After Kurup, I developed a deep connection with Kerala: Sobhita Dhulipala
Sobhita Dhulipala is a vibrant presence in the Indian film industry. She won the hearts of Malayalis with her performance in Geethu Mohandas’ ‘Moothon’. She recently starred in Dulquer Salmaan’s ‘Kurup’ and has made yet another grand entry into the Malayalam film industry. Sobhita opens up about herself and her love for cinema.
Kurup has received much appreciation from people. What are your thoughts about the way the movie has been received?
I feel truly elated. All of us had been looking forward to Kurup’s release for a long time. At one point, we were worried if it would be an OTT release because the entire movie was shot in a way that was meant for the theatres. We finished shooting for it in 2019 and we were done with it by early 2020, around January. It was planned as an Eid release and then the lockdown happened. The whole process was stretched out. But we’re all happy that the movie got such reception following its release.
You've done an amazing job as the character of Sharada Kurup. What did you like best about the movie and about being a part of it?
I think I really liked the fact that this man, Kurup’s life was documented as a movie because it has been a matter of curiosity for a long time. I was very keen to know more about him and about what he was like as a husband to his wife. Her life and her opinions have not been documented. Were they partners in crime or was she just an audience of his life? There was scope for me to have imagination at play. And of course, one has to follow some basic research that is done for the movie. I'm always curious about the person who gets to be next in line, about that person who is just one step back from the protagonist. I’m curious about what it was like to live so close to danger. This woman had a child with a man who was crazy yet lovable but also, unpredictable. She was so strong in her own unique way during a time like that. Sharada’s character is iconic and I am happy to have portrayed her in the movie.
Did you have to do a lot of homework to transition into the character of Sharada Kurup?
I had to do the fundamental amount of homework that I usually do which is connected to the overall world of the film and not just the character alone. I understand the larger universe, and I know my place in it. I enjoy belonging to different worlds. Stepping out of my walls makes me more aware of my reality. It makes me very curious. I did have some work to do but I think honestly, it was overall a very exciting exercise.
What was it like working with Dulquer?
He is a complete team player. I really believe that the higher one mounts in their career or stardom, the more difficult it becomes to be a team player. The power may become centralized and sometimes we may not realize that we are acting very much like a solo unit. Dulquer accurately understands how important it is to have that balance with everyone on the set. So all those people on the set, myself included, feel empowered. People are self-absorbed usually. It is very hard to see people like him who go beyond measures for the sake of others. That's something I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed as a co-actor. It was a lovely experience working with him.
Did you feel any strong connection with the movie or the story of Sukumara Kurup at any point while filming?
I have always been very curious about people who have lived unusual lives and people with unusual minds because there is such a thin line between a genius and a madman. Some of the brightest minds have often gone to the other side. I think people, in general, have always been curious about these unusual minds, be it in literature, dance, music, or cinema. To be able to tell the story of one such man and to remind the present-day people, the younger generation who must have forgotten about his existence was a great thing. The movie brings in a little reminder of the kind of history we have. I enjoyed being a part of the storytelling of such a man’s life.
What do you feel in general about Malayalam movies?
There was this thrill that shot through me. Speaking in Malayalam was quite an experience. I've always loved the language and have so often read translated literature and watched films, either with subtitles or with dubbing. Right now, everyone is falling in love with Malayalam movies and deservingly so. The excitement was real while shooting a movie in a language that I do not speak at all, yet admire very much.
Was it hard to deliver dialogues in Malayalam?
There are so many dialogues that they changed at the last minute, but the overall process was something that I liked. I would be freaking out about delivering the dialogues, then Dulquer and Srinath would read the script and make the dialogues more colloquial at the end. They would decide to try and make it more real, but in the process, the sound of the new sentence would seem so different for me. I learned a whole new alphabet that I didn’t know existed. The ‘zha’. I was so confused by that. What is that sound and where does it come from? I feel lucky that after Kurup I went to shoot Ponniyin Selvan because I was able to apply some of the things that I learned in Malayalam there. I feel that when you speak Malayalam you kind of get Tamil. Those two are closer and more ancient. I feel that it's easier for a Malayali to understand Telugu, but not the other way around.
When I came to Bombay and started to get into films, I had taught myself Hindi. I couldn’t even speak a single word of it, but there is this sheer thrill in discovering a new language. It is like you’re discovering a new landscape and not just words.
What was it like, shooting a movie in Kerala?
