know what my strength is... I am a pretty good comic actress and this film gives me a chance to explore that. Very few of my contemporaries can claim to be good at comedy. It’s the most underrated genre and it’s the toughest. I enjoy comedy, I am in my element doing comedy.

Welcome to the Jungle has a wonderful line-up of comic actors. Actors like Raveena (Tandon) and myself, after having done everything that we have done in the past, will only sign a film now if it presents us with something substantial to do. This film does and I am really glad to be a part of it.

My favourite Lara Dutta Bhupathi role is... Tell t2@abp.in

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