Meet The Fairy Folk Of Bollywood

‘Every actor’s journey is unique.’
‘It’s beautiful but also terrifying because you have to carve your own path.’
‘So if there’s somebody to talk it through, it’s nice.’

IMAGE: Rasika Dugal and Mukul Chadda. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rasika Dugal/Instagram

Rasika Dugal and her husband Mukul Chadda seem to have different personalities.

She is spirited while he is reserved.

She is always in work mode, and will spend extra minutes studying the monitor, while he asks for the lunch menu.

She gets animated while he’s not, even though he’s quite generous with his laughs.

She raises her voice and doesn’t shy away from calling for silence in the room while his voice remains soft.

He’s sophisticated and will wait for a lady to sit before he does, while she is more down-to-earth.

And yet, they complement each other so well, finishing each other’s sentences and thoughts.

The talented couple will be seen together for the first time in a feature film called Fairy Folk, in which they play a married couple who have to deal with a ‘genderless being’ in their lives.

What makes this film special is that it is an improv dramedy, a unique concept in Bollywood. Directed by Karan Gour, the film will release in theatres on March 1.

Rasika and Mukul discuss the film and tell Ronjita Kulkarni/Rediff.com, “If you read a regular screenplay of a scripted film, it will say everything. Like, the person enters from here, the dialogue… And in some not-so-great screenplays, instructions for the actors’ emotions! Here, we just had about four or five lines, just describing the general idea of the scene.”

IMAGE: Mukul Chadda and Rasika Dugal in Fairy Folk. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rasika Dugal/Instagram

Fairy Folk has a unique story. Please tell us more.

Mukul: It’s a combination of magical realism and a relationship drama. This odd creature, who lives in the jungle, enters the lives of a married couple.

It’s part comedy because it’s very funny.

It also makes you think about a lot of issues like relationships, marriage, desire, gender identity, loneliness…

Rasika: There’s so much a film can say but very often, films become didactic and preachy. They tell you exactly what to think. Personally, that’s not the kind of films I like to watch.

The better films are the ones that allow you to linger on things and interpret them according to your own experiences.

I think that Fairy Folk does that effectively.

Usually, it’s very hard to write good dialogues for a film. I believe it’s one of the toughest things in film-making and very often, people don’t take it very seriously.

In this film, we had complete freedom to improvise dialogues. It has these interesting inconsistencies, like when we speak in real life, you know, you start a thought, you don’t complete it and then you come back to it to wrap it up. People speak like that.

IMAGE: Rasika Dugal in Fairy Folk. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rasika Dugal/Instagram

How similar are the two of you, as a married couple, to the characters you play in the film?

Mukul: Because it’s an improv film, one of the things that Karan tried to do is make our characters not too different from who we are.

For example, Rasika plays an actor in the film.

My character is a poker player, which I’m comfortable with. I have played it.

She’s spontaneous while I’m obsessive about things.

Are you obsessive?

Rasika: Actually, I am obsessive about many things, and I get very absorbed in the details.

And so is he! But our obsessions are slightly different.

Fairy Folk is an Improv Dramedy. What exactly does that mean?

Mukul: In some films, there’s a script, but you are allowed to go slightly off script. But here, the entire scene was improvised.

Rasika: If you read a regular screenplay of a scripted film, it will say everything. Like, the person enters from here, the dialogue… And in some not-so-great screenplays, instructions for the actors’ emotions! (Laughs).

Here, we just had about four or five lines, just describing the general idea of the scene.

What you say, how you react, how you move in the scene, everything is left free for the actor. It’s great for an actor but very hard for the editor and the technical team because they don’t know where you’re sitting, where you’re going, how to light it… Still, they did a phenomenal job!

Mukul: We typically did three takes for each scene…

Rasika: Karan never put any pressure on us, so every take was different.

Mukul: It’s tougher to replicate the same scene that you did earlier because it will not look natural.

Rasika: But that’s our training as an actor, and our job as an actor, and that’s what we do in regular films.

This was actual freedom. You do whatever, move wherever. Of course, you can’t say random things. Improvisation does not mean randomness. It means you take the story forward.

