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August 11, 1999

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Star, artist

Shoma A Chatterji

Indrani Haldar. Click for bigger pic!
She is the lady who shared a national award last year with Rituparna Sengupta. She was being honoured for her role as Jhinuk, the schoolteacher who takes up the cause of a molested woman she hardly knows in Rituparno Ghosh's Dahan.

Basking in the bliss of her recent marriage -- her second -- to a tea planter, Indrani is also revelling in being one of the three actresses Bengali cinema currently prides itself for. The other two are Debasree Roy and Rituparna Sengupta.

The national award came as a fitting tribute following a string of excellent performances in mainstream and parallel cinema and on television. Indrani is already a favourite with parallel film-makers in Calcutta.

"I am grateful to Buddhadev Dasgupta for giving me a break in art house cinema in Charachar," she says.

It was a brief but significant role and fetched her the Bengal Film Journalists Association Best Actress Award in 1995. She had won the same award in 1993 for her role in Kaancher Prithibi. Last year, she bagged the Patton Kalakar Award for her double role as mother and daughter in the television serial Kuasha Jakhan. "Other privately instituted awards -- like the Uttam Kumar Award and the Pramathesh Barua Award -- have been so many that I have to sit down and make a list," she says, sounding more girlishly thrilled than proud.

But the joy of receiving the national award is dulled by the sorrow of having her father die just before Dahan was released.

" 'Put in your best, put in your best,' he would urge me from his sickbed till the last day of the shoot. He was not around to share the greatest joy of my life," she says, a little emotionally.

One wall of her living room in the very modestly decorated flat is crowded with photographs of her father, reflecting his deep influence on the family even after his death.

There are also big blow-ups of a glamorous Indrani, clicked by her younger brother Indraneel, who has taken up still photography -- testimony to the youngster's talent and a sister's pride. We turn back to her.

Has she met Ananya Chatterjee, the real Jhinuk of Dahan -- the journalist who actually saved a young housewife from being molested and kidnapped outside the Calcutta metro a few years ago?

"Of course I know Ananya-di since I was a child. When I learnt I would play her my joy knew no limits," she says.

What does she have to say about the changes Rituparno made in the script from the original novel penned by Suchitra Bhattacharjee on this real-life incident? I think the script makes a deeper impact than the novel. But this is purely my personal opinion because Suchitra-di is a wonderful writer in her own right. My only quarrel with the film is -- if Romita (Rituparna, the young woman who was the victim of the molestation) had to go away to her sister in Canada, why did she back out of identifying her culprits in court?

Click for bigger pic!
Indrani is rather proud that she used no make-up for her Dahan role.

"For the scenes that show me as sick, I used my own little trick -- I covered my eyes with glycerine-soaked pads. The eyes turned red and my face was swollen. Ritu-da loved the effect. That is all the make-up I did for Dahan." And look at what it got her!

She also did a challenging title role in Satarupa Sanyal's first directorial effort, Anu. There she plays a young girl who is gang-raped when her fiancÚ is in jail. She marries the jailbird after his release, but he discovers the scars on her body on the nuptial night.

The marriage goes unconsummated; he wallows in self-pity while she works on to make both ends meet. Finally she walks out of the marriage and decides to strike it out on her own.

Indrani's performance was exemplary, but shoddy direction and editing saw to it that though the film found a place in the Panorama section at the Hyderabad Filmotsav, it was rejected for the national awards.

Indrani had one brief marriage behind her that she doesn't wish to talk about. She later fell for her co-star in Dahan, the handsome Sanjeeb Dasgupta. They were even engaged to be married. Then, early this summer, one found her married to a tea planter.

Indrani cherishes her role in Dahan "because it is very close to me, Indrani, in real life. I didn't have to act at all. And after reading the script, Ritu-da [director Rituparno Ghosh] asked me to behave just the way I do naturally. We were so involved with the film that when the shoot was over, all of us were a bit sad," she says.

Indrani went on to work in Gautam Ghose's film Faqir, in Hindi. This was originally slated for television but has been shot on 35 mm. In Faqir, I play Nimmi, a young married girl. Her husband is indifferent to the physical side of their relationship. So Nimmi goes ahead and leads a promiscuous life, yet loves her husband deeply and suffers from pangs of guilt. Yet she cannot make herself stop.

"This is a very negative role with positive shades to it. Something I have never done before," she admits. Incidentally this film won for hero Pawan Malhotra, the special jury award in the non-feature section of the national film awards.

Indrani also has this special corner for her role in an episode of Rituparno Ghosh's serial Bahanno Episode. She played a successful film actress still in love with the boy next door who helped her out in amateur plays. There is one other role she is looking forward to -- a very brief role in Aparna Sen's Paromitar Ek Din where she plays herself -- actress Indrani Haldar.

"A film directed by Rina-di was too good to miss so I didn't bother about the length.... Each director enables you to discover some hidden facets of yourself. So, if the director is really good, the length, or even the role itself, does not matter to me," she says.

Any regrets?

Yes. One.

"My father didn't live to see me win the national award. Yet he was the one who encouraged me to take on the role of Jhinuk in Dahan..."

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