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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 27 February 2024

An exclusive roundtable chat with director Raajhorshee De and his women cast of Mayaa

The conversation was held at Olterra, ahead of the film’s release on July 7

Priyanka A. Roy Published 06.07.23, 05:00 AM
(L-R) Raajhorshee De, Tnusree C, Rafiath Rashid Mithila, Ranieeta Dash, Richa Sharma and Sayantani Guhathakurta

(L-R) Raajhorshee De, Tnusree C, Rafiath Rashid Mithila, Ranieeta Dash, Richa Sharma and Sayantani Guhathakurta Pictures: B Halder

What was the first thought in your mind when Raajhorshee approached you with your character?

Sayantani Guhathakurta: I have never played a negative character before, so it felt very challenging. My character Chumki is a very de-glam character. But my scenes were with Tnusreedi, whom I have always admired on screen. I had a great time working with her. Chumki, my character, was not about looking great, it was all about the acting. Raajhorsheeda and Poulamidi gave a lot of thought to her looks.Richa Sharma: When he approached me for the role, the thing that attracted me was the story. I was excited about the script being an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He always takes out the best in me as an actress. My character’s name is Shamiya Ali Zafar and it was beautiful starting from styling to how the character was written. Ranieeta Dash: My character is Ayantika. It is definitely a challenging role for me. It has different shades to it. I have never played a character like this. People doing negative things have a logic of their own and getting into that mind space was challenging Rafiath Rashid Mithila: Each character in this film has shades and layers. It is my first film in Calcutta and I play the role of Mayaa. After I moved to Calcutta, I didn’t work because of the pandemic for almost a year. This opportunity came like a blessing for me because I was bored at home. People ask me which character of Macbeth is Mayaa but it would be difficult for me to explain this. People need to go and watch.Tnusree C: Raajhorshee always gave me the kind of roles I wanted. We have seen Macbeth adapted in many ways but this is very different. Sayantani’s character defines my character, Mrinalini, too. I agreed to do this film as Raajhorshee is a very good filmmaker.

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What is your first memory of reading or watching Macbeth?

Richa: I read it in childhood and have always been interested in the play. Sayantani: We have all read it in school (everyone agrees)... and it always felt interesting but never thought that there will come a day when we will play a character based on it.Tnusree: There is no black and white in Shakespearean plays. They are all grey and that is what I like about them.Raajhorshee: Interpretation of the text is the key... we know broadway used to show five different Macbeths together…

Raajhorshee, why did you choose Macbeth for the adaptation?

I always wanted to make a trilogy. My first film, Purba Paschim Dakshin, had three stories culminating into one story. I have a strong desire for doing trilogies. When I did Abar Kanchenjunga, all my actors had fun... then they suggested we should do an Abar Kanchenjunga 2 so that we can all have fun again! I wanted this fun to be alive so I thought why not get some of the cast members together and make something? I want to make two more films based on Shakespearean plays — Hamlet and King Lear. Then I think I will complete my journey on Shakespeare. I thought why not bring Macbeth to modern Calcutta and place it within the politics, entertainment and media of the city to see how all function together?

How did you choose the cast?

I have a different way of writing scripts. Both of us, Ebong Ipsita and I, wrote this script. There was a set of actors that I know I am working with and I had to just place them in the roles. That homework I had already done. I know who can do what. All these actors are my friends basically, I am not like the director kind of a director. The film works because we are all friends.

The idea of an ensemble cast in films has changed a lot since the sudden boom of OTT platforms... and ensemble casts are a signature of Raajhorshee’s films. What are your thoughts on it?

Tnusree: We all know Sudiptadi is very good and she did so well also. But I shared a lot of scenes with Sayantani in this film and I was telling her during dubbing also that she did really well. That is what happens in an ensemble cast. One character can suddenly stand out. So despite not being author-backed it becomes author-backed just based on the performance. This is an advantage in films like this. Raajhorshee: Films like these depend a lot on the performance. Like after Abar Kanchenjunga, Ranieeta was discussed a lot. Deboshree got a film like Fatafati after debuting with me. Mithila: I think it is a great opportunity to learn from each other. At least, for me, it happened in this film. It helped me to understand how each of them is processing their characters. It helped me. Ranieeta: Raajhorsheeda believes that all his actors are magical. There is this trust that we have to do well and he is bringing great content for all.

Raajhorshee, your locations posed some challenges during the shoot too…

We were shooting in a house in Bali Howrah and in the uninhabited labour quarters of the jute mill workers. Tnusree and Sudipta used to do major scenes in the Ganges wearing a rope around their waist and it used to rain as well…those were major challenges. The lighting was a challenge as one side had to be covered before sunset and we had to use VFX to get it right…

Was there any challenge in contemporising Macbeth?

I think Macbeth is the only text that can be contemporised in a unique way because of so many layers in each character. Films made from theatre and theatre content can lead a lot of audience back to the theatres that is the reason for choosing Macbeth. Contemporising it was definitely a challenge.

Mithila, Mayaa is a very complex character portraying alter egos in the film. What were the challenges of portraying Mayaa?

Everything about the character felt challenging to me. There was no reference for Mayaa in Macbeth. Mayaa is a character that Raajhorshee created. She comes on screen at three different ages. Our film was shot in 14 days and my journey of becoming three different versions of the character happened within these 14 days, starting from the get-up to talking style… but in the end, she becomes a very powerful character. I used to go back home each night and read the lines to understand my character. For the role of the old woman, I had to modulate my voice too. Many people in the trailer said that they didn’t understand it was my voice!

