Sunday, November 16, 2003

A face in the crowd
Rakhee Gupta

Divya Dutta
Divya Dutta: Taking one step at a time

Eight years ago, Divya Dutta took the train from Ludhiana for a three-month acting course in Mumbai and landed a role in Train to Pakistan. Playing a 16-year-old crooner-dancer who entertains older men, she bagged a nomination for the best supporting actress in the national awards.

A couple of years later, she was again in the running for a national award, thanks to her role in Shaheed-e-Mohabbat, another Partition story with Punjabi folk singer Gurdas Mann as her hero. And as luck would have it, she lost out.

In between, Divya appeared in a number of multi-starrers like Veergati, Agnisakshi, Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat and Ram Aur Shyam. She continues playing the second lead in Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye, Joggerís Park, Baaghban, Dubai Returned, Netaji, Yatra and Indian Talkies.

"I realise that in a multi-starrer, one tends to get completely lost in a crowd," she concedes. "But it has also been a learning experience for me. I am not making the mistakes I did at the early stages of my career. Now I am taking one step at a time. And happily, people are beginning to notice me."

She cites the example of Joggerís Park, a Subhash Ghai film in which she was pitched against the high-profile Victor Bannerji and Perizaad Zorabian. "I am the conscience of the film," gushes Divya. "My character is the turning point of the story."

Another film close to her heart is Pran Jayye...., even as it was a box-office disappointment: "I played a middle-class housewife who manages the house on her own and makes her husband happy in bed. I gained a lot from it. The love-making scene was highly appreciated."

Yet another film that deserves special mention is Baaghban, in which she plays Amitabh Bachchanís daughter-in-law. "I play the modern woman who speaks her mind and most of my scenes are with Mr Bachchan," Divya points out. "I had a great time."

So what went wrong, despite so many good breaks?

"I guess I am not clever," she confesses. "I am not manipulative, calculating, scheming... I have always tried to go by the merits of films offered to me ó the script, my character, the director... Surely, there are other factors that matter, I did not know then. There was nobody to tell me either."

Divya is a product of the Government College for Women in Ludhiana, having graduated in English, Psychology and Philosophy. From the time she remembers, she had been good at studies and won scholarships, besides being the head girl at school and college.

Acting was a hobby, as she wrote, directed and performed in her plays at Ludhiana. In 1993, she won the best actress and best dancer awards at the Punjab Youth Festival. Even before she took the plunge for Bollywood, she was a minor celebrity in her hometown.

"But deep inside, I was a very nervous person," recalls Divya. "I remember, when I went for my first screen test, I did not have the guts to sit on a chair in front of my co-actors. There were so many dos and doníts playing on my mind."

However, like anybodyís first film, Train to Pakistan was a memorable experience: "I modulated my voice, sang my song and choreographed them as well. Though I was not playing the lead, role, my character stood out and is very much appreciated to this day."

Films apart, Divya has been sharing time with television, having several popular sitcoms like Sansar, Kadam and now. Shanno Ke Shadi to her name. She has also anchored in the countdown show, Superhit Muqabla and a travel series, Musafir Hoon Yaaro. MF