Holding her own on stage, in the studio and on the ramp, singer-actress-fashion designer Monica Dogra is now pushing the envelope with Relapse, a short film she describes as a "dream project" that she just had to do. The film, which is directed by Rosie Haiber and will premiere at the LA Film Festival next month, focuses on the rocky same-sex union between Dogra's character and her partner — played by supermodel Casey Legler — who decides to undergo a sex-change operation.
The project came her way through a chance meeting with award winning filmmaker Jeff Roy, who shot a film called From Mohammed to Maya, says the Shaa'ir and Func singer who was born to Kashmiri immigrants in Baltimore, USA.
"He was at an event that I was participating in a year ago through Engendered which does a lot of work in the LGBT community. We just got chatting and kept in touch. So then he went back to LA. He's producing Relapse so when they were in the casting process they had found Casey but they were looking for someone who could match her presence. So he thought of me and I auditioned for the film on Skype and a week later I flew out to LA to shoot the film."
The 31-year-old says her films, Dhobi Ghat (2010), with which she made her Bollywood debut, and David (2013), have helped sharpen her chops. "The more you do, the more you learn and the better you become... now I'm a seasoned actor. I've done a lot of work so I'm really comfortable on sets, I understand how filmmaking works and what is required of me. I think acting in Dhobi Ghat and David helped, and the experience was amazing."
Shooting Relapse was tough. "It was gruelling because I flew in, shot for two days, then I shot for five days and then I flew out… the time difference is exactly 12 hours so that was really tough but generally I think Relapse was one of those dream projects and I had to do it, there was no way I could not do it."
She denies that her performance is based on any particular person. "There are a lot of things that I think actors do when portraying somebody who isn't a fictional character... a lot of research can go into playing such a character, but this character is purely fictional and, of course, I focused on creating her and I identified traits I believed she would have, traits which are not me... traits which are fictional — but no, I didn't draw on anything from real people."
Co-star Legler, who has gone down in history as the first woman in the fashion business who was signed as a male model, made a lasting impact on the actress. Describing her as a powerhouse, Dogra says Casey is an artist who changed her life. "I would say from start to finish every cell in her body is an artist, in the truest sense of the word and she taught me so much. Of all the people I've worked with, she's the one whom I admire the most in terms of her journey, her work ethics... her dedication to what she creates and the power she holds for storytelling... she's really an incredible woman. It was amazing working with her."
Singer-songwriter, actress, TV show host, fashion designer... how does she balance these varied roles? "I have a lot of energy. If
you've ever seen me perform or if you've ever met me or hung out with me, I have a lot of energy and more than that, I feel that I'm really pragmatic. I like a lot of different things and I'm always churning out writing or music. I'm always doing something new… I got a fashion line that I'm releasing and this is just me: I like being stimulated and I like pursuing many different things; and if you zoom out, you can see how they are all interrelated but I know that on the zoom-in that's a little