April 30, 2002


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'I can't sell myself'

Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Ma His debut in Govind Nihalani's Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Ma as Brati won him acclaim.

Now he is back with Nihalani's latest film, Deham, which releases May 3.

Joy Sengupta who has worked in theatre, telefilms and television serials, wants more.

Born in Kolkata and raised in Delhi and Nepal, Sengupta arrived in Mumbai in 1997, armed with a Diploma in Drama from the Living Theatre Academy, New Delhi. He promptly joined film societies like National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Alliance Frace and Maxmuller Bhuvan.

His first telefilm was Ragini in 1994. He also hosted a quiz show called Super Quiz on Zee Entertatinment Network and worked in a serial, Yeh Kahan Aah Gaye Hum, directed by Anupam Kher.

The 30-year-old actor, who loves travelling and reading, speaks to Ronjita Kulkarni about his first love -- the films.

Who are your role models?

I have many role models, not just in terms of acting but in every sphere of life.

Om Puri came from a humble background but he won success at the international level. Even then, he is so humble.

Ebraham Alkazi is my teacher and the founder of the Living Theatre Academy, from where I got my diploma in drama. He is a genius. He has a tremendous grasp over drama, art and literature.

Safdar Hashmi is a cultural and socialist activist, theatre personality, journalist, teacher, film director and much more. He wrote for the Economic Times and made quite a few documentaries. He was also the leader of a street theatre group called Jannatya Manch, which I was a part of.

Tell us about the transition from theatre and television to films.

Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Ma Theatre is my first love. Unfortunately, it doesn't pay enough. Thatís why I opted for television because it gives a lot of scope and visibility to actors.

The difference between acting in a theatre and in TV and films is that theatre involves a live audience and the others donít. Besides, TV and films are more sophisticated. We have to act in tandem with the camera. The camera enhances your look and your acting. That doesnít happen in the case of theatre.

But these are the technical aspects. As an actor, there is no difference. It wasnít difficult for me to adjust to the big screen, as I been trained for this in my acting course.

How do you prepare for your roles?

There are three levels to it. First is the factual background, if the story is based on facts. Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa was based in Bengal in 1971. I had to take into consideration the events occurring at the time in that place. Bengal was suffering from the Naxalite movement, where the youth fought for the rights of the peasants. That was an unusual cause; people aren't bothered about peasants. I had to understand the reason for that.

Next, I had to understand the character and define him. I had to know what influenced him. Once the facts were in place, imagination would come in to fill in the blanks.

Lastly, is the director. He is the captain of the ship. He visualises the entire film and your role in it. He tells you exactly what to do.

Your films, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa and Deham are adaptations of a book and a play respectively. Have you had sessions with the authors?

Yes, Iíve met Mahasveta Devi (who wrote Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa) and Manjula Padmanabhan (who wrote Harvest, the play on which Deham is based).

Joy Sengupta Mahasvetaji is a revered figure in literature and activism. I worship her. I met her for the first time after the first screening of Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa. We took to each other very well. She told me that she couldn't imagine anyone else doing Brati Chatterjee (my role in the film). In fact, she kept calling me Brati!

Manjulaji is a contemporary person. She met me during the shooting of the film. But she never played an active part. She only watched the shooting a couple of times. Itís ironic; I was supposed to act in her play Harvest in Delhi. Due to date problems, I couldnít do it. After that, I was to do a reading of the play in the Indian International Centre in Delhi. I couldnít make it there either. I missed doing the play and the reading but I did the film.

How did you get the role in Deham?

I did a play called If Wishes Were Horses, directed by Anamika Oberoi. Incidentally, Kitu (Gidwani) acts opposite me in the play. Govindji saw this play and heard about me from some people. I was in Chandigargh at the time when I received a call from him. I flew down immediately, auditioned for the role and got selected.

Tell us about your role.

My character is very young; from a middle class family. I play an anguished youth, frustrated and jobless. I am pressurised to find a job to feed my family.

What is Deham about?

It is a sharp, dark satire. I need a job very badly to support my family. I finally get a job, which requires me to stay very healthy, in good living conditions. The job is to be at the beck and call of a Western company, who may need any part or even my entire body. Since Iím very poor, I accept. But itís not me whom they really want.

My brother (Aly Khan), as opposed to me, has a complete different persona. He doesnít want to work and earns his money by being a high-class gigolo. He lives a life on his own terms. My wife (Kitu Gidwani) is more affectionate towards my brother than me, as she think Iím a wimp.

My company wants my wifeís womb and my brotherís body.

Deham The film points out to two things: the advanced and rich West, who have everything they could possibly want. Except good health. They have worked their bodies too hard. On the other side, is a poverty-stricken and helpless country, where people have nothing left besides their bodies. Itís about how the powerful West exerts its power on the third world countries.

How faithfully has the play been translated in the film in your opinion?

