| Jayasree Kabir Roy at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. Picture by Aranya Sen
She had faded into oblivion for years… the 17-year-old charming Miss Calcutta whom Satyajit Ray had cast in Pratidwandi in 1969. On a leisurely afternoon in her modest ground-floor house off AJC Bose Road, Jayasree Kabir Roy relived her chequered past in vignettes. A brief acting stint in Calcutta, marriage to producer-director Alamgir Kabir, commercial success in Bangladeshi films, acute illness and a long hibernation in London.
Back in town for a couple weeks from the UK — where she teaches English in a higher education college — Jayasree is toying with the idea of reviving Bibar, a stage production of the 1970s based on a Samaresh Basu novel. With Robi Ghosh as its director, the Bibar cast boasted several stalwarts of that era and music by Ananda Shankar. “I had played the female lead opposite Subhendu Chatterjee. It was a huge success and I would like to revive the production with an impressive cast. A friend of mine has the original script,” says Jayasree, with a little quaver in her voice. Though age has mellowed her, there is a youthful glint in her eye.
The transition from cinema to stage was more or less smooth, as Robi Ghosh had taken her under his wing, she recollects. “Apart from him, Uttam Kumar and Manikda (Satyajit Ray) are two others who had the greatest influence on my formative years. Manikda first spotted me after I won the Miss Calcutta title in 1968. My participation in the pageant was such a coincidence. The event was being held in Firpo’s, where my father had taken me for dinner. I was studying in South Point School then,” Jayasree adds.
A flash of pain shoots through her eyes on being told that Firpo’s was recently gutted in a devastating fire. “You know, that’s where Calcutta’s elite used to wine and dine.”
Once Pratidwandi brought her in the limelight, Jayasree got some lucrative offers. Sabyasachi and Ashadharan are the two films she fondly remembers, having had the opportunity to work with Uttam Kumar. “At that time, I used to move in a large group of friends including Aparna Sen, Jaya Bhaduri, Dhritiman Chatterjee and a few others. Soon after, Manikda introduced me to Bangladesh-based film-maker Alamgir Kabir who was looking for a fresh face. I starred in his Surjyokanya, which is extremely popular in Bangladesh even now. The two of us were awarded a scholarship by the Australian government and we shifted base to Sydney for some years,” Roy says.
In the past two days, Roy moved around town catching up with old friends Sandip Ray, his mother Bijoya, and making new acquaintances. Having worked in roughly 30 films in Bengal and Bangladesh, Roy feels acting still beckons her after all these years.
“I had cut myself off from acting and the media when I was finding it difficult to juggle a demanding career and bringing up my son as a single parent,” she explains. All this while in London, she restricted herself to giving occasional voice-overs for BBC and Channel 4, attending workshops on cinema and representing Satyajit Ray in film festivals abroad.
“Now, with my son settled in his career, I can consider projects which have long been buried in my mind.” But she plans to check out the facilities in the Bangladesh film industry as well, where she worked for a decade and has enduring memories even today.