Koushik Sen on Bengali theatre, ‘SwapnaSandhani’ (Interview) – Bengali New Year Special

Bengali Actor Koushik SenApril 13, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Ace Bengali actor and theater personality Koushik Sen shares his thoughts and views on Bengali theatre, his dreams and journey with ‘SwapnaSandhani’. Read the exclusive interview at Calcutta Tube.

CalcuttaTube: Is acting talent or practice?

Koushik Sen: It is mainly talent. If you do not have talent, you can reach up to a certain extent by practice. After that you got to have talent. A talented actor always has a special vision.

CalcuttaTube: In the play ‘Birpurush’ you did not act and there was a bunch of youngsters. Why so?

Koushik Sen: Bringing newcomers in theatre is something what I have always believed in.

In ‘SwapnaSandhani’ we have worked with many talented actors and geniuses. I have worked under Soumitra Chattopadhyay’s direction in ’Tiktiki’ where there were only two characters played by him and me. Actors like Laboni Sarkar, Rupa Ganguly have worked under my direction.

My group stages many performances; we have done about 12 full length plays and 14 short ones. I have always emphasized on training youngsters. There are, like I just said, two groups: one that is very serious, eager to learn and practice and the other that I’ve come across has a lot of talent. I try to merge these two.

In my other play ‘Bhoy’, I have cast new faces in two central characters.

We have seasoned actor like Kanchan Mullick in ‘Birpurush’. There are many newcomers as well who have been given important roles in the play.

Previously, I had cast new faces in ‘Prothom Partho’. I am proud to say that there are many good actors in ‘SwapnaSandhani’ who are doing very well as professional actors in other mediums.

[ReviewAZON asin=”B002SRQLLU” display=”inlinepost”]CalcuttaTube: Any risk factors in casting new faces?

Koushik Sen: Theatre itself is a risky thing to do. It is live performance where a group of people are acting live and a group of people watching it. So anything can happen. This is a very important aspect of theatre.

CalcuttaTube: Does a ‘SwapnaSandhani’ production draw more audience if it has the names Chitra Sen or Koushik Sen in it?

Koushik Sen: Yes, it does. Especially in case of call shows, people ask if I am performing in the play. But this trend is going down fast. These days people want a good production. Theatre, anyway, has a much lesser audience than the movies. The audience sometimes no doubt wants to see known faces. But that attraction does not last for more than ten minutes. A good play is all what the audience needs.

CalcuttaTube: Many newcomers are coming into acting. What about direction?

Koushik Sen: I could not start it yet. But I want to do it. With time, you will see Koushik Sen acting less in ‘SwapnaSandhani’, because I will be making more space for newcomers. That has been the reason for making ‘Bhoy’, ‘BirPurush’, ‘Dorjiparar Morjina’. Right now I do not have anyone in my group on whom I can immediately rely on with direction.

I am also concerned with something else. The members of ‘SwapnaSandhani’ are working under my direction for some time now. They are under my schooling, reflecting my values, my thoughts. But there exists much other schooling besides mine. From now on, I would like to stage two productions annually; one will be directed by me and the other by a guest director. It will be a good learning experience for the youngsters.

In 2011 I want to invite Bratya Basu. Then in 2012, I may invite Suman Mukhopadhyay or seniors like Bibhash Chakrabarty may be. After working with multiple directors, these actors at some point may want to venture into direction.

CalcuttaTube: Since you are a talented actor, what is the influence of your acting on others when you are directing them?

Koushik Sen: For the last two three years, I am getting the feedback that there is one set of actors who reflect my style of acting. I am concerned. That is the reason that I want other directors to direct some of my productions. I want them to learn my schooling, my thoughts, but it is not a healthy sign to have multiple Koushik Sen-s acting on stage.

These actors actually get to watch me very closely; no wonder they get influenced. I myself however cannot tell how much they imitate me. So it would be good if they work with other directors.

CalcuttaTube: Some directors enact for actors, others do not. What do you do when directing?

Koushik Sen: It is not a director’s job to act things out. A director’s job is to coordinate between different factors – music, actors, props, dress. He is an instigator. A director should do rehearsals in such a way that actors would come back again the next day.

