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Lara Dutta: I did comic roles to go beyond just being a glam face- Cinema express

Lara Dutta: I did comic roles to go beyond just being a glam face

The actor talks about being part of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley, her OTT journey, and the changing nature of big-screen comedies

Published: 18th September 2023

It seems like a thing of the past, but Covid-19 left an indelible impact on the film ecosystem in the country and worldwide. With theatres shut, many mainstream actors were out of work, whiling away time, making dishwashing reels on Instagram. At a time when the industry was riddled with uncertainty, Lara Dutta Bhupathi, otherwise known for her sometimes comic, sometimes mere glam-sprinkling roles in ensembles like No Entry (2005), Bhagam Bhag (2006) and Housefull (2010), silently made her OTT debut.

In the Disney+Hotstar caper Hundred (2020), Lara played a no-nonsense cop who trains Rinku Rajguru’s Netra Patil, a common girl suffering from a terminal illness, to become an undercover agent. Next were some forgettable outings like Hiccups and Hookups (2021) and Kaun Banegi Shikharwati (2022). She is now appearing in maverick director Vishal Bhardwaj’s whodunnit series Charlie Chopra & The Mystery Of Solang Valleyin which she plays the role of Wilayat Hussain. Unwilling to reveal more about her character, she describes it as “enigmatic.” Out of the big screen for a while (her last theatrical film was a Covid-release, Bell Bottom (2021)), Lara feels comfortable in the OTT space. “I have had more fun in these last 4-5 years than —if I could possibly say—my past entire career,” she tells us.

We speak to the actor about her OTT stint, the changing nature of big-screen comedies and how daunting it is to act in front of Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah and Neena Gupta.


You have softly been making inroads in the OTT space since 2020 with Hundred and Hiccups and Hookups. Upcoming is Charlie Chopra. How has the experience been for you?

OTT, when it came, changed the entire landscape. Our theatrical films have always been male-driven and it wasn’t like there was less work for women but there was always a lack of well-written work. What streaming did was give a chance to a new breed of talent. It came like a blessing, especially for female actors, directors, writers and producers, who now had a wider arena to showcase their skills. When I did Hundred, I was one of the first mainstream actors to make a crossover to OTT. I have loved it since then. I got the chance to play varied characters, far more diverse than the stuff I had been offered before, especially in my 20s and 30s which most consider to be an actress’ prime years. I am in my 40s and I am having more fun now than ever.

When big-screen actors make an OTT shift, is there some sort of tuning they have to do in their acting? 

Yes, you have to (tune), definitely. It’s not that big screen actors work any less but there you have to hold your audience’s attention for about 120 minutes and for an OTT series you have to keep them captivated for about eight hours. You have to work ten times harder and I mean with everything. With the preparation, the layering, staying in character over large periods of time. Personally, it’s more fulfilling as an actor to work in OTT.

The films you did back in the day like Masti (2003), No Entry (2005) and Partner (2007) were pure comedies. Whereas nowadays a ‘comedy film’ comes with a prefix of ‘horror’ or ‘social’. There are no just comedy films. How do you see this change?

Well, my next is Welcome to The Jungle (2023) and I assure you it is a pure comedy film (laughs). I think theatrically what these films need is a massive scale. Today, especially, films going to theatres need to be larger than life to survive at the box office. Comedy in itself is a tough genre to execute. I mean I can make the audience cry in thirty seconds but to get them to laugh is hard. I remember it used to upset me greatly when comic actors were not nominated for Best Actor awards. I feel comedy is one of the most underrated genres in our country.

Streaming must feel really fresh because a lot of these mainstream ensembles, where you stood out with your comic talent, were otherwise very male-centric films…

At the time when I did these big-screen comedies, it was a very calculated, very deliberate attempt from me to first identify if I had the necessary timing to become a comic actor. I have always looked up to actors like Sridevi and Madhuri (Dixit) who did amazing comic roles but then there was a lull where you didn’t have many actresses who could do good comedy. When I did these ensembles, I didn’t want to get reduced to the love-interest or the hero’s girlfriend. I did comedy to carve a niche for myself, to go beyond just being the glam face.

Thus, Charlie Chopra…, comes in a nice contrast. A female detective in a noirish, mystery thriller, a genre otherwise known to be led by men…

Yeah. I mean, it’s incredible, right? A series like Charlie Chopra… is being made today is a shining example of content being king. The audience has accepted that and so has the industry. It proves that all you need is an interesting story, and you can put together incredible actors to see the magic unfold.

Talking about incredible actors, how daunting it is to give a shot in front of Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah and Neena Gupta?

Honestly, more than daunting, I was fangirling, watching them perform with my jaw open. It was like going back to school again, sitting in the front bench and soaking it all in. These are actors I have looked up to even before I entered the industry. I have worked with Naseer sir in Kaun Banegi Shikharwati and had a rapport with him already. So, the nervousness of sharing screen space with him was already dealt with and now it was just excitement. Both Ratna ji and Neena ji are so comfortable in their own skin that they didn’t make any actor feel intimidated. It was really important in a show like this, you know, which is a whodunit. It was essential for every actor to hit the right note, and that's only going to happen if everybody supports and plays off each other.

How long have you been waiting to work with Vishal Bhardwaj?

Before Charlie Chopra… twice we came close to working with each other. But maybe the universe didn’t conspire hard enough then. When I got the call from him to play Wilayat Hussain, I decided regardless of what I have on my plate right now, I am committing to it. Third time’s the charm, I guess.

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