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An Interview with Divya Dutta

Feb 2017

An Interview with Divya Dutta

Divya Dutta wears many hats. She is a critically acclaimed actor, a columnist and now a writer.  Her memoir, Me and Maa, focuses on her relationship with Dr Nalini Dutta, her mother. During our conversation, she spoke about the bond between her and her mother, how she chooses the roles she wants to do and why a compliment from an idol is her most prized reward. Here’s what she had to say:

  • You wrote this book in memory of your mother. What would you say is the most important lesson your mother taught you?

I think it still resounds in my head. She said, ‘Accept life because once you do that it becomes easy for you to deal with any situation that comes along.’ She has given me a lot of strength in everything, big or small, that I have done. Sometimes for us, every situation becomes huge and magnified, but when somebody else assures you that it can be dealt with, that’s all one really needs, and the rest we can handle ourselves. So we clasp that one hand that shows us the right direction, and for me that happened to be my mother. Today, everyone calls me a strong actor or a strong woman. I wasn’t like this, I was a timid child, with not much confidence. But she believed in me and that made me believe myself.

  • Do you have a favourite memory of her?

I could write ten more memoirs about that! When you become a single woman, you spend much more time with your mother. The roles change, from mother-daughter to friends to fighting sometimes to becoming best friends again to me being the mother and she being the daughter. I can’t even pinpoint one moment.

  • Have you always processed your emotions in writing?

I don’t know when writing started happening. I remember that I did the regular school thig where you are given assignments and you have to complete it. That did not come naturally to me. But when I came to Mumbai, I started writing a diary. I was living alone, without my family. I needed to just say things and put it out there. And then I started writing my columns for Hindustan Times and for the Express Tribune. I thought that the readers were connecting beautifully. I’d acted in a play and this lady came up on stage and hugged me. I thought she had come to praise my performance, but instead she told me, ‘I read your write-up and it changed my life.’ One of my write-ups had said, ‘Be best friends with yourself- don’t wait for somebody to make it special for you.’ After reading it, she had started travelling alone without waiting for her family to come with her, and she said she felt so free. These are the two best professions you have: acting and writing, where you express yourself.  While writing is a more personal mode of expression for me, it’s great to be doing both.

  • Why do you say that it’s more personal?

I write spontaneously and instinctively. It’s not an afterthought, I just let the pen do its job. I don’t think about when or how it will end, it just does. And I don’t hold back. I say what I think. I think it’s very important to be honest.

  • You have been repeatedly cast in roles of strong women. Why do you think that is?

Well, when I first arrived in Mumbai, everybody thought I looked like Manisha Koirala! They said, ‘Good kid, sweet kid, give her some roles and one or two songs.’ Then Train to Pakistan happened, and they said, ‘Okay, decent actor’- decent, not good. Then they eventually started giving me stronger roles. I think everybody saw the sincerity with which I did my roles, and the grit in it. I had to prove myself, because I love acting, and if nobody else is pushing me then I might as well push myself. I think that’s what came out on screen and that can only be done when you give your work your bloody best.

  • What was working for The Last Lear like?

Ritu da called me and said, ‘Divya, I want you to play the role of Ivy,’ and I said, ‘You know that’s the middle part of my name, right?’ And he said, ‘Then it’s made for you!’ And we had a good laugh over that. Any actor would give their right hand to work with Ritu da and it was a great experience. The way he directed the role was very gratifying for an actor. I loved Ivy, it was a very subtle role and she was a very sweet character. For me, the best compliment was when Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan said, ‘You were our favourite.’ That moment made it for me- in fact, the reason that I wanted to be in films was Mr Bachchan.

  • Tell us about that!

I grew up watching his roles and idolizing him! I would take my mother’s dupatta and go around the neighbourhood imitating his steps and ask the kids to come watch me. The first time I shook a leg on stage was because I dance like him! I worked with him in Baghban and my role was that of a horrible woman who was very nasty to him. I felt so depressed about this and he was so kind to me. I will never forget his gestures and I think that is very special about him: he is somebody who can sense when you are uncomfortable and tries to make you comfortable.

  • You have often done roles that are very out there, socially and politically. In the current political atmosphere, what is the relevance of these roles?

I’ve never cared about the political relevance of a role, as such. I do roles on a very creative level. I see if it inspires me and if I feel like adding my bit to it. If I’m working with good people, and it’s a kickass role, then I will do it. When it comes to politics, there is always a furore that is created over issues and then it settles down.

  • Given what happened with Sanjay Leela Bhansali recently, how do you think politics and Bollywood are interacting?

This is distasteful, that violence is taken as a tactic to put your feelings across and make a point. If you don’t like something, don’t watch it, and we’re not even sure that the film is what the respondents thought it was going to be! Measures need to be taken to put these things in the right perspective and see to it that people have the right to express what they want in a free, democratic country. If you don’t like it, choose another way to show it rather than taking to violence.

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