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Rasika Dugal on Delhi Crimes, Shefali Shah and more...

‘Some things are meant to be told sensitively but one doesn’t have the cinematic skill to translate that. Delhi Crime surpassed my expectations in that department’

Priyanka Roy  Published 06.09.22, 04:46 AM
Rasika Dugal

Rasika Dugal

Shefali Shah’s ‘Madam sir’ blazes the screen in Delhi Crime, but the show — in both its seasons — wouldn’t have been the same without the presence of Rasika Dugal’s Neeti Singh. The quiet yet resolute cop who rises through the ranks to become Vartika Chaturvedi’s (played by Shefali) deputy in Season 2 of the smash-hit Netflix show, is given both meat and meaning through a confident performance by Rasika. A candid chat with the actor who is going from strength to strength.

Is there any feedback both about the show in Season One and also about your character Neeti that still feeds your soul?

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You mean the positive feedback? (laughs)

One would assume that most of it would be positive...

There was one piece of feedback I got from the police officer who I had shadowed in Season One. I also called her before I started Season Two and the coincidence is that she is now in the same rank in her job as Neeti is in this season. Neeti has been promoted to ACP and so is she. So when I met her before this season started, she point-blank told me, ‘Apni body mein thodi smartness lao!’ (Laughs out loud) So, throughout Season 2, I always had it at the back of my mind that I can’t let down Neha! She had to feel that I did a better job of being a ‘smart’ police officer (laughs). So ya, that stayed with me.

She’s been such an important part of building Neeti’s character. It was such a beautiful experience to be a fly on the wall and watch her at work, especially in Season 2. The way Neha is in her job and the way she conducts herself... her beautiful naivete and confidence... has found its way into Neeti Singh.

How do you think Neeti has evolved in Season 2?

Neeti has always been a wide-eyed, idealistic police officer. In Season One, we have seen her really believing that what she does can change the world. She is clearly in awe of Vartika Chaturvedi (played by Shefali Shah) and she has the need to impress her. In Season 2, Neeti is a much more lived-in cop, she has a certain ease about her work... she knows the ropes, she has kind of accepted the flaws of the system and is working around that.

What Neeti is doing primarily in this season is to navigate between her personal and professional lives. That, to me, is the moving part of Neeti’s story this season. I also had a lovely actor like Aakash Dahiya (who plays Neeti’s husband Devinder) to play off. When I read the script of Season 2, I felt that would be an interesting thing for Neeti to explore. Tanuj (Chopra, director) gave Aakash and me ample scope to improvise around it and find our graph through the season. That track really speaks to me because I feel that it’s the story of many, many women around us and we continue to see this around us and also experience it in different ways. The daily-ness of it and just the unfairness of this whole daily-ness is the reality of many women.

In Season 2, Neeti and Vartika have a few moments which are special. She’s not so much in awe of Vartika... she knows that this person is human and therefore prone to erring. Neeti has now seen sides of Vartika which are vulnerable, which are confused, that she could be in a dilemma like everyone else. But Neeti still is in a sort of situation where she doesn’t want to let herself or Vartika down in any way. So, I feel, Neeti is still evolving....

Neeti trying to balance her personal and professional lives, as you said, is very relatable and also humanises her. In what ways is she similar to you and what are the differences?

Actually, as a person, Neeti is very close to me. When I first read the script, I felt that she is pretty much like how I was in my college days. I was very happy to play that part because I felt I was revisiting an idealistic side of myself which has now become beaten and jaded (laughs). So being Neeti reminded me of my years in Lady Shri Ram College and I had such an idealistic view of the world... and the college sort of allowed and encouraged you to do that, like any good educational institution. They tell you how you can build a different world, which is idealistic.

I understand Neeti’s sincerity... I don’t know whether that was already there in the writing, or I made her that... I am confused now (smiles). If I was late (for work) like Neeti is in Episode 1 of Season 2, I would really be panicking. If someone took my car to buy vegetables, I would not forgive them! (Laughs)

I have been told by many that there is one quality of Neeti that I have been able to retain... and that’s a gentle exterior but a very fierce person inside. That kind of flummoxes people... they are like, ‘Arre, we didn’t know you could be so angry? You are so sweet!’ And I am like, ‘Why?!’ So that’s something that I can totally believe that Neeti could hear often at the police station. Maybe this is an idea for a scene in Season 3!

Rasika Dugal as Neeti Singh in Delhi Crime 2, now streaming on Netflix

Rasika Dugal as Neeti Singh in Delhi Crime 2, now streaming on Netflix

Shefali has gone on record to say how Delhi Crime has been a game-changer for her and has resulted in the kind of amazing work that she’s doing now. How much did the success of Season One, including the International Emmy for the show, change things for you?

I had a couple of projects at that time (during Season One) which had become popular... the first season of Mirzapur had come out, Manto had come out before.... Mirzapur became a huge hit. Delhi Crime is a show that I am very proud of because I feel that I could stand up and say that there is almost nothing in this show that I have a gripe with. I am a fairly discerning person and though I like the work I have done, I know that there are things which could have been better... that some things may have been well-intentioned but didn’t really translate into what was expected.

When I watched Season 1 of Delhi Crime, it turned out to be even better than what I had imagined it to be. The way it was lensed, edited, the way it humanised not only the police force, but everyone in a difficult and sensitive story, which was the 2012 gangrape case... I thought it was very humane and also very skilled. Very often, some things are meant to be told sensitively but one doesn’t have the cinematic skill to translate that. Delhi Crime surpassed my expectations in that department. And, as you said, who else has won an (International) Emmy?! (Laughs)

But with or without the Emmy, Delhi Crime will always be special. I remember talking to Richie (Mehta, the director of the first season) a day before the Emmys were announced and we had a 45-minute conversation, but neither of us spoke about the Emmys at all! (Laughs) I thought that was quite sweet and not corrupted of us.

You are constructively critical of the work that you do and take it up often with the creators. Is that something that directors and writers are receptive to?

Very few of them, honestly. But then I also realise that directors/ writers/ creators invest a lot into a project, in terms of time and effort. Actors also invest in terms of intensity, but it’s for a far shorter period of time. As a maker, when you spend so much time on a project, you are more attached and have more responsibility and hence it’s harder to take criticism.

In our country, I feel, a lot of leeway is given to actors. Sometimes, even an average performance is praised a lot but they are very hard on makers. So the common joke on set is that if anything goes right, it’s the actor and if it goes wrong, it’s the director (laughs).

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