Tnusree, Mrinalini is inspired by Lady Macbeth’s character that has always been a character of interest in the play. How excited were you to essay the role?

If we forget that this is an adaptation of Macbeth… that is how each of us dealt with the script. We dealt with our individual characters rather than thinking of it as an adaptation of Macbeth…people will obviously compare. But Macbeth is a play that can be contemporised for any generation and that is where its greatness lies.

(left) Sudiptaa Banerjee as Mahi

(left) Sudiptaa Banerjee as Mahi

Koneenica Banerjee plays Paramita. “My character has different shades and people have not seen me like this before. It is a cameo but the character has depth and that got me interested when Raajhorshee approached me. This adaptation is Raajhorshee’s perspective and he did it very well. The canvas is big. My scene with Kamaleswarda was a learning experience. Those were difficult and Raajhorshee shot it very carefully. The crew was amazing,” said Koneenica.

Sudipta Chakraborty plays Reshmi Sharma. “Her life in her inlaws’ house is not a bed of roses. She is sinned and wronged. In the film, all the women are holding guns. There is a sense of revenge, of course. There were difficult shots in the Ganges and I don’t know how to swim. I had come across Macbeth at a very early age. But classics are like that... where the interpretation of text changes with time. Maqbool is my favourite. And, I am also playing Lady Macbeth in the play Binodini Opera that we are doing now. But every time the story feels different to me. And this film has been completely contemporised to fit in the Bengali society but there are moments of visual jarring and darkness in the context,” said Sudipta.

We focussed on the contemporised story instead of the original one. It had a lot of challenging and complex emotions. When I heard the script, I was thinking how was he (Raajhorshee) daring to do this adaptation. This thought came to me that people will talk about it a lot. But then he wrote it so well, and that gave me confidence.Raajhorshee: One thing is, all our women cast members use a lot of slang in this film which is very unique because we usually see men use it in films.Tnusree: I used? (Everyone laughs)Raajhorshee: Yes, everyone!Tnusree: Another thing is, every character complements the other in this film and our characters have been written in a different way as compared to the play, so I didn’t want to refer to anything. I performed based on the writing.

We are talking about Mayaa as a women-centric film. What does being a woman mean to each of you?

Richa: Women are powerhouses. But it is more about equality than empowerment. Being humble and powerful is what a woman is for me.Tnusree: For me, being a woman is all about empowering others. I don’t think there should be a ladies’ seat and when I am getting down from the car no one needs to hold the door open for me. Mithila: I think for me it is just important to feel like a human. Live my life the way I want to just like any other human being.Ranieeta: We are privileged but I realise that there are so many places where women don’t have the liberty to do what they want…Raajhorshee: In our country and in Bengal, the biggest festival is Durga Puja and the men who celebrate it and then do not respect the women of their home after returning home… if these people voice out once then that is women empowerment for me. Sayantani: For me, before feeling like a woman it is important to feel like a human.Raajhorshee: In the next five years down the line, I think power structure will come to women. Men will not be able to hold power for a very long time. That is why we all are also here. I have not been able to do a male-led film so far. I have a complaint from the leading actors for not casting them. But I told them I have a comfort zone with my female co-stars and they are brilliant, so why not celebrate them? I believe in celebrating my female actors. In my future films also, I will celebrate my female actors.

What is your most memorable moment from the set?

Sayantani: For me, it is the emotional scene, where Tnusree di was held at gunpoint. It is a scene from a song. Richa: Mine was the first day shoot with Kamaleswarda. Me being a non-Bengali amongst all the Bengalis… he made me feel very comfortable and praised me. That really touched me a lot.Ranieeta: I had a scene with Sudiptadi and had to do it in one shot as it was a mood and we did it in one shot. It was a scene on the mother-daughter relationship. But after the scene, Raajhorsheeda was not saying cut. I thought I made a mistake but then he came and hugged me from behind.Mithila: I only remember all the fun. I had very serious scenes to play and I had to be in a zone all the time, but whenever he said cut, it was all about fun. And most of the time, even when my scenes were over, I used to be on set to see the performances of the other actors. I think it was a great experience I went through.Richa: I had so many scenes with Mithila but it never felt like I was meeting her for the first time. Raajhorshee: 19 actors coming together and completing the film was a mammoth task… with Mithila, there was a different kind of pressure… I was thinking she should go back home and say good things about me to Srijit (everyone laughs). It is my first work with Mithila, so I was hoping she feels comfortable in terms of language and everything else. The others I have worked with before and I am aware of their temperament.Mithila: I was a little nervous because he was a director I didn’t know at all and I was in Bangladesh and we were talking over calls only… I just knew Indrada, the DOP.Tnusree: Raajhorshee believes in giving space to his actors and his thought process is very natural. Including so many actors is not a gimmick for him. One scene where I had to seduce Kamaleswarda (everyone laughs) is very memorable and there was a high-speed shot where I was being hit. Shooting it was extremely challenging yet memorable.

Raajhorshee, tell us one thing that you like about the acting of your women cast members…

Raajhorshee: All of them are very good.Everyone: That’s a diplomatic answer.Raajhorshee: Okay. Tnusree is very sexy as an actor, Mithila is very erudite, Ranieeta is powerful, Sayantani is dynamic, Devlina is a friend, Sudipta is a powerhouse, Ratasree is sweet, Richa is also a friend and Koneenica is very powerful. Everyone: It is the same for all! (everyone bursts into laughter)

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