Shraddha Das made her debut in 2010 with the Hindi film Lahore, which bagged awards at not only the 57th National Film Awards, but also the 42nd WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. She was in college then. Since then, she has carved her own niche — working in six film industries in her almost decade-long career. A Bengali by birth and at heart, the Babumoshai Bandookbaaz and Sleeper Cell actor was born and brought up in Mumbai. Balancing both commercial success and critical acclaim, Shraddha is a strict believer in “discipline and hard work”.
In a candid chat with My Kolkata, the actor talks about her work experience with Bollywood icon Nawazuddin Siddique, her workshop experience with National School of Drama stalwarts, her camaraderie with Bengali film industry colleagues Abir Chatterjee and Jeet, and her upcoming projects. Over to Shraddha…
My Kolkata: You are Bengali by birth. Tell us about your Bengal connection…
Shraddha: My strongest memory of Bengal is from my childhood vacation days in my father’s native village of Gobindpur in Purulia district — enjoying and playing to my heart’s content. However, my subsequent visits to Kolkata have always been for work.
You are a singer and an actor. How did the singing happen?
(Chuckling) As you know, in a Bengali family everybody sings, and my parents and brother are fabulous singers. I was a studious child and it was only on my mother’s insistence that I took up singing and started performing in several Mumbai auditoriums to overcome stage fright. I gradually began to enjoy it and became a regular performer at shows. I started earning at a very young age.
You were spotted by the late Dev Anand. Is that how the calling for acting came?
Photographer Harish Daftary showed my photographs to Dev Anand sir and that’s how he selected me for the movie. Unfortunately, the film did not release due to his sudden demise. However, that is how my acting career began, and I thought, ‘Oh, I look good as well!’ (laughs). But I strongly believe that knowing your craft well is primary and I trained under stalwarts from the National School of Drama (NSD).
Speaking of that, how did the workshops with NSD icons like Piyush Mishra and Chittaranjan Giri happen?
My first movie was the National Award-winning Lahore. Piyush Mishra sir was working on the movie at the time and they had signed a Pakistani actress who could not come due to visa issues. That is when they saw me. Piyush sir auditioned me and then I had a few workshops with him as well as actors like Salim Shah and Chittaranjan Giri.
How was it meeting Dev Anand?
I met him three-four times. My parents are big fans of his. He was amazing and was also going to make me sing a song in the film with Anu Malik as the music director. I sang in front of him and he loved it! I am so glad that I could meet him in the last few years before he passed away.
From 2007 till date, your journey has brought you both critical and commercial success. How do you reconcile them?
Both make me happy and I want both in every film or web series I do, as they are equally important. I have had a long and difficult journey. I am glad that I am still working after so many years and in so many languages. However, it was tough and I needed a lot of courage to keep going. I think I have worked in 40-45 films and working in multiple languages makes me more secure as an actor with several and simultaneous releases.
As an actor, I give my best. I learn my lines by heart. For every project, I request the director to assign an assistant director with whom I can work on the dialogues and the pronunciations. I convert the dialogues into Hindi and English, then repeat the lines to myself till I deliver them proficiently.
I was a complete nerd in school and very good at memorising, which is now helping me a lot! (Laughs) However, in my opinion, I learnt the most on sets and from my experiences in life.
What is the project selection process like, now, after so many years in the multiple film industries?
After so many years, I have become extremely selective. My focus is on the script, and also if it is something that I would want to watch. I have a very short attention span of just about five minutes. If I don’t like it in five minutes, I switch. So, I do see to it that the project has that grappling hook along with who the director is and what my role is like.
I have always made my own decisions and learnt from them. I really love going to the set and playing a new character. It does not matter which language it is because I enjoy the process. And, working in multiple languages gives me a large audience base.
Throw some light on the experience of working with Nawazuddin Siddique in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz?
I remember meeting Nawaz on the set the first day and he was sitting on the ground. He seemed so normal that I was taken aback! Whenever we have spoken, it has been chilled out and casual. It’s the same with Jeet and Abir…
How did you start working in Bengali films?
I had worked in a Bollywood film called Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji (directed by Madhur Bhandarkar), in which I met the casting director of my debut Bengali film, Royal Bengal Tiger. He referred me to the Rajesh sir (director Rajesh Ganguly). I had to work extensively on the language and after multiple workshops, I came on board. I am glad that I could work with both Abir (Chatterjee) and Jeet in my first Bengali film. Later, I worked in Badsha: The Don and Panther: Hindustan Meri Jaan.
Do you remember any fun anecdotes while working with Abir or Jeet?
(Laughing) I remember coming to Kolkata after a really long time to shoot for Royal Bengal Tiger. On a day off, I went to have sweets but not from a traditional local shop. On my return, thinking that I had done a great job, I proudly announced it, as if I had done a cool Bong thing! Abir pulled my leg so much about it!
Tell us something about your Bengali OTT release Sleeper Cell.
Two episodes are already out on Mojoplex, a new platform. Sleeper Cell is directed by my Panther director Anshuman Pratyush. I play the role of a CID officer called Nandita and I have worked very hard for the character. I even knew the lines of other characters and details of every scene.
For the role, I had a lot of references. I studied Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime and Robin Wright in House of Cards to get the body language and other nuances right. Anshuman was in for a surprise. We shot eight to 10 scenes in the first day itself and from there it was just amazing. It is one of my most cherished roles and I have learnt a lot about myself as an actor while playing the character.
Shraddha Das in the Anshuman Pratyush-directed OTT series ‘Sleeper Cell’@Mojoplex/YouTube
What can the audience expect from you in the coming days?
My Kannada movie Kotigobba 3, directed by Kichcha Sudeep sir, which was a superhit in theatres just released on Amazon Prime. My next is Arrdham in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam with actor Mahendran from Master.
Any plans of releasing a single or music album?
Shraddha: I have already sung and shot for a single. It is called Sohbat and will be released soon. I had also gone on an American tour of Telugu songs with Devi Sri Prasad, a popular musician and composer from the South.