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The real Riya

Riya with Mainak in between shots in Kolkata Calling

Mainak: I’ve worked with a very dedicated and focused person called Riya Sen. I had a great time. Do you see any difference between Riya Sen today and Riya Sen 10 years ago?

Riya: Mainak, I have been dedicated and focused while working with you because you gave me a challenging character to play. You have had an amazing vision of my role. Hence, there was no way I could let you down. That is the primary difference. And saying that, the Riya Sen earlier was a schoolgirl who should have been in school and not in movies. Today I know what I’m doing, I’m very confident.

Mainak: So now that Kolkata Calling is all set to release, this is the beginning of our journey as actor and director. How do you feel? How stressed are you about your performance? Are you really confident? Let me just add that I am very confident about you.

Riya: I can’t wait for Kolkata Calling to release. It was shot at a major turning point in my life. My grandmom’s passing away just before the shoot; my mother playing my mom in the film; my sister in the film too; you, who I consider an extremely close friend, being the director. Plus me having to play a character that is a very complex one, was a lot to deal emotionally. So whether my performance will be appreciated or not, I know I did my best for you and the film. I’m confident about your work, so that’s half the battle won.

Mainak: I remember Rituda (Rituparno Ghosh) telling me: “You’ll love working with Riya”. But before you and I hit it off, I had heard that you were very difficult to work with! Where do you think these stories came from? How much of it is true, if at all… since you, me and our crew had a ball on our shoot?

Riya: I’ve worked with some great names not many can boast of, such as Subhash Ghai, Rituparno Ghosh, Santosh Sivan, Bharathirajaa, David Dhawan, Vashu Bhagnani, to name a few, who have never had any problems with my professionalism.

Mainak: Besides Noukadubi, Bengali films haven’t seen much of Riya. Now with Kolkata Calling, you’re back in a big way. What drove you to give Bengali films a shot?

Riya: I have always wanted to do Bengali films. Rituparno Ghosh met me after Chokher Bali released and complimented me on my looks and said he hadn’t thought of casting me as he hadn’t seen me around. I guess because I started in Mumbai, directors felt that I wasn’t interested in Bengali films. Anyway after Rituparno cast me in Abohoman and Noukadubi, other films are following in Calcutta. Actually, I couldn’t have asked for a better timing!

Riya as Kritika in Kolkata Calling

Mainak: When I wrote your character Kritika Ghosh in Kolkata Calling, I instinctively saw you playing this 19-year-old, as I had already gotten to knowing the real you, who is closer to Kritika, as you are really just a kid at heart. What did it feel like to be Kritika?

Riya: I loved playing Kritika. It was so much fun to dress up and put on those braces and become her. It made me want to go deeper in her thoughts and mannerisms. I guess because I enjoyed it so much it made it quite easy for me. Plus you let me be!

Mainak: The movie shows a very cold relationship between you and your mom (Moon Moon Sen). What’s your equation like in real life? What are the similarities and differences with your on-screen pairing? I ask this, as I did steal a tiny element of your mother-daughter rebelliousness... I’ve seen her tell you stuff, or rather I’ve seen you bullying her!

Riya: (Laughs) Yes, of course I bully my mother! I make her buy me expensive stuff and tell her I’ll pay her back which of course I don’t! In real life we share a very unique bond which is unexplainable in words. We’re both very intuitive and understand each other in a very strange way. But in the film, it’s not so. The cold relationship our characters share in the movie is nothing at all like us in real life. My mother is overall a very beautiful being. People adore her and look up to her. Her persona is magnetic and she attracts people from all walks of society, and her kindness and sensitivity embrace them all equally. That is a special quality she possesses that I haven’t seen in anyone else.

Mainak: Kolkata Calling is the first time you’ve shared screen space in the same film with your sister (Raima) and mom. What did that feel like?

Riya: Well, all of us are not sharing screen space together. The three of us have only shot commercials together before. But yes, Kolkata Calling is the first feature film to have all three of us in it. In Kolkata Calling Raima’s character has a different storyline from mine but we were on the set a lot together. It’s hilarious being on set with my sister. With the moral support in tow, we totally drive people crazy. You would know best. She really over-pampers me on set and makes sure I’m treated with utmost care like a baby. She’s like my mom on set. She lets me have first priority in terms of attention because she’s more familiar with Bengali films. In short she loves me, I hope she’s reading this!

When I was five years old, I had played my mother’s daughter in Gajamukuta. So technically, this is our second film together as mother-daughter, but it felt like my first film with my mother as I was just a small kid back then. It was a very pleasant experience working with her in Kolkata Calling. The unit who loved me totally forgot all about me when she was on the set. They were busy pampering her!

Mainak: You really wanted your mom to play your mom and I was very sceptical since her character is not very positive, but you obviously managed to get her to agree. Not too many actors do this for a film. Are you always this dedicated as an actor?

Riya: My mother always receives offers to play different characters in films from Bollywood as well, till now. She’s always stated that she doesn’t want to do every single mother role in sight and I completely relate to that fact because she looks as old as some of the heroes themselves, with all due respect. She’s maintained that she will always be open to playing either Raima’s mother or my mother on screen, hence I didn’t hesitate to help get her on board. None of us are the characters we play in movies, so her character being negative or positive doesn’t matter. She’s an actor and that’s her job. And yes, I am always me!

Mainak: Kolkata Calling is about parents having expectations from their children and children don’t necessarily match up. Did your parents have expectations? Do you think you matched up?

Riya: I think everyone has expectations and not only parents, we’re in 2014. Life isn’t a cakewalk. Every individual needs to carve out their own life at the end of the day. It may or may not be suitable to others. But you’ve got to deal with it. Success is very relative. I’ve been lucky to have a great grandmother and parents who have given me so much love that everything else pales into insignificance. They are very proud of my sister and me.

Mainak: What’s your advice to all parents and children who can’t meet their parents’ expectations?

Riya: Parents should stop judging their children, just concentrate on their education and well-being and accept them for who they are. Live and let live.

Mainak: Who is the bigger sister? You or Raima? Since I get mixed up sometimes seeing the relationship...

Riya: She’s the bigger sister in age and me by stage, need I say more... ha ha ha!

Mainak: I had a fabulous experience working with you. Tell me about your experience of working with us?

Riya: When I first met with the unit, I felt like I already knew everyone. I’ve never felt that way in any other film before. It made my job so easy and so comfortable. I’ve become best friends with many of them, some of whom I’ll know forever now... the director, cameraman, executive producer, assistant director and stylists.

Mainak: Can you reveal a little secret please? How do you still manage to look so young? Are you a vampire or is there a secret trick?

Riya: I am young…

Mainak: Break a leg and come back soon as we have a minimum six-film deal between you and me. Have fun in London...

Riya: Thank you for your wishes but I think you need to re-check on that deal. As far as I remember it was 16, not six!