From ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ to ‘Trial By Fire’, Rajshri Deshpande speaks about changing the narrative in cinema at a GITAM ‘Changemakers’ session
Hyderabad, March 2023: A recent ‘Changemakers’ session at GITAM (Deemed to be University) witnessed the versatility of critically acclaimed Indian actor Rajshri Deshpande along with unravelling of the unimaginable horror of the Uphaar Tragedy.
The session also witnessed the presence of Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her two children in the fire tragedy and has been fighting for justice for the last 26 years. She and her spouse R Krishnamoorthy wrote a memoir on the tragedy which got adapted into a Netflix series Trial By Fire, in which Deshpande essays the role of Krishnamoorthy.
Speaking at GITAM about the series, Deshpande said, “Every scene was very difficult for me. I was physically and mentally going through it. I was deeply affected by the tragedy. But it was the courage of these two people and the team that gave hope to me.”
Krishnamoorthy said, “I didn’t want the memoir to be adapted into a film.” After losing her children while watching movies, she developed an aversion towards them. However, her lawyer convinced her that the story needs to be told to people. They need to know how she has been fighting all these years to seek justice. However, her condition was that the series should not show her crying in the public. “I am a strong woman and I never cry in public.”
During the session, Deshpande revealed that she never spoke to Krishnamoorthy during the making of the web series. The scenes were very powerful and there were moments when she cried before and after the scene.
Born in Aurangabad, Mumbai, Deshpande moved to Pune to study law. At the age of 18, Deshpande started earning through an advertising agency to meet her needs. After her law, she moved into acting which was her true call. Speaking about it, Deshpande says, “I was okay with living a minimal life than living a life without joy.”
She joined Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre and gradually developed herself as an actor in Hindi Cinema. Angry Indian Goddesses, a film by Pan Nalini was her biggest break, where she played the role of Laxami. She also played the titular role of Durga in Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga, which won the Hivos Togar Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival.
Speaking about her choice in films and taking up unconventional roles rather than formula films, she said, “Doing serials and commercials will give you immediate publicity. But if you do unconventional films, fulfils what you want to do and tells people that these are the stories you want to tell people.”
Talking about her role as a queer cop in the series Fame Game, Deshpande said that she has worked very closely with the LGBTQIA+ community. It made her very happy when the role received positive feedback and people related to her role. “I like portraying different stories that are people’s stories. I want people to say ‘that’s my story’ when they watch my storytelling,” Deshpande said.
Deshpande is also a social worker working closely with NGOs for the betterment of villages. She created the Nabhangan Foundation in 2018 to focus on the sustainable development of the villages. During the informative session, she said, “Literature has changed me, my social work changed me, every character changed me. I am okay with not being trending but I don’t want to portray anything derogatory to women.”
The Changemakers series by GITAM aims to bring dynamic insights from national and global leaders, and recently also hosted YouTuber Akash Banerjee.