That renowned model and actress DIPANNITA SHARMA has been a history student can be fathomed from the answers she sends back as replies to the questions I had emailed to her. Each response is explained in detail and she is careful about mentioning all references and connections. Dipannita manages to score almost full marks. A few deductions as she forgets to mention the dates. But she indeed is a brilliant student, one who has closely studied the lessons her grandmother, her parents, her profession and life has taught her. And she implements them in her life too. This interview may seem lengthy but it is worth a read as it has number of knowledge capsules from which one can gain and learn by truckloads. Read on…
When did Dipannita Sharma decide to enter the glamour industry?
It wasn’t until my second year of college that I realised I could give modelling a shot as I was part of the college fashion show team. I discussed it with my parents. The first thing they said was ‘finish what you started first, then embark on a new journey.’ They wanted me to complete my graduation in history (the reason I had come to Delhi). I’m glad I agreed with them and completed graduation as education empowers you. I gave my final year exams and then got my pictures done (I had won a free portfolio in an intercollege fashion event). It wasn’t an overnight decision but a slow, steady transition from a student to a professional model. When I started getting my first few assignments, I enrolled into a short French language course and contemplated between a Masters in History or a course in advertising. I wasn’t sure if I’ll get enough work in modelling for it to become a full-fledged career. But as assignments poured in, I realised it can and that I can be a fulltime professional model.
My interest in being part of the modelling world or acting almost seemed like an extension of my interests during childhood
What was your parents’ reaction?
We (my sister and I) have been brought up by parents who believed in encouraging us to be individuals, to be our own person. My stepping into the world of glamour was unprecedented even by their standards since ours has been an academically oriented family – my father was a doctor and mother a teacher but we are a family which has been inclined towards honing our interests and hobbies. We were always active in dramatics, dancing, singing throughout schooldays. I had enrolled in Hindustani classical singing as well as dancing at the behest of my mother, and in swimming and tennis because of my father. The importance of an overall development was recognised in our family but without the pressure to excel constantly. So, for me, all of this became a natural happy part of life.
My interest in being part of the modelling world or acting almost seemed like an extension of my interests during childhood. My parents realised that and despite their initial reservations as it was an unknown world and because of all the discouraging things people said, they lent me full support. Dad told mom he was successful because he followed his heart to become a doctor. Similarly, they should allow me to follow mine. He said: ‘Everyone must have a shot at their dreams and the freedom of choice’. My mother gave me only one advice: ‘Do not lose focus. Be responsible in every which way’. Honestly, that’s the only advice I turn to even today. I’m thankful I grew up with parents who gave me wings of trust, confidence and choice.
Your experience of being a model in what is often termed as the ‘big bad world’.
It’s important to realise that all professions were created or started by ‘outsiders’ (pioneers) and our profession, whether modelling or acting, is always looking for freshness. I feel modelling has never had an insider-outsider problem. In fact, fashion industry has been one of the most welcoming when it comes to talent from from backgrounds which have never had any connection with the glamour world because it primarily survives on fresh perspectives, in every creative aspect. In Bollywood, there is a level of favouritism as star kids get launched in films easily and get many chances. But that’s like any other profession. If an actor’s kid wants to be an actor why should he/ she he not make the most of the contacts they have access to? Do they not have the right to pursue their dreams because their parent happens to be in the same industry? We forget that. Only thing they get easily is the break. Thereafter, the struggle for survival is the same. We may argue that as an outsider even that break doesn’t come easily which is true but then who said life was going to be easy. If I wanted it to be easy then I should have chosen a profession where my parents had contacts. Instead I chose one on my own accord where I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. So it’s up to me to give it my best shot. My path may be tougher but then I chose it, so I can either whine about my choice or be happy that I had a shot at my dreams and have had the opportunity to continue to pursue it on my own terms. At the same time, I do agree we must question systems, keep the doors open for fresh talent and ‘outsiders’ but must never lose perspective while fighting our battles.
Both your grandmother and mother wrote plays and you performed in them. Share some anecdotes.
Those were the sweetest and wonderful plays I ever acted in. My Aita (grandmom) wrote these skits and plays, primarily comedic in nature. Most ended with a little message. These were gender neutral plays – boys would sometimes dress up as girls or girls as boys, as per the look or requirement. More importantly, all plays were about grownups but played by kids. I don’t remember playing a child in a lot of her plays. Most plays had inputs from mom and Aita but the original Assamese writing was by Aita.
From my Aita (grandmother), I learnt the need to keep focus, to grow, to hone skills. And that there is no age to start learning something new
Do you think the first seed of modelling and acting was sown back then?
I think so. Aita was a huge inspiration. She was a learned woman, self-taught and self-reliant. Having lost her husband at a young age, she brought up seven children alone. She was known as the Iron Lady in her circles. She taught me perseverance without spelling it out. She was a learner, teacher, motivator and believed in constant self-growth. My mom got these qualities from her and we from both of them – the need to keep focus, to grow, to hone our skills. And that there is no age to start learning something new. What I learnt from her was how to never let go of infinite possibilities as an individual. That on every step of the way, there is scope of self-discovery and to find new facets to yourself. That is what I strive and continue to do.
Why are you so selective about your roles?
I try to organically choose the best from what’s offered to me. If there are roles, certain setups or systems in the industry which make me uncomfortable, I automatically avoid them. I have realised there are certain advantages of not being seen so often, the longevity and freshness factor. People don’t see you or know you so much so whenever you appear in a project it’s a surprise and it’s fresh for them. It’s like, ‘Oh! she can play this character too’! I should be thankful for that and may I always have the ability to surprise my audiences.