Unfortunately this is not true at least in West Bengal because most of the actors we get have no preliminary training. They come to theatre out of passion. So the theatre groups have to take the responsibilities to train them in between productions. And there is always a haste to stage new plays; hence after a certain time a director has to enact for the actors. I have to do that too, though this is not the right procedure.

Here comes in the talent factor. You don’t have to work much with those who got talent. Take my wife Reshmi, for example. She has been an active member since we founded ‘SwapnaSandhani’ in 1992 and did many backstage jobs. We married in 1995. From 1992 to 2000, she just did all chores, ushered guests. Then in 2000 when she debuted in a Bratya Basu play ‘Mukhomukhi Boshibar’ everyone was stunned. It was my revelation as a director. I wondered when she prepared herself as an actor.

CalcuttaTube: She is a dancer….

Koushik Sen: Yes, she danced in ‘Prothom Partho’ but never acted.

CalcuttaTube: …But dance has a lot of acting involved….

Koushik Sen: Yes, but there is a difference. Not all dancers are good actors. May be she had an advantage in acting because she knew dance. But I never knew when she silently took all the preparation. Since then she has acted in many major productions.

I am also lucky to have actors like Kanchan Mullick, Rabindranath Jana, Dwitipriya. . Then there was an actor in our group – Subhasish Sengupta. He was very talented. He is not in my group any more.

These actors pick up very quickly. Some are not that good at getting things. But overall it feels good to work with everyone.

CalcuttaTube: Acting, directing, script writing – which one is more challenging?

Koushik Sen: I am not a script writer. I work with prepared texts, though I edit them as a director. I am not a playwright and it is not everyone’s job. Since, I understand theatre, I know the sets, lights, stage, etc but I personally do not work with those. I let experts deal that. I depend on them, though at times I would ask them to change things a little as per my needs, or the mood of a scene. Similarly for the text, I depend on the playwright.

I enjoy direction the most, even more than acting. It involves more challenges to prepare new actors, create an entire production.

CalcuttaTube: Since there are so many obstacles in doing theatre, what will be your suggestions to newcomers?

Koushik Sen: This is not any kind of advice; it is more of a sharing. It should be your own responsibility if you join theatre. I have never invited anyone here, only those who were interested have joined me. There will be responsibilities that will have to be taken, once you are into it. When you love something or someone, it brings some kind of responsibility. Same here. You cannot repent if you don’t got a return…

CalcuttaTube: Do you mean it in financial terms?

Koushik Sen: It may be financially, may be in terms in achievements. In theatre, you cannot achieve anything overnight. You may not get a role immediately, though I personally always try to cast everyone. You won’t get much financial rewards either. If all these bring you frustration, that is going to be entirely yours. I can only help you artistically.

I think theatre is a practice of collectivity. Now we do not see joint families, or the ‘paaRa’ culture. In schools kids are more into competition with their friends, families becoming nuclear. An individual is just an individual – alone and lost, without much access to a community. Theatre somewhere gives you some comfort. It helps you get rid of your loneliness. That is why people are still coming into theatre.  I believe in this collectivity and will practice it as long as I can.

CalcuttaTube: What about your son? He is a great actor, too.

Koushik Sen: He got the freedom. Since he has grown in an environment, he is doing theatre out of family influence. When everybody praises his performance, he likes it, gets inspired. When he grows up, develops his own views, it will be his own decision if he would like to do it or not. There are no impositions. But personally I think it will do him good if he keeps doing theatre.

CalcuttaTube: Why do we not see you in films regularly?

Koushik Sen: For financial reasons I depend on TV. Television has somewhere accepted my theatre. In films there is a different kind of schedule – longer hours, more outdoors. I also do not get many offers from films. In recent years, I have worked in Anjan Das’s ‘Banshiwala’. Before that it was Suman Ghosh’s ‘Dwando’.

I will soon be seen in Aparna Sen’s ‘Iti Mrinalini’. The film has visited some major film festivals abroad and I have come to know from Aparna Sen that viewers have acclaimed my acting. When I am working with renowned directors their opinion is very important for me. My first job is to satisfy them, even before the audience, critics. I followed this same rule while with working with Mrinal Sen in ‘Amar Bhuban’, or with Koushik Ganguly.

