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EXCLUSIVE! Dilnaz Irani on Mathagam: My Tamil debut couldn't have come at a better time

The Bollywood actress and theatre artiste plays Atharvaa's mentor in the crime drama series, which is now streaming on Disney + Hotstar

EXCLUSIVE! Dilnaz Irani on Mathagam: My Tamil debut couldn't have come at a better time
Dilnaz Irani in a still from Mathagam

Last Updated: 08.25 PM, Aug 19, 2023


Dilnaz Irani believes that her Tamil debut couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. The Jodhaa Akbar actress and theatre artiste has taken the plunge into the Tamil OTT space with director Prasath Murugesan's thriller drama series Mathagam. The series, spearheaded by Atharvaa and Manikandan, has Dilnaz Irani playing Sayanthika Biswas, Commissioner of Police, Greater Chennai, who is on a mission to bust a dreaded gang. The actress opens up to OTTplay about her big debut.

You have finally taken the plunge into Tamil. How does that feel?
Well, I feel like I have put another tick mark to the list of things I have wanted to do. I think this is the perfect time for my debut because the content from the south is doing so well. There are a lot of inter-regional and pan-Indian dramas being churned out today. So, I am quite happy and excited.

What made you get on board?
To be honest, mine was a case of last-minute casting. I believe they had already roped in an actor for this role but the person had to drop out for a reason. So, when I joined the team, they had already started shooting.

Sometimes the simplest things can attract you to a project. Here, it's the way Prasath Murugesan narrated the script and explained my role to me. The director had seen my work in Aarya 2 and got in touch with me. At first, I was quite wary because I didn't know much about the history (Mathagam is based on a real-life story) of the incident.

How did you prepare for the role in Mathagam ?
The team was clear right from the beginning that they didn't want someone from Chennai because my character is a Bengali woman living in Chennai for a long time.

Dilnaz Irani plays a no-nonsense cop in Mathagam
Dilnaz Irani plays a no-nonsense cop in Mathagam

I told the director that the languages I am familiar with are Hindi, English and Gujarati. I even suggested that it would be better to cast someone who has some connection with Tamil. I told him that I can't just mumble my lines. I need to understand what I am saying and with the right intent.

But the director was extremely confident. He said, 'That's not your headache, that's my headache. You don't worry about the language because it's my job to get it out of you'. I also read many relevant books to get into the skin of the character.

A Bengali cop living in Chennai played by a Parsi actor does sound interesting...
Isn't it? But neither do I know Bengali nor Tamil. Luckily, my husband is from Calcutta. The moment I got on board, I spoke to his folks. Though I don't really have to spout Bengali lines in the series, I did some research so that I atleast get to slip in certain words that would bring out the authenticity of the character.

So did you pick up any Tamil?
Every time I was on the set, there was someone to coach me. The show's co-writer would write the Tamil dialogues in English and explain to me. I would then rush to negotiate with the director asking if I could add a few more English lines instead. I mugged up my lines like a parrot. It was a long process, but fun and challenging. Every time I went back home from Chennai, my husband would talk about the changed slang.

How was the experience working in Mathagam ?
The plot is inspired from a true story and I spent one whole day understanding the incident and the characters in it. Most of my scenes were with Atharvaa and Gautham Menon. Atharvaa was quite chilled out on the sets. I had some great conversations with Gautham Menon as well and it was interesting listening to his take on filmmaking.

As for the shooting, we canned the portions in some 'real' locations where the incident took place. The weather was bad in Chennai and it would rain quite often, leading to cancellation of dates. It all became an added challenge. The working style was different and eventually, it turned out to be an interesting experience.

The team took care of me extremely well. The show's producer Vikram is a foodie, and so am I. He would keep sending something or the other to my vanity van.

Sometimes when you are working for a long time, you get stuck in a rut. Though I would return to my home turf of theatre often to break the monotony, Mathagam turned out to be a refreshing piece of work.

You had stated earlier that you have far more interesting work in theatre compared to cinema. Do you think that the OTT boom has changed that?
OTT has definitely opened up a whole new world and it's not just for the actors. There are many job opportunities in the space. But, I am yet to reach that space where I get to play the primary character. I take up a role for different reasons. Sometimes, it's the role itself and at other times the role might be small, but the script is challenging. The offer might also come from a director I want to work with. But it's never about fame and money. Else, I would be doing a lot more work.

If given a choice between theatre and the big screen, what would be your pick?
I would be lying if I say only theatre because I genuinely love being in front of the camera as well. It's just that I am more comfortable on stage because I am a bit of a superstar there and I get a lot more interesting roles. But, medium doesn't really make a difference.

What are your upcoming shows?
I have two interesting plays coming up shortly- Afterlives and Jump. I have a Bollywood project in the pipeline with Shilpa Shetty. I hope after Mathagam, things open up in the south, too.

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