She may be a newbie when it comes to facing the camera, but off it, Sobhita Dhulipala is clearly an old soul. Despite having one of the most successful OTT debuts in recent years, the star hasn’t let the fame go to her head, relying on her strong roots and authentic personality to anchor her
Given below is an excerpt from Vogue India’s February 2022 issue:
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SOBHITA
Photographed by Martin Mae
Styled by Kshitij Kankaria
Words by Sadaf Shaikh
“I am starting this interview by admitting that I’m single and it’s not by choice,” Sobhita Dhulipala, breakout OTT star and former beauty pageant title holder, announces to the mostly empty teahouse we’re seated in, as she diligently samples the scannable food menu on her mobile device.
Born in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, to a teacher and a marine engineer, Dhulipala grew up deeply embedded in academics, finding comfort in dusty bookshelves as opposed to the dazzling lure of television. In fact, she was well into her teens when she watched her first-ever set of movies, the Harry Potter series. At age 16, possessed by the urgency of making a detour from the predictable course her life was taking in Visakhapatnam, she tossed a coin between moving to Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. As luck would have it, she landed up in the City of Dreams. Once here, she swiftly enrolled, based purely on merit, at one of the top colleges in the city, but acclimating socially took her a while. “I spoke when I was spoken to, otherwise I felt like I was being a nuisance. I would often think to myself, ‘How dare I speak and break someone’s silence?’ I was always amazed when people around me spoke for 20 minutes at a stretch. I was mortally afraid of bloviating,” she recalls.
It didn’t help that the newly-minted Mumbai resident spoke almost no Hindi, which made it incredibly perplexing for her to get around the city and run errands. But Dhulipala took every hurdle in her stride and found joy in the curveballs—be it having to leave her home in Kandivali at 4am to reach Churchgate in time for her 7am class, or relying on the patience of fruit vendors to overcome the language barrier. “I felt like the luckiest girl. After lectures ended, I would take a bus or train back home and disembark at random stops to drink nimbu paani and just explore the place. I’ve spent several hours walking around Bhendi Bazaar, Reay Road, Old Dockyard and Vasai. In Vizag, every place is within 15 minutes of each other, but Bombay just astounded me geographically,” she says.
In 2013, on a whim—and very much out of character for her—Dhulipala auditioned for Femina Miss India (where she was crowned Miss India Earth) and went on to represent India at the Miss Earth pageant in the Philippines, bagging a slew of titles under various categories. “I wanted to do something that didn’t come naturally to me,” she explains. Her victory on an international platform translated into a few modelling gigs, but she soon grew disillusioned by the low wages and the general lack of respect afforded to models, and realised it was not for her. Next stop: ad films. “I went to every audition under the sun—dish washing bars, detergent, toilet cleaners—just so I would be added to the casting director’s database. For a L’Oréal ad, I remember auditioning for the role of a background girl with bad hair and I was told my hair was too bad for even the ‘before’ segment,” she says with a laugh.
Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016), her very first film, starring Vicky Kaushal and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, fell into her lap with mysterious ease, perhaps helped along the way by cosmic forces. Her impressive debut was followed by a number of Hindi and regional film performances but her true moment of glory would arrive three years later in her outing as Tara Khanna, the ambitious protagonist from the hit OTT series Made In Heaven. “I feel like I identify with Tara in terms of how she crosses over from one realm of society to the other, except for me it was more of a cultural shift rather than a financial one when I moved from Vizag to Bombay. I look up to Tara for her guts. She really has her shit together. I am far more fragile, more sentimental. We’re also different in the way we regard affluence—the things that excite me don’t have much to do with money. I find delight in simple pursuits like reading and backpacking,” she says.
To say that the actor has a busy year ahead would be an understatement. There’s season two of Made In Heaven, which she’s just finished shooting, Mani Ratnam’s two-part magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan, Sashi Kiran Tikka’s Major and Dev Patel’s directorial debut Monkey Man. She will also share screen space with Aditya Roy Kapur and Anil Kapoor in the remake of the critically acclaimed, award-winning British television series The Night Manager. What keeps her going even as youngsters around the world are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout and quitting the workforce in hordes? “I’m hungry for good work and I want to sample life in as many ways as possible. Which is why I think writers, actors, creative people in general, live many lives in one lifetime. I want to taste it all. I want to burn, to combust if I must,” she sighs yearningly. Just at that moment, in the interest of driving home her point, the clock strikes noon and the sun shifts overhead. A stray ray of light hits her hair and for a moment, Dhulipala looks like she’s on fire. I smile quietly. She’s a woman on a mission and the universe knows it.