National Award Winning actor and theater personality Sohini Sengupta talks about her latest film ‘Icche’ directed by Nandita Ray, Shiboprasad Mukhopadhyay with Bratya Basu, Samadarshi Dutta and others in the cast. Read the interview at Calcutta Tube.
SOHINI SENGUPTA – MAMATA OF ICCHE
Sohini Sengupta, the fat, not particularly attractive daughter of theatre personalities Rudraprasad Sengupta and Swatilekha Sengupta, who is herself a theatre person in her own right, has radically transformed the definition of the heroine in Bengali cinema. The reference is to her portrayal of Mamata, the obsessive mother in Shiboprasad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s box office hit Icchhe. Interestingly, Icchhe had become very popular among the NRI audiences in North America and Canada that had the opportunity of watching the film in distant lands thanks to the good offices and enterprise of Daatbazaar Media Ventures that has acquired the film for distribution, screening, streaming and telecasting for them.
Were there any problems before casting you as the mother in Icche?
When Shibu and Nandita-di discussed having chosen me with other people in the industry, some of them quite noted filmmakers said – why not a more glamorous actress to portray the mother? An actress I would not like to name came forward to produce the film if she could do the role I did. But my directors were decided that the mother had to have a typical look and had to be able to live the character. It was not only my physical appearance that clinched the deal. The directors’ were right because glamour would have defeated the very purpose of the film and its message.
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Icche came after a ten-year long gap since you won the National Award for Best Supporting Actress for Paromitaar Ek Din. Why?
I got many offers after Paromitaar Ek Din to play similar roles of an obese girl suffering from mental problems. I did not want my appearance to be exploited for the wrong reasons. I am an actress, period. Why should appearance play a more important role in acting than performance? One needs to make the character convincing enough on screen for the audience. If I cannot evoke faith in my performance, how will I perform at all, tell me?
Mamata’s character was a very complex one – vulnerable yet possessive, loving yet vindictive. Do you think this has in a way, helped redefine the celluloid mother in Bengali cinema from the soppy, tearful sentimental fool to a woman who won’t let go, come what may?
The credit for this goes mainly to the story by Suchitra Bhattacharya which has its roots in real life. Then, it goes to the script done by Shibu and Nandita-di. She is a mother and is also a lover. She is pathologically possessive of her only son and tries to live out her suppressed desires vicariously through the son. She is so sucked into her obsession that she fails to see the son’s perspective towards the relationship. This is one of the most challenging and complex characters in the history of contemporary Bengali cinema. I think my physical appearance helped to make the character more convincing. You cannot imagine a slim, trim and attractive Mamata with eyebrows neatly plucked, face smooth after a facial and hair done just so, can you? Mothers obsessed with their children neglect their looks and begin to grow fat and uncouth. Mamata in this sense is a perfect celluloid replica of what she should have been.
Did you expect Icche to become such a phenomenal success critically and at the box office?
On the contrary, I was persuading Shibu to give up the idea of this kind of film because it was too unconventional and bold for the audience. But Shibu was adamant. He wanted to make a film based only on a very strong storyline and no stars or other glamorous paraphernalia. The film stood its ground on the basis of a powerful story, a solid script, painfully constructed make-up and costume, and wonderful mood music and songs. I do not agree that formula is the only thing that works to make a film successful. Had this been so, would Ritwik Ghatak’s films been as timeless as they are?
Shoma A. Chatterji