Sobhita Dhulipala: The ‘Outsider’ Who’s Always In Transit
She went from being the uncool kid in school to the rare non-conformist the industry never knew it needed. From conquering the web world with a raging performance in Made In Heaven, Sobhita Dhulipala lets us in on the bittersweet struggles that have dotted her journey to fame.
Sobhita Dhulipala has got off to a sparkling start. Her role as Tara Khanna, the upper crust south Delhi wife who wears perfectly tailored outfits and blow-dried hair, in the Amazon Prime Original Made in Heaven, got audiences to sit up and take notice of her strong screen presence.
We caught up with the actor on a misty monsoon morning, spending some quality time at the lush Atmantan Wellness Resort in Mulshi. “I have been working like crazy the past few months, so this is a great getaway. It’s close to Bombay, the surroundings are beautiful and the weather is very pleasant. I am someone who loves to be around nature, it helps me feel in sync with myself. If I could, I’d just live here,” she admits. For Dhulipala, who was born in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh and raised in the beach town of Vishakhapatnam, home is always in transit. “Home is on my way to wherever it is that I am going. It could even be on the road, sitting in an Uber,” she laughs.
Having spent a quiet childhood in a small town, moving to Mumbai was her ticket to the big city life. “My father was in the merchant navy, and growing up the entertainment industry was never a space I’d imagine myself in. After I completed my 12th grade, I was aching to have a new experience, that’s when I picked up a map of India and randomly chose Mumbai.”
Dhulipala recalls being quite shy as a child and knew she had to break away from her comfort zone in order to challenge herself. “I wanted to be in a competitive environment, where I had no choice but to really push myself and prove to be the best,” she says. The actor recounts writing a letter to her father to seek his approval, and in return he picked up college admission forms and a Mumbai city guide, to get her off the ground. “I came to Mumbai for college, and towards the end of my graduation, I took part in Miss India. It was just out of sheer curiosity; I was always very geeky and tomboyish and never really imagined myself in this industry,” she reveals.
The experience lent her an insight into herself. “I came from a very different space, growing up, where books played a more important role than movies.” She placed second in the Miss India pageant which gave her an impetus to be recognised and deep dive into the film industry. After months of going through endless rounds of (unsuccessful) auditions, Dhulipala felt she didn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mould the industry was looking for. “I must have done hundreds of auditions, and it became apparent why things weren’t working out. I was not considered to be pretty by traditional industry standards. That meant being light-skinned, goofy, slightly unintelligent, which are qualities deemed extremely attractive by the mainstream media,” she notes.
Auditions were like a litmus test for her, she either cracked a part or went home, and with the number of auditions under her belt, the actor feels like an audition expert. Dhulipala might have felt excluded from being cast, but never succumbed to the pressure of wanting to belong. She quickly made peace with being an outsider, as long as her work spoke for itself and she received the validation that mattered. “I realised that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your lineage is. It’s about being steadfast and sincere in pursuing your passions, and things find a way of falling into place,” she says.
A handful of commercials and fashion shows later, Dhulipala landed her first film, Raman Raghav 2.0 directed by Anurag Kashyap. “Working with Anurag Kashyap was a big deal for me. I had always admired his work as a filmmaker,” she says. Auditioning for the psychological thriller changed Dhulipala’s career trajectory overnight. Even though the process was intimidating, the experience did her a lot of good. The film premiered at the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, where she was nominated for best supporting performance. “It was a huge moment for me. I was just a new kid on the block trying to understand this world, and being nominated at a festival of this scale served as an immense motivation to do good work,” she recalls.
She went on to dabble in a few Telegu films, including one where she starred opposite Saif Ali Khan, which proved to be a Box Office hit. “Telegu is my mother tongue, so my parents loved my performance in those films. They were able to understand what I was saying, which made a huge difference,” she smiles.
Dhulipala’s compelling delivery on the silver screen caught Zoya Akhtar’s eye, who invited her to audition for the now immensely popular web series, Made in Heaven. There was absolute silence for about a month after the audition, but she soon received a call-back and that’s when her enthusiasm to nail the part surged. What followed was a complete transformation into Tara, a character that’s so conflicted yet relatable, straddling that fine line between the ‘black’ and ‘white’ constructs seen in traditional Indian cinema. Dhulipala made us root for the anti-heroine, with the dark slick of her character; a woman caught between a bittersweet struggle to strike out on her own and yet feel overpowered by an uncontrollable urge to seek approval.
Although the actor is not as unapologetic in real life, she does strike a chord of similarity with Tara when it comes to dealing with difficulties. “We both share a common friend, to be able to find strength, especially during times of crisis,” she notes. Away from the spotlight, the young actor’s life continues to preserve normalcy, where she’s content dwelling in her own quiet cocoon, away from all the buzz. “I like travelling alone most of the time. It makes me seek dialogue with the place or its people. That’s how learning happens,” she says.
Dhulipala is not one to get attached to people or places, she prefers to live in the moment. “I don’t believe in over-romanticising the past,” she notes. After a long day of shooting, she likes to unwind with a nice playlist and a plate of khichdi. “I love khichdi, when it was made the national dish of the country I must have been the only person who was really happy. I have decided I am going to be one of those Indian travellers who packs achaar on their trips abroad,” she laughs.
She’s also a big fan of street food, with samosas and pani puri topping the list. Dhulipala’s idea of a perfect date involves spending an intimate evening, filled with great conversation, that encompasses a wide range of topics. Although she doesn’t have any set notions of an ideal man, finding an emotional connect matters to her more than physical attributes. “It’s important that he is kind, curious and just grateful for what he has. These things mean a lot to me,” she confesses.Paragraph
What perhaps took us by surprise was her fiercely independent nature. She cooks, cleans, and stays on top of her household errands, that’s her workout mojo. “I do my own jhadu pocha every day. Growing up, my dad always taught me to be self-sufficient, both physically and emotionally. He taught me how to fix a light bulb, change a tyre, cook for myself, and feel completely independent. I remember being a 7-year-old kid, cooking for myself in an empty house. So, it’s very important for me to be able to do everything for myself,” explains the actor. And these are qualities she hopes to inculcate in her future kids someday.
Written by Radhika Sen