RAIMA SEN Interview
Raima Sen no longer needs to lean on the illustrious name of her grandmother. She is an independent actress known for her talent and her versatility that has revealed itself again and again in many films over a decade. Her debut in Hindi cinema was as Shabana Azmi’s son’s girlfriend in the award-winning Godmother, directed by Vinay Shukla. The character was sidelined because Shabana’s role and image dominated the scenario. Over the years, her journey has been dotted with brilliant performances in slightly different films, notwithstanding the footage or the positioning in the credits. Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Limited, Ekalavya, Chokher Bali, Parineeta are examples of her versatile oeuvre. She is now doing the balancing act between Hindi films and Bengali cinema, picking and choosing her options with care and caution. This writer caught up with this beautiful actress on the sets of Bunch of Buddies Entertainment Pvt. Limited’s Bengali film Natobar Not Out directed by Amit Sen in which she plays the female lead as Mishtu, Natobar’s lady-love. She was waiting on a Kolkata street for the director to call her. She looked gorgeous even in a simple Bengali cotton, red-bordered white saree with red stripes, her hair coiled in a loose bun and a bindi dotting her forehead with some flowers in her hair.
What kind of actress would you say you are – a spontaneous actress, a natural actress or a trained actress?
I am a director’s actress, first and last. I need the director to guide me in my work as I have seen that my work shows excellent results with good directors. Thankfully, I have been quite lucky to have worked with some of the best directors both in Mumbai and in Kolkata. I have worked with veteran filmmakers like Rituparno Ghosh and with an absolute newcomer like Reema Kagti who directed me in her debut film Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Limited. I have been directed by Sandip Ray, Aparna Sen and Kalpana Lajmi. I have imbibed and learnt a lot from all of them and have come to the conclusion that I really work well if there is a good director who knows how to draw the best out of me.
What kind of role are you playing in Natobar Not Out?
I am playing Mishtu, the romantic interest in Natobar’s life. Natobar is someone who is constantly changing and meets many people along his journey from one point to another, both literally and metaphorically. But I remain the stable factor in his life. I am the only character with a serious tone and no humour. I do change but in a different way from that of others. I grow from a girl to a woman. It is a very interesting role and I am enjoying working with Amit Sen who makes his directorial debut with this film. I am bubbly and talkative in the beginning but slowly become serious and mature as the story gets along.
Have you undergone workshops before a film began shooting?
Yes, I have. We underwent a brief workshop before this film’s shooting began. It was primarily to break the ice between me and the new actor who plays the title role in the film. His name is Mustafa Prakash. He is a very young actor who does theatre in Bangladesh and this is his first film. It is a film where our relationship goes through several twists and turns and we needed to warm up to this.
What about The Japanese Wife?
The most grueling workshop I did was for Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife. I play a very young widow who has a little son and lives in the Sundarbans. She is the quiet type, silent and sad most of the time. I had to sweep the floors, wash vessels, do a lot of housework, imbibe the body language and most importantly, bond with the little boy who played my son in the film. Sohag Sen, a famous theatre person who runs her own theatre goup, conducted the workshop. She is a very hard taskmaster. I also had to work on the Sundarbans dialect, known as dokhno (from the south) which is not easy. I play Sandhya, a neighbour of Snehamoy, the school teacher played by Rahul Bose. His widowed aunt, who brought him up, wants to hitch him to this young widow but he remains adamant. The best thing about this film is that Rina-di has really liked my work. I hear its release is round the corner but I am keeping my fingers crossed.
How do you react to comparisons with your grandmother Suchitra Sen?
If you are comparing her looks with mine and talking about resemblances, I feel very happy to be so compared. I consider it a great honour when people point out how closely I resemble her. So far as comparison in acting styles go, I do not feel any pressure or take it either as an advantage or as a disadvantage because things are very different now in terms of the kind of films that are made, the kind of acting that these films demand, the directors who make different kinds of films and their approaches, etc. So there is no point in comparisons. The style of acting is very different from what it used to be when my grandmother was leading lady. When I was doing my first film Moyna, in Bangla, I lived in Kolkata and she was right next door. To Riya and me, she is not the legendary Suchitra Sen, she is just our grandmother. But at that time, she would give me lots of tips. She showed me how to move my body, my face, so that the right emotion came across. She kept giving hints and suggestions all the time. Now, I mostly live in Mumbai and we meet less often than when we practically lived under the same roof.
Which of your grandmother’s 50-and-odd films you simply love watching?
Harano Sur and Saat Pake Bandha. The films are eternal and incurably romantic and she is just so beautiful and brilliant in both of them. So far as my mother’s films go, I love Andar Bahar in Hindi and Tumi Kato Sundar in Bangla.
What criteria do you apply when an offer comes up?
The role is the top criterion and the rest come later. The character must be significant in terms of its positioning and its visual presence, not necessarily in terms of the footage it would occupy in the film. An intelligent director and a good script come next. An intelligent director can work ideally with the script and can draw the best out of his actors. I have already worked with so many of them. Anjan Dutt’s The Bong Connection an Aniruddha Roy Choudhury’s Anuranan are two very good films I have done in the recent past. Money is not very important when I am making a choice of accepting or rejecting an offer.
If asked to pick your personal favourites from the films you have already done which ones would you mention?
To tell the truth, I have enjoyed all the films I have done because every film has given me the opportunity to be different and that is what makes all of them so special for me. The turning point film in my career which is Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali is my favourite. I have no regrets about the fact that Ritu-da decided to dub my voice because he is the director and therefore, the captain of the ship. I also cherish Nishi Japon directed by Sandip Ray. I play Sunita, the younger sister of Rituparna Sengupta. We have all come down to a small, remote town in the Himalayas to visit my sister’s father-in-law who lives alone in a bungalow here. It was a complex role and Sandip Ray did a very good job. Among Hindi films, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Limited is one. The film was a scream even while it was being made. Kay Kay was a wonderful person to work with and one could learn so much from him. The other one is Parineeta and though I did the minor role, I enjoyed the ambience and the wonderful experience of interacting with Vidya Balan. Prosemjit, Jisshu Sengupta and Rahul Bose are also wonderful persons to work with. I would also like to mention Khela directed by Rituparno Ghosh where I play a costume designer who bonds very well with the kidnapped boy and falls in love with the film’s director, played by Prosenjit.
What are your current assignments in Mumbai and Kolkata?
In Mumbai, I am doing Mirch with Shabana-ji and Konkona and the film is being directed by Vinay Shukla who directed my first film. I have also accepted a guest appearance in Teen Patti, being directed by Leena Yadav with Amitabh Bachchan, Ben Kingsley and Madhavan starring. I play Madhavan’s girlfriend in the film. In English, I am waiting for the release of The Japanese Wife. In Bengali, there is Naukadubi based on a Tagore novel directed by Rituparno Ghosh and of course, Natobar Not Out.
Which directors do you look forward to work with in the near future?
That’s an easy one. Mani Ratnam, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Basu and Anurag Kashyap.
BY Shoma A. Chatterji