Calcutta Tube  Interview: RAVEENA TANDON IN Bengali film LABORATORY by Raja Sen – CHANGING CHANNELS: Raveena Tandon, the ‘mast-mast’ girl, is now a mature woman, a wife and mother to two growing kids. She took a break from films for some years post marriage and motherhood but is now back with a bang. A Bengali television channel was surprised to see her judging a reality dance show specifically designed for housewives. As the show went on, those hooked to the show could see the slow and steady metamorphosis of the Punjabi actress into a woman who had begun to imbibe the culture of Bengal in terms of dress, jewellery, and even the cadences of the Bengali language. Then, when the shooting for the show got over, one heard the amazing news of Raveena being picked to play the female lead in Raja Sen’s Laboratory, a Bengali film based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore. She opens out in an interview in Kolkata after the shooting had wound up and she was ready to get back to Mumbai.

DATABAZAAR MEDIA VENTURES has acquired the US distribution right of the film and the movie will be simultaneously released n in the USA and Kolkata. The film will also be released at http://dingora.com/ that features first day first show of hundreds of new movie in high quality streaming online. Bengali Films distributed by Databazaar are available from Amazon.Com, Netflix, iTunes, Blockbuster and many other online and retail stores across USA and Canada.

You’ve stayed in Kolkata for quite some time. Has the city grown on you?

Not a very long time by average standards. Its been a little more than a month I guess. But I have almost become half Bengali over this time. I am hearing the language spoken around me all the time. I am in the midst of Bongs all the time. I love the culture, the food, the mishti doi, the shankha and pola bangles, the music and the creative talents among ordinary people. My experience with Bengali culture and literature began to form when I was working in the television version of Shaheb Bibi Our Ghulam. This got consolidated with the Boudimoni Reality Dance Show on a Bangla Television channel. And now this has become like second home for me.

Laboratory Raveena and Sabyasachi
Laboratory - Raveena Tandon and Sabyasachi

Can you elaborate on your role in Raja Sen’s Laboratory in Bengali?

Laboratory was authored by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore during the last phase of his life, when he was in his eighties. The story is strikingly original. I play Shohini, the female lead, a beautiful woman whose life is committed to reviving and sustaining her late husband’s laboratory. She is Sikh by birth and her name originally was Soni that became Shohini when she married a Bengali much older than her. She is a scheming and manipulative woman and can do anything to see her dream of her husband’s laboratory running again. The character has a long span, beginning when Shohini comes with her husband from Punjab as a young bride and ends when she is almost middle-aged.

What made you say ‘yes’?

I jumped at it when I heard that the story is by Rabindranath Tagore. When I heard the script from Raja Sen and saw the character had all the shades of the rainbow, the decision was a foregone conclusion. Shohini has negative shades but has a strong personality. She also has a male friend though she is a widow. She is an uneducated person. But she educates herself and brings her late husband’s laboratory back to life and fights culture and ethical differences.The team led by Raja-da is brilliant. Raja-da is comfortable to work with and he gave me my space within which to work with at ease. I also insisted that I would dub my lines myself.

But you do not know the language, do you?

That did not matter in the case of Laboratory because Shohini is basically a Punjabi and if  she speaks Bengali with a Punjabi accent it is just fine and jells with the character. I learnt a smattering of Bengali during my interaction as a judge on the Boudimoni Reality Show. After some persuasion, Raja-da agreed. The process of my learning my dialogues was three-pronged. First, Raja-da gave me the dialogues translated in English so that I could get at the meanings of the lines and the scenes. He then gave me the Bengali dialogues written phonetically in English and I had to first memorize and get into my system. Thirdly, he had someone else speak the Bengali dialogues, made an audio-cassette of the same and gave it to me to get the enunciation right. It was a learning process for me but I enjoyed the experience.

Does the fact of playing an ageing heroine bug you?

Not in the least because Shohini is not the ageing woman one thinks she is. I do not have to have wrinkles on my face because I play a woman who must be in her early and mid-forties. There are few gray streaks in my hair so that Arpita who plays my daughter, really looks like my daughter. When I did not look the way I should have, they put dark circles around my eyes.

You said in a recent interview that you will not be doing latka-jhatka roles anymore. Would you elaborate?

I have outgrown my latka-jhatka roles ages ago. They were fine when they lasted and I enjoyed the phase very much because any actress needs to explore as many dimensions of acting as she possibly can. But over the years, I felt like doing characters with a lot of power and meat in them, never mind the footage in the script. My last film was Sandwich in 2006. I took a break for my kids after that. But I got on the strong-role bandwagon with Shool, Satta and Daman which got me the National Award. Laboratory will be one more in this list.

There is another strong-woman role you are doing aren’t you?

It will not be appropriate to talk about this film right now. Suffice to say that it is a strong, heroine-centric film based on a Rajasthani backdrop. It is about a woman’s fight against an age-old tradition that has been there in Rajasthan for ages and which is still there in some of the backward pockets there. The story is about how she fights the social evil.

You said you felt very sad on the last day of the shoot. Why?

I hated to leave the warmth of the entire team’s company. They took very good care of me and this includes everyone. There was Sabyasachi Chakraborty who played my husband Nandakishore, Ranjit Mullick who plays Shohini’s  husband’s friend she later has a relationship with, Arpita who plays Neela, my daughter and Shaheb Chatterjee who plays her suitor and is a darling. They were so good to me that they did not allow me to become homesick. Then, my son came from Mumbai and I relaxed a great deal.

BY: Shoma A. Chatterji

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