IMAGE: Mukul Chadda and Rasika Dugal show us how they ‘party’! Photograph: Kind courtesy Rasika Dugal/Instagram

Since you play a married couple, did it help that you were married in real life?

Mukul: I guess that’s the reason why Karan picked us.

But would it have been different if we hadn’t been married but were playing a married couple, in an improv film? I think we would have managed it.

Rasika: Yes, because that’s what we do as actors.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s harder to work with the person you’re very familiar with or with someone you don’t know so well.

Because with somebody you’re already familiar with, the good thing is that there’s already a working rhythm in place. You understand them to some level.

But the disadvantage is that you already have one equation in place, and that might not be the vibe you want between those two actors on screen.

This team was very comfortable for me. I’ve worked with Karan before. We did a film in 2011 called Kshay. It was my first central role. It was indie to the extent that Karan and I had gone to Lokhandwala market (in Andheri, northwest Mumbai) to buy chappals for the character. He would take me on his bike for the shoot. So we are good friends.

IMAGE: Mukul Chadda and Rasika Dugal try out street food in Vietnam. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rasika Dugal/Instagram

So what is it like working with a spouse?

Mukul: As co-actors, it was very easy.

We have worked on a short film together called Banana Bread, and done a few ads together.

Rasika: We discuss our work a lot with each other, so it was nice to see that in action. It was nice to find out what Mukul is like on set.

Mukul: Yeah, but it wasn’t surprising. You know, when she comes back from a shoot, she discusses what happened, the things that worked well, and the things that are frustrating… So I have a pretty good picture of how she would be at her work.

Rasika: And we’ve also visited each other on set.

Like, I’ve gone to the set of The Office. And there was one year where I was shooting out of town almost the entire time, so he came pretty often to meet me.

The only thing I missed was that we couldn’t discuss the day with each other. We had to respect the idea that he had a different opinion on what had happened.

Mukul: And what’s going to happen the next day.

Because of its improvised nature, we shot the film linearly, in the same order that you see it…

Rasika: Which never happens otherwise…

Mukul: But here, it had to be done. Like, you can’t do Scene 38 without knowing how Scene 37 turned out.

Therefore, we were sort of discovering the film and our characters’ journey while going through it. Even the director did not know what would happen next.

Also, Karan’s style of direction was that at times, he would give a note to her, which she couldn’t share with me. And he’d give a note to me that I couldn’t share with her.

I remember, in one of the first days of shoot, I came back and was very upset about the day but I couldn’t discuss it with her. So I got on my cycle and took off. I found that was the easiest way to deal with it.

IMAGE: Mukul Chadda and Rasika Dugal. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rasika Dugal/Instagram

How did the two of you meet and love in love?

Mukul: As coincidence would have it, we met at an improv workshop.

It was a very bad theatre improv workshop and maybe discussing how bad it was got us closer together.

Rasika: That’s the first day we met and we happened to be sitting next to each other at lunch. That was many, many years ago, and neither of us had too much work, and we were both in that phase where we were looking for work.

He seemed like a nice guy, so I invited him to a play that I was doing that week. It was The Vagina Monologues.

Mukul: That was the first time I saw her perform.

Rasika: And now, we’ve been married for almost 14 years.

Mukul: Yes, we met in 2009.

IMAGE: Rasika Dugal.

What is it like being married to an actor…

Rasika: As opposed to someone with a sane job? (Laughs).

I feel it’s great because otherwise, it’s very hard to explain to another person, the randomness of this profession.

When I say, there’s a shoot, everything else in my life stops. It has no meaning till that shoot is over. And it’s nice to have somebody who understands that and feels the same.

So when he says he is shooting, I know he will not be around to doing anything else. So I won’t ask, should we meet for dinner, because I know it’s not going to happen.

I wonder how I would explain this to somebody who wasn’t in this profession.

Mukul: Apart from the bizarreness of structured life, an actor’s life is full of ups and downs.

Sometimes you’re working nonstop and then there are months when there’s not much happening. And that is also tricky to deal with emotionally.

So from that perspective also, you kind of understand each other.

