Sarah-Jane Dias talks playing the lesbian lead in “Angry Indian Goddesses”

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Angry Indian Goddesses has been hitting the film festival circuit hard since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September. While it has most people talking because of its depiction of female friendship and discussions of sexual assault, it’s just as important to note that the film’s protagonist is a lesbian portrayed in a loving relationship with her fiancée.

We had a chance to speak with the film’s leading lady, Sarah-Jane Dias. Sarah-Jane is a former Miss India World winner and model who today has turned her attentions to acting and music. We spoke about the film’s unconventional setup, its feminist themes, what it was like playing a queer character and more.

2015 Toronto International Film Festival - Portraits Photo by Maarten de Boer/Getty Images Portrait

Warning: Spoilers ahead

AfterEllen.com: What attracted you to playing the character of Frieda?

Sarah-Jane Dias: It was the fact that Pan Nalin was directing the film, and I was in a space with my career as an actor where I wanted to do international independent cinema. It kind of just sort of came to me and I jumped at the opportunity.

We found out about who we were going to play way after we said “yes” to the film. We didn’t know anything about the script. All we knew was what it was called and we knew that we were going to be shooting for 40 days in Goa, which, how can you say no to that? I found out that I was going to play a girl named Frieda in the ninth day of our workshop.

 

AE: Once you had a feel for Frieda, what did you think of her as a character?

SJD: It was interesting because we were given a rough outline of our characters and then we were encouraged to find our own way of how they would react to different situations. Sort of find their characteristics in our opinion of how they would behave. It was an interesting process because what we got was actually just like a scaffolding of who the people were and we sort of added to that as we went along.

I found that she was who I would be if I left my metropolitan life and moved to a quieter beach town. We had a lot in common and I think that made it sort of easy for me to play. But when you live in a city, you tend to have a very guarded approach to life and a very sort of rehearsed reaction to things, as opposed to people who live in beach towns, or just in quieter towns, where the reactions are more honest and not rehearsed and not in a pretense to maintain a certain outward look to people. So she was a very honest character and that was very liberating for me to play. And, of course, she’s gay and I’m not. I have a lot of male gay friends, but I don’t have any girls who are gay. I had to do a lot of reading and obviously Pan and I worked out a lot, because she also has some friction coming to terms and telling her father about this aspect of her life and all of that. These are all interesting things that needed to be layered, so to speak, on her character. But to be very honest with you, I did not find her challenging to play. She seemed like an easy, honest human being and, to a very large extent, I can be that way.

 

AE: You just described a lead up to the film that was very unconventional, but the shooting was also pretty unusual. Tell me about the improvisation experience–what was that like?

SJD: We were put through intensive workshops, which would start first thing in the morning, and we would do breathing and meditation and yoga, and then post-lunch we’d do theater workshop where we–we realize this now, of course–what they were essentially doing was sort of emptying us of all of our baggage and all our apprehensions and all our conditioning and filling us in very subtly with freedom and with a few droplets of our characters. As a result, what would happen is that when we did start shooting, no matter what scene they threw us into, we would react within the bounds of our characters. Or break the bounds of our characters if need be. And that was really interesting because we had a guideline for our dialogue but at no point were we forced to stick to it, unless it was in some of the climax scenes where of course you need the film to go in a particular direction for it to mean a certain thing and for the director’s vision to come true. But other than that, we were pretty much given the freedom to react in any manner that we wished, physically or vocally.

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AE: Some of those scenes were more intense than others. One of the strongest scenes in the film is definitely when you all riff-off about a sexist society. There were a lot of intense emotions present there. What was that scene like for you?

SJD: That was very infuriating. We were talking about all actual incidents. Everything that we spoke about was based on real life. These are things that we feel strongly about as women in the country and these are things that we talk about to our friends and our family and our sisters and our mothers. These are the fears that we carry. It’s the disgust that we feel as well. So it was extremely infuriating because we genuinely felt those things that we said. In a way, it was a bit of a relief when we watch it now and we realize like, “Oh my god. Thank god I said that out loud.” Because there are some people who’ve watched and have been like, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. Thank you for saying it out loud.”

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