What is that one factor which gets you to decide pick up a modelling assignment or a role?
I need to be comfortable in a certain set up and the assignment needs to make sense. I am against deliberate objectifying a woman. As an actor and a model, there is a certain amount of glamour attached but there must always be a context to it. I feel a lot of times on screen there is a very contrived sense of portraying women and it bothers me. I try my best to fight the cliches but as an actor it’s isn’t always possible. I feel it has to be a collective conscientious work towards breaking stereotypes.
You were born in Assam, graduated from Delhi and are now stay in Mumbai. One thing which you like about each of these places.
Assam will always have a special place because that’s my place of birth and my first home. I love the vibe, the simplicity and how deeply we feel about everything back home.
To Delhi, I’m thankful for the education I received here at Indraprastha College for Women and for introducing me to the fashion world as a model. I love the gregarious — ‘live life to the fullest’ attitude in Delhi and when it comes to Delhi, how can I not mention food.
I like Mumbai for its soul, for the many lifelong friends, for helping me become the self-made individual and for being my karmbhumi, my second home.
I was one of the first actors to jump onto the OTT bandwagon – Bewafaa Sii Wafaa for Alt Balaji and won the award in Best Supporting Actor Female category at IWM Digital Awards
What changes have you witnessed in yourself during the period of Covid-19?
It has definitely been of looking inwards and of self-discovery. Also, been relaxing for me. Human relationships have taken priority in a certain manner. Have had a lot of fruitful and constructive conversations with people from across cities and countries from the confines of four walls. It has been a phase of thinking and mulling over several aspects. The family time with husband and the regular calls with my mom and sister as well as close friends have been therapeutic. Indulging in some much needed reading as well.
Your take on the digital medium and will we get to see Dipannita in a web series soon?
I was one of the first actors to jump onto the OTT bandwagon – Bewafaa Sii Wafaa for Alt Balaji. I won the award in Best Supporting Actor Female category at the IWM Digital Awards. Then there was the six part series for Voot – Untag. I have just finished working for ZEE5 Premium’s film, Raat Baaki Hai, which will release end of the year.
Is OTT the future of the entertainment industry in India?
I strongly believe OTT’s future is bright. With Covid-19 restrictions, I think we will consume more content on OTT which will create more demand for OTT content. But we have to be careful about keeping the content quality high because it’s easy to get swayed by the demand in quantity of consumption.
Apart from work, I don’t think I breathe much glamour. I often indulge in exercising my vocal chords or consume horror and thriller content on digital platforms
What is Dipannita doing when she is not breathing glamour?
Apart from work, I don’t think I breathe much glamour. I love sleeping long hours. I often indulge in exercising my vocal chords (I enjoy singing as I’m trained in Hindustani classical and it helps me stay in touch with a childhood passion). I consume a lot of horror and thriller content on digital platforms. During lockdown, I have tried to hone my baking skills and taken some Bachata dance classes (dancing is one of my passions as well, having learnt many forms of Latin ballroom).
Do you dream?
Sometimes my dreams are so vivid that it’s like I can remember every detail and sometimes I completely forget. I think my best dreams have been about travel. I call myself a ‘traveller forever’ because that’s one of the things I live for. How sad that now we don’t really know what the situation on travel is going to be for a while. Every time I visit a new country, I start thinking of which one next to go to. I have a list in place and I dream of clear calm water and beaches often. Both my husband, Dilsher (Singh Atwal), and I love beaches.
Does it happen that if you do not get meatier roles, plump assignments or people do not invite you to their parties, immaterial of the fact whether you are an “insider or outsider”, a feeling of insecurity seeps in and there are chances you get into a phase of depression?
I was very clear about the path I was going to create or take from day one. When I was a newcomer, my 100% focus was on giving perfect auditions. Everything else was a personal choice. I was never much of a party person except that I loved going dancing with my group of friends in Mumbai. I have always been a teetotaller so most people looking for that kind of company would invariably get bored with me. Thinking about whether I was being invited for parties by someone or not was not something that ever occupied my mind. As a model, I never booked any job because I was at a party or if I wasn’t. It was because I cleared an audition and once I had a good body of work, it was on that basis that I continued to get work. I socialised because I wanted to do it and when I wanted to do it, on my terms. It continued even when I joined films. Once in a while, there would be work related events such as a movie, brand or fashion magazine promotion but that was an obligation, a part of work. Other than that, I have never lost sleep over who invited me or not because I have had great get-togethers with my family and friends. My work is independent of my social life and I would rather not get into a space where I’m obligated to socialise.
Mantra for life.
The only way to be is to be at it.
Meryl Streep, Waheeda Rehman, Tabu, Madhuri Dixit and Charlize Theron. Robert Redford, Johnny Depp, Hrithik Roshan, Naseeruddin Shah and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Dark Knight Rises, Rebecca, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, Satte Pe Satta, Saameli Memsaab (Assamese), Do Bigha Zameen, Coco Avant Chanel (French).
What’s up next?
I’m part of a short film, Saving Chintu, the official selection for several Oscar and BAFTA qualifying festivals across the world. It’s going to remain special because of its humane storyline with the backdrop of adoption and LGBTQ. Then there are two other projects – one is a thriller and the other is set in the jungles of Assam. It is perhaps the first full-fledged Hindi film shot in Assam. Both should release on OTT soon.