Former Miss India Earth Sobhita Dhulipala Makes Her Hollywood Debut in ‘Monkey Man’

“Monkey Man,” Dev Patel’s directorial debut, brought Indian actress Sobhita Dhulipala to Texas for SXSW. The festival marked her first time visiting America, and Dhulipala had rave reviews for her first 24 hours Stateside (minus the slightly chilly weather).

“Last night I went out to a Tex-Mex place, and this morning I got tacos for breakfast. I’m like, OK — to hell with jet lag,” says the actress, sitting outside overlooking the Colorado River. “It’s interesting because so much of America is what we consume in books or movies and podcasts and YouTube,” she adds. “I have a cousin who lives close by in Houston, and I’m telling her, like: everyone is so nice.”

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The actress was planning to meet up with other members of the cast and crew later that evening, ahead of the film’s premiere the following day. Dhulipala hadn’t yet seen a cut of the film, which was shot during lockdown. “So I’ve grown up since then,” she says.

Dhulipala was honored to be taken onboard by a first-time filmmaker; Patel also stars in the film, about an underground fight club. The film, which was produced by Jordan Peele, will be released in theaters in early April. “It’s really a privilege because I think every filmmaker, the first time they get a chance to tell a story, they’d be really picky, right? They’d want to give it their best shot. So to be part of that, it meant a lot to me.”

She describes Patel’s directorial approach as “intuitive,” and praises the film’s visual language. “There’s Indian elements in it; there’s style, but there’s also this sort of raging emotionality to it.”

Her character in the action-thriller possesses a “quiet gravitas.” “She has a very unique relationship with a woman who’s kind of her boss and authority figure, but also maternal to her. It’s almost an abusive relationship,” says Dhulipala. “Everyone in the film goes through s–t, and some of them become abusers, and some want to break out of that,” she adds. “In the middle of all of this, you see my character navigating coming of age. She’s wounded, but she’s not bitter. And there is a certain light underneath that.”

Dhulipala, who grew up as a classically trained dancer, started out in the industry as a model. She won Miss India while an undergraduate, and gave herself a timeline of three years to pursue a performing career before returning for her master’s degree. “I didn’t grow up thinking I’d do that; it was just too wild,” she says of being drawn to acting. “At the tail end of those three years, after hundreds of auditions, I got a film. And that film is the one that went to Cannes.”

“Raman Raghav 2.0,” her debut film, premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes in 2016. “It was a huge influence on me,” she says of the experience. Her second film festival appearance was with “Moothon” at the Toronto Film Festival in 2019. Her Indian romance series “Made in Heaven” premiered that same year on Amazon; Dhulipala led the series in what turned out to be her breakout role.

Dhulipala is excited to continue exploring opportunities within Hollywood and beyond.

“Within India, where I primarily work, there used to be more lines between regional film industries. There’s the Hindi film industry, what everyone knows as Bollywood, and then there’s regional film industries. But now everyone works everywhere,” she says. “I don’t feel like I would only be getting a token Indian role, but there is a scope for me to belong to a larger canvas.

“It’s amazing for actors, because you want to tell a story. You want to bring moments of truth to the screen. And it’s nice to be given those opportunities.”

Sobhita Dhulipala
Sobhita Dhulipala

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