Monday, 30th October 2017

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Master Mime

The story of a little boy from Pabna who went on to become an international stage artiste

By Joyjit Ghosh
  • Published 2.02.20, 12:53 AM
  • Updated 3.02.20, 6:47 PM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Partha Pratim Majumder strikes a pose at home. Sanat Kumar Sinha

The south Calcutta apartment has a doorbell that does not ring. “Those who I invite are told to bang the bolt. Others try the bell and leave after a while, assuming there is no one inside,” says mime artist Partha Pratim Majumder with a hearty laugh.

Majumder, who has been living in France close to four decades now, tries to visit the city at least once every year. In his mid-60s, he is an affable raconteur and talks about his growing up years in Pabna, Bangladesh, his schooldays in Chandernagore in Bengal, proud memories of singing at Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s rallies across Bangladesh.

He recalls other things, disparate things — time spent at his grandfather’s house in Pabna, where each festival was celebrated with songs and jatra; the cinemas, Rupkatha and Bani, where slides of his brother and him were often shown as a promotional for their father’s studio, Rupchhaya.

He tells me he was born Premangshu Kumar Biswas, but became Partha Pratim Majumder when renowned classical singer Ustad Barin Majumder sought his father’s permission to adopt and groom him when he was in his teens. “But I always dreamt of becoming an actor,” says Majumder.

As it turned out, in the 1980s, he won a French scholarship and left for Paris to pursue mime, an art form he had been introduced to by mime exponent Jogesh Dutta.

Majumder was a student at Marcel Marceau’s Ecole Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris. At the very incantation of those times, the man in front of me is transfigured. His eyes light up. His body language changes. The pace of his narration picks up, moving away from the slow rhythm of Oriental nostalgia to gather pace like his journey in the Occident.

Says Majumder, “This one incident from the mid-80s is particularly close to my heart because of the spell it continues to cast on me.” It was a trip to the home of Paola Dominguin, his friend and fellow disciple at Marceau’s school. He continues, “As the car made its ascent, negotiating the winding road to the mountaintop bungalow at Andujar in the idyllic Spanish province of Jaen, it all looked majestic and pristine.”

Partha Pratim Majumder on stage.
Partha Pratim Majumder on stage. (Pic: Facebook)

Majumder still retains his awe, so much so that even these many years later he can describe assiduously the surprises he came across that day at every turn of the hilly road to Andujar.

His host and Paola’s father, Luis Miguel Dominguin, happened to be Spain’s most celebrated bullfighter. He was also romantically linked to the Hollywood legend, Ava Gardner. And as Majumder discovered, the walls of Dominguin’s home were adorned with more than one painting signed Pablo Ruiz Picasso.

“I asked Paola if they were originals,” says Majumder. He continues, “And she had something even more startling to say. She said I was among a small group of people privy to the existence of the bullfighter series modelled on her father, who was a close friend of

the 20th century Cubist. That night I just couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t catch a wink.”

All talk now shifts to Marceau and Majumder’s indebtedness to him. In between, Majumder bites into his favourite snack — a singara. “I miss this in Paris,” he says with a smile as he washes it down with a cup of Darjeeling tea.

Between quick sips, he moves back and forth in time. Early days in Paris as Marceau’s student, the time he won two back-to-back best actor awards at Marceau’s institute, close encounters with the who’s who of France’s cultural set, and his own work in French cinema and theatre. Says Majumder, “I slowly began to fulfil my dream of becoming an actor. Small but important roles started to come my way. I knew I had stepped inside the world of French cinema and theatre.”

Majumder has since occupied screen space alongside French stalwarts Omar Sy and Audrey Tautou, Valeria Golino of Rain Man fame, The Artist star Bérénice Bejo and the late Om Puri. He will be seen acting alongside Sy again in Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius’ film Le Prince Oublié (The Lost Prince) that was recently premiered in Paris. And Samuel Benchetrit has roped him in for his next film Cette Musique Ne Joue Pour Personne.

Majumder’s trip to Calcutta was also on an acting assignment. He will be seen sharing screen space with Soumitra Chatterjee and Naseeruddin Shah for Saibal Mitra’s Bengali film Debotar Gras. It is based on the 1925 Scopes trial in the state of Tennessee, US, wherein a young teacher was tried for teaching the theory of evolution to his students. A regular in the French theatre scene, Majumder was also part of the cast of Cochons d’Inde that won the prestigious Moliere award in 2009.

In recognition of his role as a torchbearer of Marceau’s legacy, Majumder was decorated by the French government with the Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) in 2011. And while he holds it dear, it is the recognition that came in 2010 that he holds closest to his heart.

The Bangladeshi government bestowed on him the country’s second highest civilian honour — Ekushey Padak — in 2010. “Nothing can be more satisfying than being honoured by the country where my journey as a person and an artiste began,” says Majumder and gets up from his chair abruptly, possibly to hide an emotion that’s both precious and private.