Jaya Seal plays Sudeshna, a psychiatrist, the focal point of Premangshu Roy’s first film Katakuti. She has given a restrained performance though it was a character that could easily have gone overboard. Part of the credit goes to the director but the actress who portrayed the character also needs to be commended. Few are aware however, that Jaya has once played the role of a mentally retarded person in Raj Mukherjee’s Prithibi Amake Chaye. “But in Katakuti, I play a doctor in a mental home. Interesting,” says the unassuming Jaya. “I thoroughly enjoyed both the roles,” she adds.
Other films that brought her notice are Shesh Thikana directed by Prabhat Roy and Hatath Neerar Jonne directed by Subrata Sen in which she acted opposite percussionist Bikram Ghosh and the two ultimately got married. She has acted in 116 films in seven Indian languages that includes Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Bangla. She cherishes the role she played in K.N.T. Shastry’s Tiladanam that was screened at the Vancouver, Venice, Tusan and other international film festivals.
How does she read the character of Sudeshna in Katakuti? “Sudeshna is a very strong woman who is committed to her work and her family and has accepted several unpleasant compromises in her life. She is basically a mind and non-reactive person but when it comes to the grind, as it does towards the end of the film, she reacts very strongly. Sudeshna practically carried the film on her shoulders. I really liked the way the script has fleshed out the character. My aim always is to see how natural I can be so that it does not seem as if I am putting on an act for the benefit of my audience,” she says.
She is all praise for her young director Premangshu who puts his experience in theatre into good use. “He handled his acting team very strongly and we worked out a very good working chemistry. But what I notice is that he can extract the best out of me and also out of other actors.” The other advantage she drew from working in this film is that “I had the rare opportunity of working with some of the best veteran actors of Bengali theatre and cinema such as Manoj Mitra, Dwijen Banerjee and Kharaj Mukherjee.
She says she did not put in much of homework for her role of a psychiatric doctor in the mental home but “I did consult a friend who is a psychiatrist who helped me understand the finer nuances of the character which is an unusually courageous one in Bengali cinema.” About her work in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s under-production short films, Jaya says, “I have acted in the picturisation of two short poems by Tagore. One of them is Bansiwalla and the other one is Hatath Dekha. The two are beautiful love stories sketching out two sweet love stories that do not tread the beaten path.” She is playing Prakriti in Usha Ganguly’s production of Tagore’s Chandalika which “marks my return to theater after 14 long years. I also did an item number in the Hindi film Excuse Me but I found I was not comfortable doing it. I decided not to do it again.”
“I wanted to be a dancer, not an actress. I studied Bharata Natyam for five years at Kalakshetra. After graduation, I shifted base from Guwahati to Delhi to join the National School of Drama and passed out in 1997. Though my audience thinks that I made my debut in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Uttara, I did one Hindi film before that, Amrita, directed by Pankaj Parashar. But Uttara was a milestone because it released before Uttara and I was nominated for the National Award,” says Jaya.
The criteria she sets for herself before saying ‘yes’ to an acting assignment in any film are (a) a good script, (b) a good director, (c) the role, and last but not the least (d) the money. “I have to be aware of my background. I am the daughter-in-law of a famous family. I am married to an internationally renowned percussionist. I have a son who is six-plus. So, I take these always into consideration while taking on an assignment.”