Spunk has a new name

‘If I’m half nude, Nawaz is also half nude!’ — Rajshri Deshpande has created a stir as Subhadra in Sacred Games

By Priyanka Roy
  • Published 21.07.18
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Sacred Games, Netflix India’s first original, has earned unanimous praise, and Rajshri Deshpande is getting her share of applause for playing the spunky Subhadra, gangster Ganesh Gaitonde’s (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) wife. Subhadra makes an entry only in Episode 4 of the eight-part series, but she’s made a huge impact. Rajshri — who debuted with a small role in Aamir Khan’s 2012 film Talaash — has also been trolled online, for some scenes involving frontal nudity and sex that have been circulated online. t2 chatted with Rajshri on the bouquets and brickbats for Sacred Games and why trolling is not new to her.  

What’s the best thing you’ve been told about Sacred Games and your performance?

There’s been a lot of great stuff. They love the show and they have taken to the innocence of my character (Subhadra). I’m very happy with the way the writers (Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath) and the director (Anurag Kashyap) visualised the character. People are coming back to me with the scenes that they liked. It’s a show that runs into eight hours and has multiple strands and characters. If people think I am worth remembering just on the basis of a few scenes, then it definitely feels very good. Many have told me that I am as good as Nawaz… that’s huge. 

What was your understanding of Subhadra? Is she anything like you?

When I auditioned for the part, I was given a brief, but later I felt I would definitely like to know more about Subhadra. I didn’t know whether I would get the part, but I still read the book (Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games). The book was so engrossing that I finished it in 10 days and in that time, I was told I had got the part. When I was on set with Anurag (Kashyap) Sir, he told me, ‘It’s you Rajshri, you are Subhadra’. He told me that I would have to find Subhadra within myself. Every character I have performed so far, whether it’s Subhadra or Ismat Chughtai (in the upcoming Manto) or Laxmi (in Angry Indian Goddesses) has been within me. 

I work a lot in the social service sector and I meet different kinds of people. An actor is never on holiday, we are constantly learning, observing people and situations and imbibing experiences. For Subhadra, I looked at how I could create her from my own sensibility and then also draw her from people I’ve met who are like her. Also, the text itself is so rich. I had good lines and a great director in Anurag Sir. 

Rajshri as Subhadra in Sacred Games

There is frontal nudity and a lovemaking scene that’s integral to your character. Were there any apprehensions when you were first told about it?

I knew that there was nudity and sex and I was okay with it because it’s a part of the story. The writers had been working on adapting this book for many years and every line was carefully thought of and every frame carefully designed. I knew they wouldn’t put in any scene without thinking through at depth… they are not the kind to put in sex for the sake of titillation. It’s a huge show and they don’t need such scenes to sell the show. 

Honestly, I don’t really know why so much is being made out of my scenes because Nawaz has done those same scenes. If I’m half nude, he’s also half nude! (Laughs) No one’s asked Nawaz why he wasn’t wearing a shirt! Even the Bunty character (Jatin Sarna) has shed his clothes, but no one’s asked him why?!

But it’s okay. My intentions were right and I believed in my work. All these things don’t matter to me and I don’t waste my time thinking about them. 

The scenes have been circulated online and you are being trolled. Did you see that coming? How are you dealing with it?

Yes, the clips have surfaced on WhatsApp and since they are being circulated without context, they have been subjected to unsavoury comments. It’s a very wrong thing, but I can’t help it. Technology is a weapon, and it’s up to you how you want to use it. Unfortunately, there are still some people who choose to do things like this. Trolling is not something I am new to. I was trolled even during ‘Sexy Durga’ (later renamed S Durga). I know that I will be in situations like this going forward because I choose to do bold, story-driven roles. I want creative freedom in whatever I do, of course with responsibility. 

Has this put you in a position where you’ve had to be answerable to friends and family?

The best thing is that my husband has stood by me like a rock. He believes in my work and he supports me completely. So, that bit is sorted (laughs). The film fraternity has loved me in Sacred Games as well as the other work I’ve done… most of my films have travelled the film festival circuit, now I am a part of Sacred Games which is India’s first Netflix original… they understand that the work I am doing is very prestigious. 

For all the others who don’t understand, kya kare abhi? I can’t keep explaining my reasons and intentions to everyone. Hopefully, they will understand one day. I feel they should watch the show and know in what context the scenes have been filmed… not just critique them in isolation. 

With Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Manto 

How has it been playing writer Ismat Chughtai in Nandita Das’s Manto?

I was very honoured when Honey Trehan (casting director) and Nandita called me for the character. Ismat Chughtai was someone who wrote on female sexuality and class conflict and it’s been an empowering character to play. I have a few scenes only, because it’s Manto’s film at the end of the day.
Going through the process of becoming Ismat was beautiful. I didn’t want to fail in terms of her look, her body language, her diction…. I needed to internalise her. The sur had to be spot-on because she was a person who existed… I had to play her like the way she was. Also, Nawaz plays Manto and it was wonderful sharing screen space with him. 

Through your NGO Nabhangan Foundation, you have already adopted two villages in Marathwada and work for a host of social causes… 

I don’t ever want to say that I am an actor and all I will do in life is acting. Acting is my passion, but I have always felt that I need to do a lot more with my life. I have adopted two villages, I work with transgenders and against the use of plastic. I love working for people and I feel I can perform better as an actor if I am internally a better person.