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By Once dismissed as too tall, too fair and light-eyed, she is today tollywood's trendsetter. Rituparna Sengupta tells t2 how a misfit became queen bee As told to Kushali Nag
  • Published 10.03.09
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Picture by Pabitra Das; wardrobe: Pakkhi; make-up: Nabin

Films and I were poles apart

When I was young, films were a remote concept in our family. We didn’t have a TV at home till I was in the 9th standard. My uncle Dr Indrajit Sengupta and my grandmother made sure that my studies were not hampered in any way. I was culturally inclined and I trained in Odissi and Manipuri dance.

I was allowed to go to the theatres to watch films only with my uncle, which used to be once in a blue moon. I won’t say my family is conservative. I would say they followed rigid principles. That’s why even though I got through to Jadavpur University and Presidency College after my Higher Secondary, my father wanted me to join the all-girls’ Lady Brabourne College. I was far away from films there too. All my friends would go to watch films and I would feel left out.

How I got my first film

I had done a few dance performances in our college fests and a friend of mine, Anindita, suggested my name to her brother actor Kushal Chakraborty, who was looking for a newcomer for a TV series. I did Shwet Paayra with him and after it was aired, I got a call from director Prabhat Roy! My heart started pounding as he was a big name.

I went to NT1 Studio with my mother. Ma was very supportive, but no one else in the family was. I was very nervous. Prabhat Roy offered me Shwet Patharer Thala without even taking my audition. My grandmother had accompanied me to the sets on the first day of the shoot. Not that she liked what I was doing, but she didn’t disapprove of it either. Aparna Sen saw me and the first thing she said was “Besh mishti toh meyeta!” She also guided me, suggesting that I wear danglers and scarves.

How they tried to write me off

I got the Anandalok award for best newcomer for Shwet Patharer Thala and then began the anti-Rituparna campaign in Tollywood.

Many said that I was too tall — I am 5’6’’ — for Tollywood heroes. Some said I was too fair and wasn’t a conventional Bengali beauty. They said light-eyed heroines can’t make it big. But even when I was being considered a viable heroine in the industry, I didn’t take things seriously. Because I hadn’t thought of making a living out of acting. I wanted to become a teacher and have command over my students. I was so fascinated by teaching!

How I became a heroine

Immediately after the release of Shwet Patharer Thala, I got a call from director Dulal Lahiri to do the TV series Cinemawalla. After that, I got into the commercial league. Swapan Saha offered me Sujan Sakhi with Abhishek Chatterjee and then I did a slew of films with Chiranjeet. Sansar Sangram was a superhit. We did Bastir Meye Radha and Manush Amanush. I also did Baba Keno Chakor with Swapan Saha. But then my graduation exams were coming up and my father turned away many potential producers. Many wanted to wait till my exams were over. I knew I had arrived. I was filling up the vacuum after Satabdi Roy and Debasree Roy.

Prosenjit and I

Being paired with Prosenjit wasn’t a crucial decision in my life. He was not working at that time. He came back after a lull and we did Nagpanchami and Abujh Mon together. Then we did Sasurbari Zindabad, Moner Manush, Khelaghar, Shudhu Ekbar Bolo, Sindoor Khela, Tumi Ele Tai, Aaghat, Aami Shei Meye.... Moner Manush and Sasurbari Zindabad became massive hits. The clothes we wore became trendsetters. Then I did films in collaboration with Bangladesh, like Sagarika, Ranga Bou, Tomar Amar Prem.

I wasn’t just working with Prosenjit. With the success of each film, I became more and more dear to my audience. But I was very naive at that time. With him there was never a relationship. My relationship with him was made up by the media! Instead I fell in love with my work. I became more confident. My observation power increased, my dubbing skills improved. Yet I remained grounded. I became an accessible star with no tantrums. I wasn’t manipulative at all and my emotions were taken for granted.

New heroes and I

I did Aakrosh with Jeet. I teamed up with Indrajit for Gayer Meye Saharer Bodhu, Phool Aar Pathar, Amar Maa, Amader Sansar and Ustaad. Then I did a lot of films with Ferdous and people really liked us, both in Bengal and Bangladesh. We did Janam Janamer Saathi, Suorani Duorani, Pratihingsha (which was with both Ferdous and Prosenjit). The association with Ferdous continued with Akritagya, Mon Jaare Chaay, Bouma Zindabaad, Aainate, and now Comeback and Shakhi Bhalobasha Kahare Koy, which are under production.

