Shooting star

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By Koneenica Banerjee is rushing from one set to another as she becomes the Next Big Thing in Bengal?s film world, says Paula Ray
  • Published 11.12.04

There hasn?t been a superstar in the Bengali film world for an awfully long time? Is Koneenica Banerjee, 24, about to fill that gaping void? Certainly, the bubbly young star with the girl-next-door looks is giving it a very good try. She is in the news almost every alternate day, and her career has been boosted hugely by the long-running Ek Akasher Nichey by Ravi Ojha, the small-screen soap opera that has kept audiences glued to the box.

Her other bigger test has been the success of Aabar Aashbo Phirey, the big budget movie made for a record-breaking Rs 3.5 crore, also directed by Ojha. Although released in September 2004, the film is already a super hit. And ever since, the film and television industry has been betting big on her. For the next few months, Koneenica?s diary is crammed. She?s currently shooting for her third feature film, Babumoshai by Milan Bhowmick, which also stars Ashutosh Rana, Laboni Sarkar, Rachana, Abhishekh and Shilajit. Koneenica plays a factory worker who?s a key figure in the movie.

She?s also juggling schedules and working on an as yet unnamed tele-film by Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha. If all that isn?t enough, she has two more films for which shooting is scheduled to start between January and March 2005. As she is keen on having her finger in a lot of pies, she would like to give, ?Bollywood a shot in the near future and try my luck with parallel non-commercial films?.

It?s hardly surprising that Koneenica?s in such high demand. She made her small-screen debut in Alpha Bangla?s Swapnanil and then moved to several television productions like Ei Toh Jibon. But she shot to stardom as Pakhi in the Alpha Bangla mega-serial Ek Akasher Nichey by Director Ravi Ojha. Soon afterwards came the offer to play Maya in Moloy Bhattacharya?s Teen Ekke Teen, which went on to become her first released feature film. Ever since then the crowds gather wherever she goes. She says modestly that the audiences seem to have ?accepted her?.

The fact is that there has never been a dull moment in her short acting career and she?s already played a variety of roles with equal ?lan. She?s starred in a host of tele-films ranging from Aasma, Neer Chhoto, Notun Gaan, Leela Chirantan, Tomar Patho Cheye, Maanbhanjan among others. Says Koneenica: ?Though all of them were successful, I received a lot of appreciation for my role as a mentally retarded child in Notun Gaan.?

Her first moves towards the acting profession began early. She started out on stage by joining theatre groups like Shishu Rangan and Aarobdho. In addition, she also tried to get formal training by enrolling for a course at the NIFFA (National Institute of Film and Fine Arts) in Calcutta. ?They had modules covering the history of drama, mime and every other aspect of acting, but I soon realised that I wasn?t learning anything that I did not already know through my stage performances. So, I gave it up mid-way,? she says, and adds, ?I believe in being a natural actor. It is a skill that cannot be taught to anybody hands-on.?

Koneenica is also a talented dancer, trained in Odissi, Rabindrik, folk and Western dance forms. In fact, she is probably the most sought-after dancer at concerts, second only to Rituparna Sengupta. Both in the television serial, Ek Akasher Nichey, and the feature film, Aabar Aashbo Phirey, she has been paired with Saswata Chatterjee. After the success of both productions, they?ve been dubbed as a successful lead pair. Says Koneenica: ?It is important to have good chemistry with your male lead because, after all, that?s how the Uttam-Suchitra pair was created.?

Does she have competitors in the Bengali film industry? She sidesteps that issue, saying that actresses like Sabitri Chatterjee and Supriya Devi each have their own strengths. ?I agree that healthy competition helps to improve your work, but I believe that all of us have our own entities. The roles Koel (Mullick) can do well, I can?t. And, I?m sure that what I can do, others may not be able to do so well.?

Koneenica is perhaps one of those few actors who has defied the ?star-child? syndrome also catching up with the Bengali film industry, what with the entry of Koel Mullick and Nilanjana. She says, ?Since I know how to dance, maybe I would have got an even better role to start with if I were a ?star-child?. But I?ve achieved what I have only after a lot of struggle and so I know how to value it. Even if I get to do only one film, I am satisfied.?

It should be mentioned that Koneenica got her role in Babumoshai after Rituparna Sengupta failed to give dates for the shoot. But, Koneenica doesn?t consider Rachana ? who is playing an important female character in the film ? to be a competition at all because, ?she is already way ahead? of her.

Koneenica says that Ravi Ojha is her ?guru, godfather and guide?, and that he boosted her confidence and helped to brush up her acting skills. As Ojha was based in Mumbai, she found another mentor in Anindya Banerjee who used to co-direct Ojha?s productions from Calcutta. ?He was like my brother and we were like one big family,? says the effervescent young star.

Now, her kid sister Ritwika Banerjee is already following in her footsteps. She is working in a telefilm called Diya Jawley by Raj Mukherjee. Koneenica says her sister had a tough time when they were growing up. ?My sister suffered a lot because my mother would always accompany me to the theatres and she?d miss her a lot.?

Will the youngster sister turn into an onscreen rival? Koneenica dismisses the thought. ?Although she is a good five-and-a-half years younger to me, we look very similar and that might create some confusion. But I am sure she will get her own audience.?

So, where does Koneenica see herself 10 years from now? ?Happily married and living a peaceful life ? definitely not in the industry,? she insists firmly. ?I am ambitious, but I value quality over quantity.?

As for now, we have to be satisfied with Pakhi?s marriage. Yes, she will make a comeback in the tele-serial Ek Akasher Nichey, on audience request.