Quite faithfully. But certain situations did change.

In the film, when my brotherís body is taken away, I feel very guilty. I feel that I donít deserve to live, as Iím a coward and have fallen from the eyes of my loved ones. I decide to run away. So I write a letter that till I rise in my own eyes, I will not return. In the original, thereís no mention of my character after the brotherís body is taken away. He simply fades into oblivion, without any explanation.

In the play, my wife and my brother have an illicit affair. But in the film, there is no affair. She is only openly concerned and affectionate towards him. And they flirt quite a bit.

Also, Alyís character in the play is that of a streetwalker, living in pitiable conditions. In the film, he plays a high society gigolo.

Very few books are being translated into screen in Hindi filmsÖ

Filmmakers want to play safe. They prefer to repeat formulae. In Hollywood, 50 per cent of the films are adapted from books and real life incidents, like The Lord Of The Ring Ė The Fellowship Of The Ring, Harry Potter And The Sorcererís Stone and Ali.

From the mid 1950s to the 1970s, 60 per cent of the Bengali films were based on books. Satyajit Rai made most of his films from literary works. Even Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee made films inspired from books. Thatís why they made great films.

Which books do you think make for good screen adaptation?

Sunil Gangopadhyayís Purv Paschim (East West). The book shows the transition of a man from a student to a chemistry teacher to a rebel. Then thereís Ipsinís play Enemy Of The State, Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy and all of R K Narayananís stories.

What kinds of roles do you like doing?

I love doing complex roles. Human beings are very complex. Even if we plan our lives, we end up messing it up. Thatís because people and situations are unpredictable. People are full of dilemmas and contradictions. So a character must have different shades to him. He cannot be happy throughout or sad throughout.

What kind of feedback did you get for your performance in your films?

Jayant Kriplani and Rajat Kapoor loved my performances. They liked the shades of my character. It is very difficult to play a weak character. No one loves to flaunt his weaknesses.

How well do you bond with Kitu?

Kitu and I have known each other for a long time. Weíre good friends. Iíve worked with her for many years. I think we complement each other.

How important is it to have a good chemistry with your co-stars?

In theatre, chemistry is very important. We are required to rehearse a lot and if we do not share good vibes, it is very difficult to create chemistry.

In cinema, you can fake the chemistry, as thatís when professionalism come in. Imagination comes in. There are times when you donít even know your co-stars. You just have to have faith in your character.

There have been times when I didnít get along with my co-star, maybe because I just couldnít respect him or her. Then I retire to my make-up room at every break and read a book.

With Jaya Bachchan as your co-star in Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, what did you learn from her?

Jayaji is a very effortless actress. I have to put in a lot of effort when I act. Iím constantly walking around, saying my lines, thinking and very tense. But she is very relaxed. Acting is a cakewalk for her.

Were you nervous while acting with her?

No. When I act, I only think of the character, not the person. She is my mother, not a superstar. One should not allow awe to step in. I just had to play a happy son, full of pranks, while she was the concerned mother.

She is very affectionate and experience. She knows the ups and downs of the industry. I was a newcomer, an eager student. Iíve admired her for ages now. Sheís very dignified. We had an easy interaction.

Which is your best piece of acting?

In 1993, I did a play called Three Sisters, directed by Ebraham Alkazi. A Russian writer called Anton Chekor wrote it. It was set in 1905, when Russia was moving towards modernity and people were confused. I played a progressive Russian nobleman. I loved a girl who never returned my love. I die fighting for her.

The following year, I did Royal Hunt Of A Son, which is also my favourite. Itís about the Spanish conquest of Chile. I played a priest, who justifies the massacre of Chile. Itís so contradictory that a man of God would allow killing. It was a difficult role, as I had to play a man of the 15th Century, I belonged to a religion which Iím not too familiar with, and then play just a contradictory role.

Iím very proud of Deham also. A wimpy, intense person is not easy to portray. The film has such strong emotions. The company constantly watches my family and me through a tiny camera in our house. So weíre acting all the time. I have told them that Iím not married, so my wife and I live like brother and sister. We live a dual life.

With Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa and Deham, the market is very niche. You may not get widespread appreciation?

That is not in my hands. I would like to work in mainstream films but Iím a very shy person. I cannot approach people and proclaim my talent. I can't sell myself to people. If Iím good, I will get more work. As of now, Iím happy with my share.

What films are you doing now?

Iíve done a Bengali film Paataer Ghar (House Of Leaves), which will release on May 24. Itís a science fiction film, where I play a scientist. Itís a fun film, directed by Abhijeet Chatterjee.

Iím also doing, directed by Pradeep Chandra. It stars Manisha Koirala, Kabir Bedi and Kitu Gidwani. Then there is Aparna Senís film and an NFDC (National Films Development Corporation) production.

Do tell us what you think of this interview