Dhobi Ghat actor speaks
Monica Dogra, musician and actor, talks about the truth behind the NRI cliché of finding one’s roots
Kevin Lobo (MUMBAI MIRROR; January 09, 2011)
Monica Dogra’s decision to leave America is a stroke of genius. In four years, since she decided to discover the country of her ancestors, the NRI has been able to break through the cluttered indie music scene with Shaa’ir + Func.
The band has already made a trip to Glastonbury, has three albums under their belt and its fan base increases by the day thanks to India opening to new sounds.
Yet, this is small game compared to her cinema debut with Dhobi Ghat, the Aamir Khan production that will release on Friday.
Her foray into Bollywood, wait “Indian cinema” she corrects, is an extension of her journey of self-discovery. “When you are born to immigrant parents, you are constantly reminded that you are Indian, yet you don’t know what that means.
I studied the Bhagavad Gita and kathak in school, and yet I was interested in rock and electronic music. It was confusing as a kid. So I decided to come to India to understand where my roots lie,” says Monica.
Her character in Dhobi Ghat follows in a similar vein - an NRI discovering the city of Mumbai, the difference between reel and real is blurry, at least superficially.
And that’s perhaps what the casting team for the movie spotted. “We (the band) were touring the UK when I received a Facebook message from Kiran Rao’s team asking me to audition.
Apparently they loved one of the interviews we did as a band, and Kiran found me very interesting. I was curious. Amazingly, the role was still open when I returned. I auditioned the next day and got the part.
The day after that I was told to meet Aamir Khan himself for an audition and through much nervousness I got through that as well. All this happened in three crazy days.” she says.
Unlike the common perception of an NRI, Monica feeds off the city’s frenetic pace. She says, “I really love Bombay. It’s a city that makes me cry and scream and at the same time laugh and play.
That’s the reason I chose Dhobi Ghat. It has found that delicate part of the city which is very difficult to describe. It’s a magical place and the characters show you why the city is addictive.”
Why choose Mumbai though? “It was a jam session on the last day of my trip in 2005. That was something out of the movies; a bansuri player, a saxophonist, a bunch of guitarists and a couple of yogic dancers were jamming. I went around writing poetry to the music on everyone’s hands. I kept improvising for hours, a feat I could never do in New York. When I returned I realised that if I am so inspired by the city and its people, what on earth am I doing here. So I packed my bags and left for India,” says Monica who is also a spoken word artist.
In Mumbai, she’s found what she was looking for when she left the city of her birth, Maryland, to join New York University - a connection with her homeland and a successful career in the arts.
Considering Dhobi Ghat has not been made for the masses, is she nervous that the movie will bomb at the box office. “I’m not nervous. I see things differently. I think there is a market for intelligent films.
India is a country of a billion people, even if 15 per cent people see it, that’s more that the people in America,” she laughs.
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