Not just a pretty face

In 2004, when Veer Zaara made our eyes moist, one performance that stood out was that of Divya Dutta as Shabbo. She was nominated for the Filmfare Award, but then Rani Mukerji was considered to be playing a supporting role in Yuva,and she walked away with the honour. Ten years later, when Divya won hearts by playing Milkha Singh’s supportive sister, she lost out to Supriya Pathak. These are not exceptions for Divya has consistently excelled in challenging roles. When Hindi film industry was not testing her enough, she proved her mettle in Punjabi cinema. After a long wait, she has been conferred the National Film Award for the Best Supporting Actress for Irada. “I think there is timing for everything. I know I have done some powerful roles in the past but it doesn’t take away my joy,” says Divya.

Reflecting on her performance as an ambitious chief minister in Irada, Divya says, “Ramandeep was a very layered character. I never had had so many discussions with any of my directors before as I had during the making of Irada. I wanted to layer her up. Playing an ambitious woman, with a backdrop where she killed her father to take his seat, made it all the more challenging. Her mother hated her but was also dependant on her. She was very aggressive and dominating and yet there was a vulnerable side to her. I had these childhood memories of a patient coming to my mother who spoke like her. It was there in my subconscious memory, so I used it.” Diya says she deliberately didn’t base her on any politician. “I didn’t because it takes away the fun of it. Then the whole effort gets diluted as people start saying you are like so and so. I wanted to make her my own.”

The award notwithstanding, Divya hates being called a supporting actor. “The award doesn’t make me a supporting actor. I am an actor who does all kinds of roles. This doesn’t give anybody the right to limit me in that category. I don’t allow that because throughout my career I have tried to break free of the image trap, and I have done that. I have done lead roles, I have done negative roles as well as comic roles. I can belong to different categories. I see myself as a complete actor. I don’t belong to the category of heroines who attempt something different just to surprise people. Having said that I am also playing a stereotypical heroine opposite Anil Kapoor in the upcoming Fanne Khan and I have been cast opposite Arjun Rampal in Nastik.”

Among the many roles that she has played over the years, Divya picks Shabbo of Veer-Zara and Jalebi of Delhi-6 as the closest to her heart. “Playing Shabbo was tough because I had to pick a new dialect and make it my own. I was nervous because it was my first big film and it was with the Yash Chopra. In Delhi 6 again I had to learn the dialect and a certain body language. The negative characters of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz and Irada were also challenging.” Another performance of Divya that stands out is as Ivy in The Last Lear, the little known film of Rituparno Ghosh. “Ritu da was always on my wish list. His working style was amazing. I was among talented actresses like Shefali Chhaya and Preity Zinta and then there was Amitabh Bachchan. It was a big compliment when Bachchanji said that I was his family’s favourite in that film.”

Her eyes talk a lot. “I really don’t know, but yes, my eyes talk and I talk to them,” gushes Divya. “I tell them what to talk and that is how it is. I am not a method actor. I am thankful to them for being expressive!”

Before Veer-Zara, Divya was part of many multi-starrers and even did a film called Veergati opposite Salman Khan. Talking about the shift, Divya says, “Nobody knew who I really was at that point of time. They knew me as a lively new actress who looked like Manisha Koirala. At that point I didn’t have a showcase and those without a god father have to build their own legacy. But the industry was kind. People said that they always believed I have talent and now I have proved it.”

Does it hurt that her solo Hindi films didn’t get much attention? “Probably the ones that came to the forefront were those which were ensembles but I am doing a lot of solo films now. Fanne Khan is a beautiful musical drama. My character is the bridge between the husband and the daughter – who wants to be a singer.”

Mother’s support

The girl from Ludhiana owes her career to her doctor mother. Last year, she penned a book on her. “I think the very reason I am into movies is because of her because I come from a family of doctors. Nobody would have allowed me to come into movies otherwise. My mother said, ‘you complete your education and then you can follow your dreams and I will stand by you.’ When the parent says that to the child, I think, an inherent confidence comes into the child. What pulled me through was her confidence.”

She recalls the days when she was doing multi-starrers that required just a pretty face. “I wanted to do more substantial roles. She asked me, ‘do these people know that you are a good actor.’ When I said no, she advised me to pick up roles that will prove my acting talent. After that I picked Veer-Zara and Delhi-6. The roles were small but they had depth. It is very difficult for an actress to break the mould. I have successfully done that and now I am doing strong roles with all the filmmakers I wanted to work with; roles are being written with me in mind. That’s why I wanted to celebrate my mother, my best friend,” sums up Divya

Source: Not just a pretty face

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