I have always wanted to work with new directors and new heroes because at the start of my career I had worked with all senior actors, like Tapas Pal and Chiranjeet. Now, I am working with heroes my age. There will be new pairings if I work with a new set of actors. And not only me, everyone is working with newcomers. Or else how will the industry grow?

Why I entered parallel cinema

Dahan was a coincidence. After so many commercial films, I had improved as an actress and started loving the film medium. And everybody wants to work in films that would travel to the festivals. Rituda (Rituparno Ghosh) called me up for Dahan and I was very happy. He was a big name after Unishe April and Dahan was his second film. Rituda told me that he had seen me in Cinemawalla. He took my make-up test and that became the Dahan poster. I got the National Award for that film.

I wasn’t scared that I would lose my commercial audience after Dahan. I am a product of commercial cinema and I have never stopped doing commercial films.

Dahan was more difficult, even though I played the lead in Paromitar Ekdin. Dahan was the first film where I had to handle an intense role of a tormented wife. Though I was extremely charged up, I felt the heaviness of the role. I wasn’t even married at that time to feel what a married woman goes through in adverse situations. When I did Paromitar Ekdin I already had Dahan’s experience, so it was easy.

Then I did Utsab with Rituda again, Mando Meyer Upakhyan with Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Alo with Tarun Majumdar, which was another turning point in my career. Now I want to do all Tarun Majumdar films.

Why I went to Bollywood

It was in 2006 when Bollywood was going through a change. The multiplexes came in and different kinds of films were being made. I wanted to be a part of this change. I felt I should also belong to this kind of cinema. Coincidentally, I got a call from Chandan Arora who was looking for a new face for his film Main Meri Patni Aur Woh. A friend of mine referred me to Chandan, who offered me the film. I didn’t have to make an effort to go to Mumbai. I didn’t have to struggle to make a mark.

Main Meri Patni Aur Woh did reasonably well and I got Unns after that, and then Sirf and Gauri — The Unborn. But I think I could not market myself properly in Bollywood. In Mumbai you have to be street-smart, which I am not. I don’t know the tricks of the trade. Besides, to make a mark in Bollywood, you have to have a commercial hit. I know I will never be the no. 1 heroine in Bollywood, but I am okay with that.

Tolly vs bolly

Initially, a couple of directors and producers in Tollywood were apprehensive. But I struck a balance and consistently shuttled between Mumbai and Calcutta. I know that whatever I am today is because of Tollywood.

But I have been taken for a ride too. I was not very professional when it came to negotiating my fee. That’s why I have been part of several low-budget films by debutant directors. I am soft by nature and I cannot turn people away. Over the years I have realised that there’s no place for good people (in the industry). Many directors don’t work with me anymore. That’s fine by me. If they don’t need me, I don’t need them either. If they can survive without me, I too can survive without them.

Why I did Trishna

Why shouldn’t I have done Trishna? Should I have done it at the start of my career to be famous? That would have been a wrong decision. I had the courage and looks to carry off the role in Trishna. The film is doing very well at the box office. It’s running for the seventh week and I have catered to a very different kind of audience. Besides, Trishna is just another film in my CV and it is not the only film.

I didn’t do Trishna to prove anything. As long as people accept me, I am okay. And those who don’t approve of it, it’s fine. Let me earn my bread the way I want to.

Tolly projects (upcoming, under-production, ready for release)

Parambrata Chatterjee’s Jiyo Kaka!!

An untitled Ashok Dhanuka film with Jeet

Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s Bodyguard with Jeet

Vaastab with Avinash Wadhavan

Tarun Majumdar’s untitled film

Comeback with Trishna hero Angshuman and Ferdous

Shakhi Bhalobasha Kahare Koy with Amitabha Bhattacharya

Partha Ganguly’s Palashpur Du Mile opposite Rrishii Kaushik

Anjan Dutt’s BBD

In Bollywood:

Amol Palekar’s

English-Hindi Avartan

Karan Razdan’s

Mittal vs Mittal

SRK with Vinay Pathak

Priyadarshan’s

Bum Bum Bole

David Dhawan’s

Do Knot Disturb

Ashok Tyagi’s

Dard-e-Disco

Anup Das’s Paroksh

Love Khichdi with Randeep Hooda

Is Rituparna the biggest Tolly heroine after Suchitra Sen? Tell t2@abpmail.com