Nusrat Jahan, the spotlight never leaves her
The spotlight was all that Nusrat Jahan craved for. Much before she became an actress, even before she knew she would take to films, Nusrat knew she wanted the spotlight. Now, 10 years in Bengal’s film industry, she has single-mindedly pursued her object of desire.
The spotlight never leaves Nusrat.
On Sunday, she shared a picture of herself with her baby bump on Instagram, with the comment “kindness changes everything”. The photograph got 1,19,183 likes till Monday morning. This was the second picture of herself since a photograph that revealed her pregnancy made it to the internet more than a week ago. The pregnancy raised eyebrows as she is yet to disclose the father’s identity. Her husband, she says is not her husband and the two were only living together for some part of 2019 and 2020. The “Turkish wedded” husband, Nikhil Jain, has denied being a part of her pregnancy plans.
“I won’t be remembered as a woman who can keep her mouth shut and I’m OK with that,” Nusrat wrote on her Instagram account on June 9.
Yet, she hasn’t been the one talking. She is speaking through her Instagram posts and stories which are updated regularly, and these make it to news portals in Calcutta and the rest of the country. She has 2.5 million followers on Instagram and over 83,000 followers on Twitter. She is careful how she uses her social media. Instagram is for her star persona, while she uses Twitter for her views on Mamata Banerjee, Bengal, BJP and all things politics, mostly.
Even those who may not have seen a single film of hers, know she has denied her marriage, is pregnant out of wedlock. An actress, a member of the Indian Parliament, coming from a Muslim family and flaunting her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, is unheard of.
A Nusrat Jahan is unheard of in Indian public life.
Nusrat is a trailblazer. She is the first actor coming from a Muslim family in progressive Calcutta’s mainstream Bengali cinema. And not just any actor, a popular female lead. Unlike the Hindi film industry or other regional languages, the leading men and women in the films from progressive, liberal Calcutta have been unapologetically Hindus. The producers of her first film had considered a change of name but she had put her foot down and insisted on being launched as she was known all her life, Nusrat Jahan, born January 8, 1990.
She takes pride in not having any identity crisis and, also, being the first Muslim girl to act in Bengali films from this side of the border.
This month Nusrat turned a decade old in films. Her first film, Shatru, was released on June 3, 2011. A website that monitors box office collection of Bengali films, describes her last release, Dictionary, as a disaster. Whether she has a release or not, Nusrat has been counted among the top actresses in commercial Bengali films. Very often the ratings have moved back and forth between her and her close-friend and Trinamul Congress colleague, Mimi Chakraborty.
The success of a film has little to do with her popularity. Rather, social media fuels the battery of fame and popularity which Nusrat has ensured stays her way. Those familiar with the machinations of the commercial film industry in Calcutta, say the male gaze in Bengal, cutting across age and urban-rural barriers, usually rests on Nusrat, occasionally drifting elsewhere but returning to her ultimately. Nusrat makes sure the gaze does not drift too far away from her.
Nusrat is not bothered with what people say about her. Like the Muslim clerics who criticised her for using Hindu marriage symbols or playing the dhaak during Durga Puja, or the trolls from the BJP who scoffed at her for attending Parliament in a pair of pants and peplum zipped top. Nusrat stays focussed on what is to be done. During the lockdown, she kept herself busy with setting up a Covid safe home, tweeting against the BJP and giving a peep show into her life.
In 2001, former councilwoman for Taipei City Chu Mei-feng, when caught on camera having sex with a married lover, had said, “It may not work for politics, but it sure works for entertainment.” In the post-Covid world of work-from-home, Nusrat’s updates on her personal life is wholesome entertainment, a reality show available to anyone and everyone empowered with a device and internet connectivity. And here Nusrat decides what and how much she is going to reveal about herself.
When Chu Mei-feng’s fall from grace happened, Nusrat was still in school. It took her another 10 years to win a beauty pageant in the city and then bag her first film opposite Jeet, her senior in Bhowanipur College from where she earned her B.Com honours degree. The film was a hit and Nusrat stayed on. She had decided that the arc lights in the decrepit studios of Calcutta would take her to her coveted goal.
Always ahead of the pack
A look at the go-to place for all things movies, the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, throws up seven other Nusrat Jahans: six actors and a singer. All of them are from Bangladesh. Nusrat Jahan Papia, Nusrat Jahan Nushu, Nusrat Jahan Khan Nipa, Nusrat Jahan Titly, Nusrat Jahan Nodi, Nusrat Jahan Marin and Nusrat Jahan Era, a singer. But the name of Nusrat Jahan of Calcutta tops the search results. She has more films, more fame among the other Nusrat Jahans of the world.
Nusrat also has a third name, Ruhi, which is missing from her film credits and, therefore, the IMDb website. On her Twitter handle, she gives her full name as Nusrat Jahan Ruhi. It is the same name in the Lok Sabha website of which she is a member, an elected representative. She achieved all this before she turned 30.
It wasn’t easy for her. Nusrat might have lost her way in films when her name got dragged into the infamous Park Street gangrape case of February 2012. She was dating the main accused in the case and was alleged to have facilitated his escape from Calcutta. The Calcutta Police did not have too many questions for her, and her name did not appear in the chargesheet. Nusrat came out unsmeared. The incident fuelled curiosity on who this young woman was.
Her success in commercial films endeared her to the biggest production house in the city, where she did a mix of films with commercial and critically acclaimed filmmakers, acting opposite the biggest stars in Bengali films of the last decade.
That journey was short-lived yet eventful. This was also the same time when she was rumoured to have had an affair with the co-owner of the company, Shrikant Mohta. But Nusrat has always denied it.
