It takes a lot to say no to a Bollywood offer, especially when it comes from Aamir Khan Productions, but not for singer Monica Dogra. The debutante was not interested in auditioning for Dhobi Ghat because she thought Bollywood was stuck in its cliches. “I wasn’t too interested initially in Bollywood. That was my first reaction when I was first approached (for Dhobi Ghat). Bollywood for me was an industry that I felt was saturated with one particular style that I wasn’t too interested in,” Monica said.
But she admits the filmmaking process in the Hindi film industry is changing for good. “But I’ve noticed that the industry is changing and I want to be a part of that change. And it was the script of Dhobhi Ghat that changed my mind. Then of course I had seen a lot of films like Taare Zameen Par and Udaan which are fantastic and amazing. I guess Bollywood filmmaking in general is now going in a direction where there is space for alternative cinema,” she added, clearing her throat.
A professional singer with a band called Shaa’ir + Func (S+F), Monica didn’t budge despite repeated attempts by Aamir’s wife Kiran Rao’s audition calls for her directorial debut. Not many know that Kiran took a fancy for the 28-year-old the moment she saw her for the first time on the cover of Time Out Mumbai before tracing her on Facebook for an audition. “I was in London at that time and was unavailable to go for audition. Then when I heard that they had auditioned sort of everybody in Delhi and Mumbai and still haven’t found the right fit, and approached me the second time, I agreed. The second screen test I gave was with Aamir himself and the third day I was offered the role. Once I read the script, I just loved it and there was no way I could have said no,” said Monica, whose only stint in Bollywood so far has been the song Dooriyan bhi hain zaroori from Break Ke Baad.
The singer in her will now be on screen Friday as a character, Shai, an NRI investment banker and passionate photographer who comes to Mumbai on a sabbatical. Dhobi Ghat also stars Aamir, Prateik Babbar and debutante Kriti Malhotra. She was asked: “How was it rubbing shoulders with Aamir?”
“Honestly, it was crazy and something like from outer space to be acting with him. I was a big fan of Aamir from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Rangeela days. It was fantastic in every different way. Aamir is so seasoned and it was an opportunity to learn from someone like him,” said an elated Monica, who is also fond of Rani Mukerji and would like to share screen space with Nandita Das and Abhay Deol.
Daughter of Kashmiri immigrants, Monica is a Maryland-raised musician, who grew up listening to Hindu devotional songs, ghazals and hits of Lata Mangeshkar. Living in Mumbai for five years now, she is trained in musical theatre, dance, drama and voice from NYU. Having toured 20 different countries with her band for four years, Monica made heads turn when she attended the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last year with the movie and she described the experience as nothing less than “phenomenal, fairytale and crazy”. Asked if she has also lent her vocals for any song in Dhobi Ghat, she said: “I don’t sing in the film but they are including a track from my new album in the score of the movie.” A self-confessed “conversational Hindi” speaker, she is “seeking out lessons” in the language but finds it easier to describe her feelings “poetically” in English. As for other movies, she is “reading scripts” and “now open to doing more films in the future – the kind that fits into the area of independent and alternate cinema”.