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Sujaya Dasgupta

3rd January 2023

Digital Editor & Interview: Pankhuri Bhutani 

Photographer: Klara Waldberg

Having been transformed into one of the most anticipated shows of this year, the live action project based on the beloved Gregory David Robert’s bestselling novel “Shantaram” finally made its premiere garnering a massive response from people from around the world. The show that sets within the world of Bombay, India during the 1980s gives a glimpse into the life of a fugitive named Lin Ford (Charlie Hunnam) looking to get lost in vibrant and chaotic city. With a cast of some of the undoubtedly known names from across the globe, Shantaram is currently available to watch on Apple TV+. 

Joining us today is the wonderful Sujaya Dasgupta, a wickedly talented actress of British-Indian descent who not only made her name through her impeccable portrayal as ‘Kavita’ within the series but is also currently under the spotlight for her portrayal as ‘Zoya Nazyalensky’ in Netflix’s original series “Shadow and Bone”.

We recently had a chat with the immensely talented Sujaya Dasgupta in order to discuss her experience working on “Shantaram”, what the fans can expect from the upcoming installment of “Shadow & Bone” as well as shine a light towards her professional journey so far. 

Hi there Sujaya. Thank you for joining us on ReVamp! How are you doing? Since it is almost the end of the year, what has been your most cherished memory of 2022?

Thank you so much for having me! Wow there’s so many… being back with my Shadow & Bone family out in Budapest gave me so many highlights of this year. Going to LA for the first time was also amazing! And being on the Donmar stage, it’s a theatre I’ve always wanted to work at so to perform there with such an important play this year was incredible.

I obviously have to start by talking about your recent project based on the wonderful Gregory David Robert’s novel ‘Shantaram’. It truly is such a beautiful story. One of the greatest things about the story for me was how all these characters within the city of Bombay, they aren’t perceived as a certain backdrop to the protagonist’s narrative and are extremely crucial, acting like a backbone when it comes to developing the story. So, I’m really curious to know what element was it for you personally that truly made you intrigued towards this project and finally convinced you to say yes and be a part of this highly anticipated adaptation?

It’s so great that you say that because that’s exactly what I’d hoped the show would be and I think what we were trying to get across — the novel is from one man’s perspective whereas the show allows us to see Mumbai and the story through many different lenses and viewpoints. 

And for me it was so exciting to be part of a project where female characters can exist on their own, they’re not merely backdrops for the men or used as fodder for their journeys — they have their own unique, rich journeys and Kavita is one of them; an independent, modern Indian woman who has her own goals and desires and we see what she’s willing to do to achieve them. Also being part of bringing such a beloved book to life was incredible.

Going further into your character Kavita, she is seen as someone who possesses an intrigue for new stories and tries to find out an angle of newsworthy content in anything surrounding her. I’d love to know what your primary source of research was in terms of this specific character. Was it based solely on the the script that you were offered as well as the book itself or did you approach a real journalist or perhaps someone else from the media industry in order to learn more?

I definitely look at the script first because if it’s a good script, everything you need to know is in there. So I started to flesh her out from that. But I also did read the book and used it as a blueprint, and although she only pops up a few times in it, those passages give you a good sense of what kind of person she is. I did read a lot of books based on female journalists in India, and did a lot of research about journalism at the time and before that, to get a sense of the world she’s part of. 

There were a few journalists I researched like Rinki Bhattacharya, Shobhaa De, Gauri Lankesh, and I looked at their careers, who they wrote for and when, and how they paved the way for female journalists to have well respected careers in a male dominated field — people who Kavita would have looked up to also and have taken inspiration from.

Being an Indian myself, I really love how the show shines a light on not just the political, scandalous aspects witnessed in the country but also the warmth of the people and the beauty of Mumbai as well as the overall Indian culture. Since you yourself have roots from this country, what was your experience like working with this production and getting to not just represent India but also indulge in the ordinary lives of the citizens. Did you feel associated and connected with your heritage through this project in any way?