I had a really good time. It made me feel like I need to spend more time in Kerala. In fact, I am hoping to attend the Biennale next year. The connection I felt with the state was deep, and it feels like it got deeper with my experience acting in Kurup. I love the state, its politics, its people, and the simple fact that everybody has an opinion. I feel that meritocracy is commonplace in Kerala, which may not be the case for the rest of the country. I’m able to recognize it on the streets and that really surprises me. How passionately people speak about equality, the way that they function, the landscapes, and the food! If I had stayed any longer, I would have become a very different person with no regrets. It was an amazing experience on the whole.
Would you be open about taking up more offers from the Malayalam movie industry?
I would be. Because I'm such a passionate consumer. To see me as a part of that fabric is an honour and a delight. The Malayalam movie industry is so rich artistically. There are so many phenomenal filmmakers in Malayalam and I would love to work with them.
Which language do you feel is more comfortable for you to work in?
If I were to have my own way, silent movies would be my pick because it crosses so many boundaries. I think about silent films and contemplate how universal they must have been back in the day. Who knows, they might make a comeback one day.
A part of your recent interview where you made the comment about not needing care from your co-worker kind of went viral. What are your thoughts on that?
I honestly don’t know why it is going viral. But I am happy that it is being taken and discussed in the right sense. It was something I said casually. I don't want to take too much credit for it. People are probably recognizing this because such discussions are happening more often these days. I hope this translates into women getting substantial roles in films where the character is more than just a token figure. The cinema has such a large influence on a country as a whole.
Your role in Geethu Mohandas’s movie Moothon was quite striking. How was your entry into that movie?
It was a movie with a Hindi-Malayalam background. I got to know about the script and I reached out to her. The language used in the movie was not proper Malayalam, it was Jeseri. We had to be completely real with it. As an actor, one wants to work with the masses and be recognized. I want those things, but there is a part of me that needs to be fed. That part is hungry to belong in stories that are authentic, rooted, and explore the human psyche, in whatever form. Moothon for me was very unique. Rosy from Moothon is so different from Sharada in Kurup. It's such a privilege to be able to live so many lives in one. I wanted to deliver my best while doing that character. I adore the way in which Moothon was made. It was very much an arthouse kind of film and it reached out to people who are looking to consume that kind of cinema. Both Geethu Mohandas and Rajeev Ravi are excellent filmmakers and that reflects in the movie.
Tell me a bit more about your childhood and family.
I was born in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, and grew up in Visakhapatnam. I moved to Bombay after high school. My college education was in Bombay and I've been living here for almost a decade. My parents are both retired and they live in Visakhapatnam. My sister is a radiology student and is doing her final year.
How did your journey into the movie industry start?
I grew up in a household that was very academically inclined. Cinema had not been a part of our family at all. I grew up being very introverted. But I liked studying and I always look up to education as the foundation of one’s character. Reading books defined a large part of my life. When I moved to Bombay, I was curious to try out many new things because I was going through a phase change. I was young and naive. Bombay was all about finding exposure and experiencing new things. At the end of college, I took part in the Femina Miss India pageant and ended up winning the Femina Miss India Earth 2013 title and I thought, ‘Oh, let me try a few more things.’ Winning the pageant made me feel like a stranger to myself because I was wearing these clothes and heels and it kind of felt like I was pretending. Sometimes you have to experience certain things to realize if that works for you or not. After that, I did modelling for a while because I've always been infatuated by fashion. Even that didn’t feel like a career that was enough for me. In that period, I taught myself Hindi, later got my first film audition, and ended up getting the part. That was ‘Raman Raghav’ directed by Anurag Kashyap. That is when I knew that movie is something that I felt for at a deeper level.
What are the milestones that you would like to hit as an actress?
I really want to do movies that move people as much as they move me. Being nominated Critics' Choice Best-Supporting Actor at Cannes Film Festival 2016 for my first film made me more inclined to do movies that are gripping. From that point onwards, I think most of the choices I've made have felt like landmarks in my own conscience. I am glad that the web series ‘Made in Heaven’ did well. Kurup has definitely been a milestone and I'm also looking forward to my upcoming projects.
Mani Ratnam’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ is coming up for release in multiple languages in 2022. Then there is ‘Major’ based on the life of the 2008 Mumbai attacks martyr Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan that will be coming out. The movie is shot in Telugu and Hindi and it'll also be released in Malayalam. The second season of ‘Made in Heaven’ is pretty much wrapped up. Monkey man, my Hollywood debut, directed by and starring Dev Patel is another one in the line-up. Sitara, a Hindi movie directed by Vandana Kataria and produced by Ronnie Screwvala is also up for release. Interestingly, I play the character of a Malayali girl in the film. Seems as though my Kerala connection won’t end anytime soon.
If not an actress, which path would you have chosen for yourself?
My first love has always been writing. I love books. I am absolutely my most authentic, honest, transparent self when it comes to reading or writing. That is something I would have seriously considered if things were different.