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Mother's Day: Ujaan Ganguly and Churni Ganguly

Heartfelt chat with the mother-son duo

Priyanka A. Roy | Published 13.05.23, 06:00 AM
Ujaan with mother Churni Ganguly at his graduation ceremony at Oxford (left); From the albums

Ujaan with mother Churni Ganguly at his graduation ceremony at Oxford (left); From the albums

Starting her acting journey back in 1988, Churni Ganguly has been a household name and maintained a powerful presence on screen, both big and small, with various roles over the years. Later, taking up direction with critically acclaimed films like Nirbashito and Tarikh, she bagged two National Awards. Her legacy, which is still in the making, is also being successfully carried on by her son Ujaan Ganguly. Bright in academics, he has already made a mark in the Bengali film industry too, with the few films that he has worked on, notably his debut film Rosogolla, followed by Lokkhi Chele. A Telegraph chat with the mother and son:

You have a large body of work across mediums. What has been the motivation behind actively pursuing your career?


Churni: I have not really been actively pursuing my career, it just happened to me. I am one of those people who is very bad at public relations and social media. It is not in my nature to do that. The fact that I am doing good work and doing it wholeheartedly is enough, I feel, for others to know that I am eager to work and willing to work.

You have worked in serials for a long time. How did you manage work-life balance and motherhood?

I always knew that I wanted to be there for Ujaan. I had not kept a nurse for him. I kept a cook instead who would take care of the baby. Later when he grew up, I wanted to be there for not only his school work but for him to talk to me, and to spend time together. So no matter what I used to do, I used to say that I wouldn’t work after 6pm. I gave him that time to talk, to cuddle. I might have lost out on some work but I don’t mind at all.

How do you look at motherhood?

I feel that control is not the key. The idea is to make sure your child has a choice and has the freedom to exercise that choice right from childhood. That is how I brought up Ujaan. When a person learns to make choices, they learn to be independent. Maybe go wrong sometimes and not go wrong but at least they learn to be responsible for their choices. Keeping the lines of communication open was very important for me. Even today, he shares whatever he has gone through with me.

What is that one thing that motherhood gave you?

Peaceful sleep! (Laughs) I feel complete. It is something I could not have lived without. With Ujaan, it is one film I did not go wrong with. He is free to make mistakes and have wrong choices. But it is one hit film that I delivered. Not because of his achievements or anything. He is compassionate, gentle and he takes care of people around him and I feel this is what was always meant to be.

Did you always want to act?

I never thought I would. I enjoyed drama when I was in school and in university. I saw myself as an academic because my parents were both teachers, which is why I have a B.Ed. degree and have taught in a school. But then offers kept coming my way and I won an award at the national level. That is when my father told me that people don’t get offers like that sitting at home, I can explore what it is like and come back to teaching later and do my PhD. I left my teaching and went to Bombay. Acting just happened.

What does acting mean to you?

It is something I have always enjoyed, it has been a part of my life for so long that it has become an inseparable part of who I am.

Do you recall any challenging moments in being a mother and simultaneously pursuing your career?

I remember there was a time when I was doing serials and it showed values that I did not want to inculcate in my son. I shot for these because I had to keep the kitchen running. Because Kaushik (Ganguly, husband) was not willing to do television and he was still waiting to be a filmmaker. I worked and came home but I never encouraged him to see the work or even look back at it. That was very challenging for me emotionally and mentally.

You later took up direction. What gives you more joy?

When I am an actor, I don’t have to worry about the logistics of filmmaking but when I am making films, since I also write my films there is an audio-visual presentation happening simultaneously in front of me. I know what I want to see and what I want to hear in this film. When I am directing, it is very satisfying to see that coming through. I am finicky but also want to see what I wrote translate on screen. And I want my audience to see that too.

Did you ever give Ujaan professional guidance?

He used to do a lot of extracurricular activities in school. We used to train him for elocution and we used to guide him for dramatics and he did very well. He did a performance called Smike under the direction of Katy Lai Roy and he was brilliant on stage. That role got him Rosogolla. Shiboprosad went to see him and felt he was good. He did not know that he was our son. And I think that’s where Ujaan felt he likes acting a lot. But finally since his academics were so good always, I thought he would do good there as well. I don’t know where he is headed but I do know that he enjoys acting a lot.

What do you admire about his acting?

His perseverance. He is very committed when he does a role. He reads between the lines, the subtext when he gets the script. He gets into the skin of the character. I think it is a very good quality for an actor.