CalcuttaTube: Do you agree that the quality of acting in television if lower than acting in theatre, films in many cases.

Koushik Sen: Yes, it is.

CalcuttaTube: Why?

Koushik Sen: It is the trend. The story they make into serials require that kind of acting. Some of us still try to do it differently; senior actors like Sabyasachi Chakrabrty, Shankar Chakrabarty and several other seniors who are with the television from its very beginning.

When I started working in television in my early career, the trend was different. There was a phase when Anjan Dutta, Koushik Ganguly, Atanu Ghosh made great films for the television. For obvious reasons, the quality of work dropped when mega serials came into picture. It’s the structure, story, format of the mega serials – everything is so loud – the acting, make up, etc. Actors are quite helpless.

Calcutta Tube: So how do you choose your roles when working for the television?

Koushik Sen: Nothing in particular. As far as the mega serials are concerned, I just look at two things – whether I am getting the money timely or not, and the words ‘Okay, you are done, pack up.’ I know I am a competent actor. I will satisfy my director and the audience. I know the trick. But that is a trick, after all.

The effort I will put in ‘Iti Mrinalini’ or in theatre, is not what I put in a TV serial. And there is no scope where I need to put that kind of effort in television. In the past, I used to argue with my directors about things, but don’t do that anymore. It does not lead to anything. I would rather save time there for my theatre.

Calcutta Tube: What is your dream about the future of theatre?

Koushik Sen: To provide some monetary relief to the theatre workers as much as possible so that theatre becomes economically more viable. Everyone gets paid for a portion of the costs they incur.

Calcutta Tube: Is it possible that a theatre worker can totally sustain by doing theatre?

Koushik Sen: Not right now. But we will try to help them as much as we can. I also intend to do even better productions. I would like to do a musical and a Shakespearean play.

Calcutta Tube: We now see a lot theatre groups doing plays by Rabindranath. How is the general concern about Tagore?

Koushik Sen: Even before Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, when we saw the political upheavals in West Bengal a few years back, we unknowingly went back to Rabindranath. Different groups including us worked with plays like ‘Bidushak’, ‘Rakta Karabi’, ‘Dakghar’. To portray political views Tagore’s plays are as effective as any political dramas are.

CalcuttaTube: Since your wife Reshmi Sen is an actress and dancer, how do you experiment with dance in theatre?

Koushik Sen: Reshmi is a dancer of the Odissi gharana. For the last few productions the brilliant dancer-composer Sudarshan Chakrabarty, of the Sapphire dance group has trained our group. It helped immensely. My son too is his student. His movements, choreography helped us with our movements in our plays – how you can use body in a play.

Being dancers, Riddhi and Reshmi naturally picked up faster than the others. We started with the play ‘Hargaj’, then we did ‘Bidushak’, ‘Darjiparar Marjina’, ‘Bir purush’

It is an exploration of body language in theatre, as well as of mind.

CalcuttaTube: We are going through a time when we are experiencing so many social changes, changes in values. How much of it is explored in theatre?

Koushik Sen: There is a great deal of experimentations. In ‘Bhoy’ we have explored the social and political equations of relations. I think in Bengali theatre we are experimenting with so many different things that you won’t see anywhere else.

Bengali theatre is in a very good position recently. For the past few years, I have been attending different theatre festivals nationally, worked with many groups everywhere. I have also directed a play at the National School of Drama. So I have got to see works of others regional theatre. There are many good works being done. But Bengali theatre is right now in great shape in terms of subject, forms, etc. I am not confined to proscenium; I am talking in a wider sense in terms of street drama, dance theatre, space.

-Shrabanti Basu

2 thoughts on “Koushik Sen on Bengali theatre, ‘SwapnaSandhani’ (Interview) – Bengali New Year Special

  1. I like the performances of Swapna Sandhani very much and I want to join Swapna Sandhani immediately .
    Please be kind enough to do the needful for me and I shall be grateful to you all .

    Thanks & Regards
    Partha Pratim Banerjee
    Cell No:- 9163790713

  2. When will the time come that I will also a member of your team ?
    Baban its my earnest request to you . Make me also a member of your group .


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