Film and stage actor Joy Sengupta, who has been entertaining the audience for over three decades, opened up about his recent play 'Womanly Voices' on Zee Theatre and how he manages to juggle between theatre, television shows and films. The actor also listed a few advantages and disadvantages of plays being streamed online these days.
In an exclusive interaction with Free Press Journal, the actor also shared his experience of being on stage as well as on the big screen. "Acting on stage has been highly fulfilling in more ways than one. All my dreams regarding theatre have come true because I wanted to get a wide exposure and acceptance, travel, do international theatre, win awards and all of that has happened. As far as the big screen is concerned, a majority of my films have been in the same creative space that I wanted to be in. I always wanted my acting to be appreciated but not to be in the limelight for projecting a specific image or be known just as Joy Sengupta. I just wanted to merge with the medium and the characters I play and thankfully I have been able to do so," he said.
For those unversed, Sengupta has been a part of over 40 films in different languages including Hindi, English, Bengali and from these, at least 25 have been independent, niche films with a unique, uncompromised voice.
Despite having worked in a number of successful films and shows, Sengupta never stopped acting in plays as he believes his roots as an actor are in theatre. In fact, the actor stated that when he took up acting as a profession, it was primarily to work in theatre.
"I didn't actually harbour any big ambition to act on the big screen. I was instead busy doing a variety of things like directing, training, and organising workshops about how to use theatre to address socio-political issues. So theatre is something that has been a medium for self expression whereas cinema is an expansive medium beyond one person’s control and has high commercial ramifications. Theatre is more personal and more connected to what I want to say about life, the human condition and society at large, and so I cannot leave this medium," he said.
Theatre keeps me alive and energised and it will hopefully continue to be my best friend
On juggling between theatre, films and television shows, Sengupta said, "My simple formula has been to just follow my heart and my instincts. I divide my time between shoots and theatre rehearsals and structure my time according to the commitments I have. Sometimes when dates clash, I have to make sacrifices and usually, the theatre has taken precedence over the other mediums. Television producers too have been supportive of my theatre work and have given me leeway to go for rehearsals. As long as you are honest and committed, everything falls into place."
These days, plays are being streamed online and the audience can watch them from the comfort of their homes. Sharing his views about the same, the actor said, "When people cannot go to the hall or when the live theatre is not accessible to them, it is desirable that they are able to watch it somewhere, somehow. Digitised plays and online theatre make this possible and offer the enjoyment, vibrance and energy of a live theatrical performance, within the safe confines of home."
However, Sengupta believes that the best way to reach out to the new generation is via live theatre because one can fall in love this way with the purity of the medium.
"For those who are away from any good sophisticated theatre activities, and do not have access to live performances in their city, town or village, OTT is the next best way to enjoy plays. This might even lead newer audiences to leave their homes and seek out live performances. So yes, online theatre can become an initiator and help people to rediscover theatre," he said.
Sengupta further listed a few advantages and disadvantages of plays being streamed online. "The advantages are many. People within the confines of their homes can sit and appreciate world theatre, just like I do, when I can’t go to England to visit the National Theatre in London. The only disadvantage is that nothing compares to a live performance and the way it energises, touches and moves the human spirit. So yes, theatre has to be live but when it is not accessible, it is best consumed online."
Sengupta recently worked in 'Womanly Voices', which focuses on women writers who at different points in time wrote about diverse, relevant and timeless subjects and emotions. The first story is about a feudal household in Hyderabad in the 50s and is about class conflict. The second story is about the tribal belt and mirrors the kind of injustices that have been meted out to the tribals not just in independent India but right from the time of British occupation. It draws attention to the complete lack of understanding, insensitivity and ignorance about tribal life, culture and habitat and depicts how we as a society have exploited the tribal land and resources in the name of progress and development. The third is a poignant and soulful story about a blind little boy who sings Sufi qawwalis and songs like an angel. Some recognise his talent, some don't and others are jealous of his talent. All three stories represent different aspects of Indian society and offer many revelations.
In 'Womanly Voices', Sengupta plays eight different characters. Sharing his overall experience and how challenging was it for him to essay multiple characters, the actor stated, "My background in physical and street theatre helped me to switch between characters very normally. Sometimes, the change comes from changing a costume, or assuming a physical attribute, and sometimes it is internal. The shift could be inside out or outside in and different genres of theatre, from realistic to improvisational to farcical, give you different tools to play different characters."
"For me, moving from one character to the other is possible because you do not get attached to or immersed in one character but instead connect with the theme, idea and structure of the play. You put on different masks, clothes, make-up, physicality and spirit and you do it seamlessly. And in this space offered by modern theatre, you also create a suspension of disbelief for the audience who follow your transformation from one character to another with unwavering attention," he added.
Out of the eight characters, essaying the role of a teacher in the third story was the most challenging for Sengupta. "It was challenging because this character is very vulnerable, introverted and also an artistic failure. He is trying to mentor a child prodigy to find some validation and to realise through him the dreams he couldn't fulfill on his own. To bring out all these emotions, fragility, dilemmas and complexities, was quite challenging," he said.
Meanwhile, Sengupta will be next seen in a web series on SonyLIV. He is also working on the star-studded project ‘Inspector Avinash’.
Elaborating about his upcoming projects, the actor said, "There is another series called ‘A Crime to Remember’ which is about a high-profile murder investigation. I am also doing a Hindi film which is the adaptation of the controversial, complex and challenging classic, ‘Lolita’, and a few Bengali films which are very interesting and sensitive. I am also working on a musical play called ‘Devdas’ which will open in Dubai in October and a new play that is woven around a monologue about the lockdown. I have many upcoming plays, a Netflix show and hopefully, there is going to be a second season of ‘Made in Heaven’ for Amazon. So yes, the plate is quite full, I guess."
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