Lara Dutta has had a year to remember. After playing the role of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Bell Bottom – the year's first big-ticket release from Bollywood – she has now returned to the digital space with her sophomore web-series, Hiccups And Hookups, now streaming on Lionsgate Play. The Kunal Kohli series, also the platform's first Indian production, stars her alongside Prateik Babbar and Shinnova.
She talks about what attracted her to the show, championing women in cinema and being in the best phase of her life as an actor.
Sneha Menon Desai (SMD): The trailer of Hiccups and Hookups is all kinds of bold and edgy. Did it take a lot of convincing for you to come on board?
Lara Dutta (LD): No, I wouldn't say so. Unfortunately, in India, we assume that it's only the men who are having sex and the women have no sex life whatsoever. Women are having sex, women of all ages are. The show isn't only about being bold or only talking about the sexual escapades of a 40-year-old. It deals with a 40-year-old woman, who comes out of a 19-year marriage and re-enters a world where if she is looking for a relationship or for love, [she realizes that] the rules of dating have completely changed from 20 years ago. It's about learning how to survive or look for love in a world that exists today.
The big reason to do this show was that I was very impressed that Lionsgate Play was making its foray in India, with their first Indian original being about a protagonist in her 40s. That cohort doesn't get spoken to that much.
SMD: Especially their sexuality.
LD: Exactly. You don't address any of those issues for women aged between, say, 35-55. They are always either the pure mothers or the long-suffering wives – basically, the epitome of what a woman is supposed to be. Everything else about us is disregarded. So, I was very impressed that this was what the platform wanted to do, and I had great fun doing that.
SMD: What are the challenges of shooting a sex comedy right?
LD: It's a comedy, right? So, the challenge is to get the people to feel [for the characters]. Vasu, my character, is stepping into uncharted waters. There's a lot of discomfort and vulnerability in her. To create something that's believable actually calls for a lot of acting skills. It's also about being relatable. If a kind of awkwardness that comes in [organically], is what a scene demands, that actually works better for the scene.
The other thing is, you don't meet your fellow actors for the first time [while shooting for an intimate scene]. You already share a rapport with them. When we are shooting for scenes like this, we are all very protective of each other. We are always making sure that the other person is not uncomfortable at any given point of time.
SMD: You belong to a very distinguished couple in India. Does that burden or impact any of the cinematic choices you make?
LD: I've never felt that way. I've never been made to feel that way by Mahesh [Bhupathi] either. He completely understands. Both of us are self-made professionals. We didn't get into our careers after we met each other. We are who we are because of what we've been able to accomplish in our lives. He's very clear about who his wife is and what she does, and is also very clear, secure and confident about who his wife really is. When you have those boxes checked, then it's about getting in there and doing your job.
SMD: You've often defined yourself as a woman's woman. Have you ever felt let down by women in your career that pushed you to champion this more?
LD: I can't say that I have experienced it more than what was expected. I feel, for the longest time, women have been other women's worst enemies because opportunities were very far and few. Because of the few opportunities that were there, the women that were ambitious or capable enough have literally had to claw each other out of the way to be able to grab those. That's changing today. Today, that opportunity field in itself has expanded so much more. I see it in my own business – the advent of OTT has been fantastic for women in the entertainment industry in India. Today, you have far more women writers, producers, directors and cinematographers in an otherwise very male-dominated industry. I feel I've always been a woman's woman. I've always felt that the only way to create more of those opportunities is to do it together. I love stepping on to a set now and having an inclusive crew, with at least 50% of them being women. It changes the whole environment and the sensibilities of the content that you're creating. I've had amazing women in my life. It takes a village to be able to go out there and be a working mom. I couldn't do it without the women that I have in my life.
SMD: I know you've said you really enjoy doing comedy – and there are very few actors who are naturally good at it – but is there a facet to yourself as an artist that you would want filmmakers to perhaps explore more?
LD: I guess I was able to do that with my choice of doing Bell Bottom earlier this year. The reason that I actually did a lot of comedy throughout my career, as you rightly said, was because there are few actors who actually can do comedy. So, I think I was blessed to have the ability as a female actor – and there aren't many female actors in the film industry who are able to have a comic timing and present it on-screen. Also, especially after I did No Entry, which gave me a chance to connect with an audience way beyond just being "a glamorous Miss Universe." Otherwise, you're only associated with glamour. I felt that I was more than just that. Being able to do comedy gave me a chance to connect with my audiences, which is why I enjoyed it and followed it on with Partner, Housefull, Bhagam Bhaag etc.
But then, there's also more to me than just comedy. Playing Mrs. Gandhi gave me the chance to actually show a different facet of myself that I never had been able to do before. Unfortunately, it's taken the industry 18 years to cast me in something like that because now, "by industry standards," I'm mature and older, and therefore, able to be cast. I could've played Mrs. Gandhi when I was 30, I don't think I would've played her any differently. Sure, life experiences do give you a certain amount of maturity to play certain characters and bring some gravitas to them. So, I was excited to do that and I think that really opened up a gamut of opportunities for me, which are now coming my way. I honestly feel that at this stage, I'm possibly having the best time of my life as an actor.