Jisshu: actor who is a hero

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By Jisshu Sengupta on Jaatishwar and being ‘an actor who is a hero’
  • Published 9.01.14

I feel Jaatishwar is Srijit Mukherji’s best film. People who love music, who love to love, who love Bengali films, everyone should go watch it,” says Jisshu Sengupta over sandwiches and coffee at Smoke Shack, Park Plaza, on a winter afternoon. “But there’s one thing that used to scare me a lot! Whenever Srijit would say, ‘Khub bhalo hoyechhe’,” laughs the actor. Over to Jisshu...

So what happened on the first day of your shoot?

It was weird! In my entire career I haven’t given 18 to 19 takes for one shot, which I have for my first scene in Jaatishwar! (Grins) The scene had me and Swastika (Mukherjee) walking down the road… it’s a long scene with a two-camera set-up…

And then what happened?!

We were saying our lines and... I gave 18-19 takes for that! And I didn’t even know why I was doing it! (laughs) And every time Srijit would say, “Khub bhalo hoyechhe, kintu aar ekbar jabo!” That was the first day, so I didn’t say anything. I was fine, but as an actor I needed to know why I was giving all those takes! Why was I doing that? And he was like, “Whatever you have done, you do the same thing. Khub bhalo hoyechhe, but let’s go for one more take!” So ‘oi khub bhalo hoyechhe’ shunlei bhoy korto! It was like “Srijit is saying ‘khub bhalo hoyechhe’, so that means we have to do it once again, right?!” (laughs)

What was it like working with Srijit for the first time?

It was great; he is a perfectionist. He knows exactly what he wants from his actors. If a single thing is not happening or out of place, he will go for another take. And he won’t let go until he has achieved what he thought of. After two-three days I understood what he was trying to do, which I respect. Initially he will tell you what to do. After that, when he knows that the actor has got into the character, and that he can mange it by himself, he won’t tell you what to do. He’ll say, “Let’s see what you want to do.” And when there is a bond between the actor and the director, one can discuss. An actor gets the confidence that what he is doing is correct.

What about Jaatishwar appealed to you?

The first thing that struck me was that it was a musical love story. The music is the backbone of the film; it serves as a backdrop for the film, which is the first thing I loved about the script. It was very exciting. My character is very nice, subdued, quiet and at the same time he wants to achieve something in life.

Who are you in Jaatishwar?

I play Rohit Mehta, a Gujarati boy. Music is his passion, he wants to become a musician. He has faced a lot of struggles.

What was Srijit’s brief to you?

In hindsight I feel he wrote the character keeping me in mind. It’s a very quiet character, he doesn’t talk much and there is a kind of aggression in him. Srijit asked me to be myself. “But the aggression should be there,” he said. My character has a lot of layers. When I read a script I respond to it like an audience member. At the end of the film, if I’m there in the audience’s mind, I have done my job.

How did you prepare for this character?

I am a director’s actor. I love the environment of the set, I want to be there and I try to understand what or how the character would respond to certain situations. I go on the set, talk to the director…

But when you get a character like Rohit, how do you get into his mindset? Do you completely rely on your instinct?

Yeah, that’s it, I believe in going by my instinct. After reading the script I ask the director about my character’s background, what does he do, how he walks, talks, what clothes he wears.... I ask the director how he is looking at it. And then the environment of the set, or when I am shooting a particular scene, helps me get into his mindset. I have been doing this, following this process since the last 16 years, and how it has happened I really don’t know!

Jisshu and Swastika in Jaatishwar

Was it important for Rohit to be a Gujarati, and not a Bengali?

Correct, that was the demand of the script. Rohit is a singer-songwriter whose only goal is to compose and sing a song in Bengali! It was quite a challenge playing a Gujarati boy. There are a few scenes where I have spoken Gujarati. (Smiles).

Since you were part of the Calcutta music scene, could you feel the connect somewhere, and did that help you shape the nuances of your character?

I was part of the music industry for 10 years. I was with bands like Parash Pathar, Shohor, my own band called Haze.... I was a part of Quinine.

You were playing drums in all the set-ups?

Yes, I was a drummer. But in this film I play the guitar… I know how to play the instrument. But that didn’t help me to portray this character. This was a separate deal altogether.

What does the word ‘jaatishwar’ mean to you?

I really don’t know. I believe in things which I can see or feel. If I see it, I’ll believe in it.

How did you deal with the void after Rituparno Ghosh’s death?

For two-three months I couldn’t come out of my house. I was so depressed. I felt everything was finished for me. Fourteen months after Chitrangada, I did this film. This is the first role I accepted after Rituda’s passing away.

A lot of people had offered me films but I wasn’t satisfied with the characters or films coming my way. From Rituda, I had learnt how to look at a character. Earlier I used to do everything. Earlier I used to act without understanding! But after working with Rituda, I started understanding films, characters. Then I started understanding scripts also. This is what I want, what I want to do in life. I am open to all kinds of cinema… I would like people to remember the character I played. It should have something. I don’t want to be a hero, a villain. I can play any character as long as it has meaning to the film and to me. I want to be an actor who is a hero, not a hero who is an actor.

Having done films like Jaatishwar and Anjan Dutt’s Shesh Boley Kichhu Nei, do you feel you are rediscovering yourself as an actor?

No, I did that with Rituda only. Because I never knew what I was doing or what I was capable of until Rituda came along. For those six-seven years, doing his films and others’ too, made me understand what I can do, how far I can go as an actor, how to approach a character. It’s there with me now. I am more confident as an actor, as a person. And I would give the credit also to Nilanjanaa (wife).

Arindam Chatterjee
Is Jisshu a hero or an actor first? Tell t2@abp.in