Yes I definitely did, and although it would have been amazing to film it in India, production did such a fantastic job bringing Mumbai to life. The amount of detail the production designer Chris Kennedy and the whole team put into it was astounding, so you really did feel like you were in the heart of Colaba or wandering the alleyways between the hutments of the slum. And it’s truly a beautiful show to watch — I usually get a bit embarrassed when my family watch anything I’m in but it was really important for me that they watch this show. 

Because I think it’s done such a good job to show Mumbai and Indian culture in as an authentic light as possible. I was born in India so anything that allows me to explore my heritage and do service to it is a privilege. Any chance to show the many rich aspects of Indian culture is amazing, and to be able to share that on a huge platform like this is very exciting.

The screen adaptation for ‘Shantaram’ really has had a tricky history. For instance, the constant attempts for the production for the initial movie which was eventually shut down as well as the inability to shoot in India for the show so I was really excited to finally witness the beautiful conclusion of the story on screen. I wonder what it was like for all the cast and crew when the production finally started and you were able to embody your characters respectively?

Well I got the job in the second iteration of the show after the pandemic hit so although we were faced with many challenges while filming because of restrictions and such, I was sort of grateful for the time it allowed me personally to delve into my character. It allowed for more intense work and to live in her skin, so to speak, for more time. There were no other distractions or things to do really so the work for me became almost everything. 

And I loved every second I got to play Kavita, there’s not many roles written like this for South Asian women but ironically she takes after so many Indian women that I’ve grown up with and seen. They’re just not represented enough on screen or on stage. So to be able to go on her journey in this show which is so rich and full, makes me feel so privileged.

And I think I speak for all the cast and crew when I say how excited and relieved we were when the show was able to start filming — and also the fact that we finished it within the time frame! To be able to complete something on this scale during that time is a testament to everyone’s hard work and commitment on this show.

I believe I’ll be highly disappointing the entire Grishaverse fanbase if I don’t ask you a few questions related to your involvement in Netflix’s “Shadow And Bone”. Now that the second season is officially confirmed (Huge congratulations!) and we have seen a short teaser of the new cast members, is there anything you can tell us about your upcoming role as “Zoya Nazyalensky” within the series?

Thank you! I can’t say much without giving away any spoilers though, I know that’s such a boring answer! But I will say, there’s a lot of exciting adventures in season 2. Lots of exciting new characters. A lot happens this season, and I cannot wait to see how it all comes together!

Zoya and Kavita are both projected as individuals who certainly aren’t afraid to express their opinions and are extremely confident about their abilities and skillsets. Do you think you are similar to your characters in that specific aspect and are there any qualities you aspire to possess from Zoya/Kavita?

I always say I wish I had Zoya as my friend in real life because I just think she’s such a brilliant person — despite her acidity at times, she is someone who is loyal, charismatic, confident, incredibly powerful and takes no prisoners. I definitely wish I had some of her qualities! 

And now similarly to Kavita, I would love some of her to rub off on me as a person too. She’s so clever, confident, fearless, knows her own mind and is never afraid to speak it. Both women are incredible characters to play and I like to think are so different from me. But I guess the qualities we do share are work ethic, loyalty and that sense of never giving up.

Both “Shantaram” and “Shadow And Bone” has had such immensely remarkable response from viewers and fans from around the world. Did you ever anticipate both the shows garnering such a positive reception? Now that you’ve been a part of so many phenomenal projects, is there any other specific type/genre of projects you’d like to involve yourself in your future years?

That’s really kind of you to say. No I never anticipate how any show would do, I just think you have no control over that. The only things you can control are how much work you put in, your commitment, the time and energy and love you invest. Then it’s offered up to the audience. And the rest is totally up to them, it’s for them and with them. So it’s just amazing when you get positive feedback, it’s humbling and you’re very thankful.

In terms of future projects, I’d be part of anything with an exciting script and brilliant creatives on it! I’m so open to anything.

Lastly, I’d love to ask you if there is any message you’d wish to convey to your supporters reading this interview right now?

Thank you for all of your support and kindness. I’m always taken aback by the warmth and generosity shown to me, so thank you so much, it really does mean the world to me. Please keep warm if you’re in the snowy winter like me! Be kind and loving to yourselves, and enjoy the festive period however you want to enjoy it!

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