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Sauraseni Maitra: ‘Mehrunissa in Taj: Reign of Revenge is a true kingmaker’

ZEE5 series Taj: Reign of Revenge stars Naseeruddin Shah, Dharmendra, Aashim Gulati, Aditi Rao Hydari, Zarina Wahab, Sandhya Mridul and Taaha Shah

Soujannya Das Calcutta Published 07.06.23, 04:50 PM
Sauraseni Maitra on the sets of Taj: Reign of Revenge.

Sauraseni Maitra on the sets of Taj: Reign of Revenge. Instagram

Playing a historical character comes with its own challenges and Kolkata girl Sauraseni Maitra is living it up. Holding her own as the beautiful and powerful Mehrunissa, prince Salim’s love interest, Sauraseni shares with us her experience of breathing life into the character in Taj: Reign of Revenge, streaming on ZEE5.

How did you land the role of Mehrunissa in the ZEE5 series Taj?


Sauraseni Maitra: I received a call from the team during the pandemic in April 2021. I had to send an audition wearing make-up and costume but it wasn’t possible for me at that point in time. I received another call from them around July while I was shooting for Ekannoborti. The schedule was so tough that I did not get the time to send it. Much later when I was shooting for a film in Bombay, I got a call directly from the producer of Taj. She said no matter what, I must take out two hours of my time and give the audition. They were really keen on it. I went for the audition and within the next two days, my dream came true.

What were the challenges in getting into the character of Mehrunissa?

Sauraseni Maitra: I didn’t really get a lot of preparation time. The makers were shooting Season 1 and 2 simultaneously. I was one of the last of the characters to get cast. But I made sure that I was constantly on call. Because when you shoot a historical drama for the audience in 2023, it is a huge challenge in itself. You have to convince the audience. It is important for any actor to convince herself that she belongs to that era. I was constantly talking to William Borthwick, the showrunner. They have been researching the film for seven years. They created Mehrunissa’s journey to becoming Noor Jahan. It was very important for me to think about what the makers were thinking.

If you look at the look and feel of the show, you’ll get a Game of Thrones reference. All the characters have their dark side and bright side. Mehrunissa is the perfect blend of sugar and spice. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it, no matter how many challenges there are. On the other hand, she has a sensitive side and she is a loving daughter. Her love and admiration for Salim is also there. I think it takes a lot of strength in a person to be a filler for another person. You need conviction in yourself to convince the other person. Mehrunissa is a true kingmaker.

Playing a historical character may come with its own set of difficulties…

Sauraseni Maitra: Noor Jahan was one of the most powerful women in India. The character comes with a lot of responsibility. The script is always the bible but there were a lot of places where I could improvise. I delivered lines in different ways to make the character powerful. I am very spontaneous as an actor and I am also a director’s actor. I don’t take it too seriously. When I wear a costume, I am living the character.

You look beautiful as Mehrunissa. What went behind creating the look?

Sauraseni Maitra: The credit goes to the designer for the look, feel and style in terms of make-up and hair. A lot of research went into it. It was very important for me to stay true to the character and portray her journey with authenticity and conviction. I had to get comfortable in the costumes and heavy jewellery. Our shooting set was in Gujarat. The temperature was really high. Even if we were feeling uncomfortable, our characters were not supposed to feel or look uncomfortable.

Did you learn to speak Urdu?

Sauraseni Maitra: Yes, I had to speak in both Hindi and Urdu. To learn the language of that time was challenging. I had to work a lot on my pronunciation and diction.

I was given a script but there were a lot of words which I had to google, ask my directors and learn from them. I would rehearse my lines with the assistant directors. It is also very important to adapt to the body language of that time, to learn about the etiquette of the Mughal era. A lot of work went behind it.

Share your experience of working with Naseeruddin Shah, who plays emperor Akbar.

Sauraseni Maitra: Taj is Naseer sir’s show. It is Akbar’s show. It’s his world and we are just living in it. It was so fantastic to work with him. I met Naseer sir on the first day of the shoot. I did not have a scene with him. The way he is with people at the age of 73, with that body of work, it is always intimidating for an actor but you also get to learn so much.

As an actor I need to have that confidence in myself because when I’m standing there in my costume with him, I am not looking at Naseeruddin Shah, I am looking at emperor Akbar and I am Mehrunissa. I learnt so much just by observing him. He’s still so passionate about his work and works long hours.

Having worked in the Bengali and Hindi film industries, what do you feel is the difference between the two?

Sauraseni Maitra: Bengal has more talent but it is very important to know how to treat your actors. People don’t give you respect in Kolkata. If we compare ourselves to the South, I think we are really lagging behind. Look at how films are doing at the box office! People are not watching Bengali films. But it is growing and getting better.

What is next for you?

Sauraseni Maitra: I will do a web series with Aritra Sen. There are a few national and regional projects too.

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