Calling the shots
Nusrat’s best run came in the year 2017 when she did six films for the Mohta co-owned company. During those days, even when she was not in front of the camera, she used to call the shots on marketing and PR. She made it a point not to upset the directors or interfere in the shooting process. Her concern was her image and how it got projected with every film, how she was billed. “The staff there would wonder why instead of Mohta or his partner Mahendra Soni, an actress was taking decisions (on a film’s marketing),” said an acquaintance.
Following Mohta’s arrest for his alleged involvement in the Saradha scam in January 2019, Nusrat found herself out of favour, and almost overnight found herself replaced by Mimi.
One of her films got shelved the night before the muhurat. Nusrat had just finished the last round of script-reading. The road could have ended for Nusrat right there. But it didn’t. Within two months, Mamata Banerjee declared Nusrat as her party’s nominee for the Basirhat Lok Sabha seat which was quickly followed by her Turkish wedding and the Lok Sabha swearing-in. Despite being without any films that year, Nusrat was busier than before. Her status had climbed several notches with her poll victory.
Unlike actors of yesteryear who made the crossover to politics only after they were past their tinsel glory, Nusrat embraced politics while she was still at the top of her game. In terms of popularity, if not her merits and demerits as an actor, she still has many more years of films left for her. Although there were rumours and questions about her interference during her days with Mohta’s company there never was any bad blood between the employees and Nusrat. “She does not raise her voice, misbehave with the staff,” said someone who has seen her at work from a distance.
Always polite, well-meaning
That is also one quality that has endeared her to the media. Nusrat is always polite with journalists, never refuses to speak and when she does speak, she is never rude. In the party that she threw to celebrate her Turkish wedding in 2019, Nusrat had invited even ex-journalists.
For the purpose of this article, many of her directors, co-actors and even close friends turned down requests to talk about her. Some said a direct “no”, while many others thought it prudent not to respond at all. Those who spoke had only good things to say about her. “She is always very good to work with. Never shows any attitude, no starry tantrums. In that sense she is just like she was 10 years ago,” said Abhishek Datta, a Calcutta-based fashion designer.
Be it her vanity van or hotel room, Nusrat doesn’t mind sharing either with her female co-stars with some of whom she has developed a close friendship over the years. Today, Nusrat counts herself among the seniors in the Bengali film industry. She is known as someone who can quickly adapt to the situation, in any kind of shoot. “A party person, she keeps her lives separate, the political, the personal, the filmy. There is a bit of Nusrat everywhere,” said a colleague of hers.
In the June 9 photograph of a pregnant Nusrat, she is flanked by colleagues Shrabanti Chatterjee and Tanushree Chakraborty. Missing from the photograph was Nusrat’s closest friend in the industry and fellow Trinamul Congress parliamentarian Mimi Chakraborty. The two address each other as “Bonua”, an endearment for sister in Bengali.
Those in the know say Mimi was invited to the event but she stayed away. Are they still friends? No one will know till they are seen in public again. Some say, Mimi has not attended Nusrat’s parties for some time now. Mimi has not only been a close friend of Nusrat, she is also close to Nusrat’s current beau Yash Dasgupta, having acted opposite him in a number of films. In one of the films where Mimi was signed after Nusrat was booted out, Dasgupta was the male lead.
Changes over the last year
People who have known Nusrat say there were indications of a change in her for some time. Over a year, she has replaced her staff _ her driver, makeup man and hair artiste, household staff, social media team, till she replaced the man in her life, Nikhil Jain, whom she had met in 2018, the same time when her film life had hit a rough patch.
Second Innings Sports and Entertainment, which manages the accounts of many Bengali film actors, still has a post on its Facebook page congratulating Nusrat and Jain. “Nusrat Jahan and #NikhilJain, the Made in Heaven couple is on their way towards a happily-ever-after journey.” The post is from July 3, 2019. Four months later, Nusrat was admitted to a private hospital, what many believe was a drug overdose, though her family had maintained she was suffering from respiratory problems, including asthma. Among those in her inner circles the one person she hasn’t yet replaced is Abhishek Majumdar, her right-hand man. Majumdar handles her work, her business, accounts, media and, also occasionally appears as her spokesperson.
The two women seen with Nusrat in her baby bump picture are from the film fraternity and contested the elections on a BJP ticket. So did Dasgupta. The year Nusrat entered parliamentary politics was also when the BJP put up its best-ever electoral showing in Bengal, winning 18 Lok Sabha seats.
Soon enough the party was trying to emulate everything that Mamata had done in her eight years in Bengal and that included a share of the film pie. Many of Nusrat’s friends and colleagues had joined the BJP, they got tickets in the Assembly elections and lost. Post-elections, many of them have, in private, decided to stay away from politics. It didn’t pay the way they expected it would. Is Nusrat bringing the two factions together again under one happy Trinamul family?
Mamata’s annual political jamboree held near Victoria House on July 21 has been known to be a reunion ground, bringing together old friends and foes, who swear by the Trinamul chief. Nusrat still does.
Despite the controversies surrounding her and the occasional attempt by the BJP to smear her, the Trinamul has silently been with her. Party leaders have been instructed not to comment on her “personal matters”. Such examples of “personal matters” are not unknown to the Trinamul. A former mayor from the party caught between his wife and a “friend” for many years, had to lose important posts and even leave the party.
The late American suffragist Elizabeth Monroe Richards Tilton, in the late 19th century when caught for her dalliances with preacher Henry Ward Beecher, is believed to have said in her defence that women should be allowed to do what men do. More than a century later in a city younger than New York, Nusrat did not wait for anyone to allow her to say or do what she wanted. That is all that there is to her story till Nusrat herself decides to let anyone know.