Both of you were starting out, career-wise, in 2009. Did that bring you two together too?

Mukul: You know, especially when you’re starting out, you don’t always have work. So you’re trying to help each other, both emotionally and financially, so all those things do count, right? The struggles, you know, what do I do to change things around?

This understanding of what you’re going through can only happen because you’re going through it together.

Rasika: Somebody to have a conversation with.

Mukul: You want the opinion of those you trust, and Rasika is one of those people. I certainly want her opinion on everything that I do.

Rasika: We have to make so many decisions in this career, and most often they are very lonely decisions because there’s no template or precedence of the way your career goes.

Every actor’s journey is unique. It’s beautiful but also terrifying because you have to carve your own path.

So if there’s somebody to talk it through, it’s nice.

IMAGE: Mukul Chadda.

So what are the conversations like? Work-related?

Mukul: No, no…

Rasika: What was yesterday’s dinner table conversation?

Mukul: What should we make for dinner tomorrow?

Rasika: Ya, ya! (Laughs)

Mukul: That’s a very common conversation in our house.

Rasika: Because both of us had to leave in the morning together.

Mukul: Who’s going to call and make sure the fish is ordered. It’s highly boring (Laughs).

(Seriously) A lot of conversations are not, okay, let’s discuss our work, but it comes up, you know. It’s the frustrations of the day.

Rasika: Or you discuss a film that you are watching. Like, I notice how a shot is taken in a film but Mukul notices the writing.

Mukul: I’ll always have a stronger opinion on the writing…

Rasika: And I’ll always have an opinion on the visual or how the shot was taken, you know, how the directors chose to shoot it. That makes an interesting conversation.

IMAGE: Rasika Dugal with Kulbhushan Kharbandha in Mirzapur.

How do you look at each other’s work? Which are the projects that really stood out for you?

Mukul: Quite a few actually, how many am I allowed to name? (Laughs)

I’ll start with Mirzapur. She played a very different character from what she had played earlier. Even when she was discussing it, I had read some of the scenes, and I thought it was a very interesting character. And she’s done a remarkable job!

In Hamid, she has done a wonderful job. She gave a moving performance.

The reason I liked Manto was that she did a great job with a role that was not centered around her. It’s not like she had limited screen time — she had significant screen time — but the film was about Manto and yet, I got such a strong perspective of Safia.

Qissa was very different from what she had done.

Which was the first Rasika starrer that you saw?

Mukul thinks.

Rasika: Was it Kshay? You had seen it before it released.

Mukul: Yes, we went for a screening. I can’t remember the first film of hers that I saw… But whenever she does something out of her comfort zone — that range is so large now, it’s hard to say what the comfort zone is — I’ve been very impressed.

IMAGE: Mukul Chadda, right. with Sayandeep Sengupta and Gopal Dutt in The Office. Photograph: Kind courtesy Mukul Chadda/Instagram

Rasika, how do you see Mukul’s work?

Rasika: Jagdeep Chadha (from The Office) is my favourite because this is a very odd character. What he is definitely not is sophisticated and Mukul, in real life, is effortlessly sophisticated. He is rarely out of line in social situations and is very careful about what he says.

I was nervous about how he would do this Jagdeep Chadha character, but he is really made a very interesting character. He really looks like that irritating, unsophisticated boss.

He also did a very job as a Hindi professor in Sunflower.

I remember when I watched it for the first time, I was like, you’re speaking Hindi so well! Because he grew up in Chennai and I always feel my Hindi is better than his, since I grew up in Jamshedpur, a Hindi-speaking belt.

So I was like, without taking coaching from me, you’ve done so well! (Laughs). I was very impressed.

Mukul, is your Tamil better, since you grew up in Chennai?

Rasika: Once we went to Pondicherry, and he was speaking to these people in Tamil, and I was like, wow, your Tamil is really good. He was like, they don’t think so! (Laughs)

Why haven’t you done more work together?

Mukul: I don’t know. Please tell more people to cast us together!

Apart from Banana Bread, we collaborated on another story that we were writing together. That went some distance, but didn’t go further. So yeah, we’d be happy to do more stuff together.