Can you recall one incident or a day from his life that made you proud as a mother?

There have been many. The first prize he won in school was for handwriting and I cried myself to bits around that time. Later he became school captain and marching towards the altar, I cried. When he got the distinction and got his results home, I cried. Oxford and distinction don’t go together... the hard work he did. He had Covid, there was no one to deliver food to him. He never said he can’t do it anymore. He always said he is fine, he is okay.

Looking back at your career, what would you consider as a highlight moment?

I think when my first film came out, Nirbashito. When I saw the end product. Everybody was appreciating it. It was a difficult script to write and do it on screen. To get the likes of Mani Ratnam to see the film, review from BFI, to be told by Taslima that she was happy with the film. It was a high point in my career.

There’s something called a mother’s guilt. Did it ever happen to you and does it fall in place?

I have always prioritised him. In any decision I took, I kept in mind that Ujaan needs to be taken care of. When I was doing Nirbashito, I was busy for two months then and it was his ICSE year. When I came back and sat down with him I saw that he hadn’t prepared well. I thought he was studying but he hadn’t. That is when I felt a little guilty for making the film in his final year but then the two-and-a-half months we had, we made up for it. He did well, so the guilt did not remain.

What kind of a mother has she been to you?

Ujaan: She has been able to combine the roles of a mother and a friend quite effortlessly. She has always respected me as a person with an agency, who has the ability to make his own decisions and can make his own choices and that has been the case even when I was three years old. And it was my birthday, and she used to give me choices — do I want to eat this or that; do I want to go or stay back at home? And this was never to spoil me but make me understand myself and others. Fundamentally as an empathy-building exercise, it made me conscious, empathetic and understand what another person wants.

What were the growing-up years like with a working mother at home?

There were times when she was busy shooting Ekta Kapoor serials in Bombay and had to travel to Bombay very often but that was rather uncharacteristic of the relationship we share. I was used to not seeing her for 15 days, but she never made her absence felt. She has always sacrificed her career to bring me up. But even in parts when she was working, she never made her absence felt. She was always present in the most important decisions of my life.

Did you accompany her to the sets as a child?

When she used to do serials, I remember going to her sets and I got to relish that from both sides, my father and mother. But I was busy in my own world there — Pokémon card exchange or book cricket! I was never inquisitive about what was going on in the sets. The fact that I was taken on set was known to a lot more people than I thought and that always comes up in conversations now that I am in this profession, much to my embarrassment. (Laughs) At a later stage, when I took an interest in literature and filmmaking, inevitably I respected my parents’ work from a more mature capacity. I started noticing the nuances of the job and the gestures my mother did while acting. Later when my mother took the director’s seat with Nirbashito, I remember visiting her set and her taking command over a massive unit, her all-encompassing presence on a set full of men, with so much tenacity and dedication doing this, I felt so glad and it was such a heart-warming visual.

Do you admire her more as a director or an actor?

I have admired her longer as an actor than I have admired her as a director. I do feel clearly that she is underutilised, which is of course a secret grudge that I hold against the world. But I feel more moved by her two films. Her style of storytelling, the subject that she chose and her way of telling the story and executing that, it is so vastly different from the work we see here that it stands out a lot more. I do respect her as both.

What is your fondest memory of time spent with her?

I posted on Facebook about this too. I had to spend a year abroad but it was pandemic before that and after having spent a year at home with her, we were too close to each other and then I left for Oxford. Finally, during my graduation ceremony when I saw her, her facial expressions seeing me in that hat for the first time and the smile she had on her face is something I would always remember. I remembered all those moments back in my childhood when there was a load-shedding and both of us were sweating but she used to teach me, the side quest that she had to see me academically flourish and finally see me in that moment. I think it is one of the most beautiful moments we shared.

One thing you would like to do for her:

I have always told her that I would like to buy a onesie suit for her (laughs), which is a side quest, but if I have to focus on the ones that sound better then I would like to stay on track. I just never want to see her sulk or make her feel that I am going against principles she has inculcated in me and I think I would do justice to the painstaking process called parenting.

One value she inculcated in you that you are thankful for?

There are many values I did not end up learning to start with, like orderliness. She really wants that. We could save two hours of our day every day if I had managed to learn it! (Laughs) Sometimes we put this accusation on our parents that our parents are dated and can’t understand us. But she is very adaptive. And that is something I learnt from her. To understand someone’s perspective rather than jump to some inane criticism about a person.

Last updated on 13.05.23, 06:00 AM

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