After winning hearts with Hamlet, actor Riddhi Sen intends to archive good theatre for posterity
A National Award-winning actor, Riddhi gave a riveting performance on stage as Hamlet
In the past few years, the theatre has gone through a sea of change with the novel use of the proscenium and the advent of intimate theatre both at local and global levels. Kolkata, which is considered one of the hubs of Indian theatre, is no exception either. The city witnessed an incredible transformation in terms of presentation steered by some of the most active groups, Swapnasandhani being one of them. Led by thespian and actor Kaushik Sen, the group celebrated three decades of their presence with an impressive production of Hamlet with actor Riddhi Sen playing the eponymous role. The three-hour-long play mesmerized the audience with a marvelous performance by Riddhi coupled with a brilliant use of the proscenium.
The 24-year-old National Award-winning actor is among a handful of actors in Bengal who effortlessly straddles the two media of film and theatre. But the young artist hasn’t restricted himself to acting alone and tried his hands in filmmaking too with his first short film Cold Fire ready for release. Besides, he along with his friends has also come up with Oddventures to produce unique projects and archive some brilliant stage productions for posterity.
We get chatty with the multi-faceted Riddhi about the innovative ways in which he is steering his career ahead.
What do you feel worked for Hamlet?
We celebrated 20 years of Swapnasandhani with Macbeth and on our 30th year, my father (Kaushik Sen) wanted to go back to Shakespeare since it was my late grandfather Shyamal Sen’s dream to direct and act in Hamlet. Initially, there were no such plans for me to do the entire part but an unfortunate incident changed the course of the narrative and I had to do it. During the pandemic, people’s lives revolved around everything digital and watching web series had reached a saturation point. So, we had no doubts they would flock back to theatres once things opened up.
We saw that happening with Suman Mukherjee’s play Mephisto which the young people watched in flocks. Hamlet, too, drew the young generation and despite eight shows in weekdays, office-goers and college students thronged the auditorium. The spontaneous reaction of the audience proved that our attention span hasn’t shortened.
Did you expect such an unprecedented reception for your act in Hamlet?
I had nightmares of failing the audience and I am glad that it didn’t happen. Though Hamlet’s character is in his early twenties, across the globe, Hamlet is played by actors who are above 30 years to bring out that maturity. Thespian Suman Mukherjee said he saw a Hamlet production abroad where 27-year-old actor Alex Lawther played the role and then he saw me doing it at 24. He was very happy to see a young Hamlet and so was the audience. That was my takeaway.
How did you prepare?
Since Hamlet’s character ruled the stage throughout, I was skeptical of getting unduly projected. But while preparing for the role I could connect with Hamlet’s travails and dilemmas. Apart from that, stagecraft plays a vital part including the fusion of physical performance and elocution and blending modern and classical acting while maintaining a balance. So, Hamlet entered the stage wearing a hoodie and jeans and there were a few Western rock music snippets, but we ensured it wasn’t overwhelming.
You are trying to archive theatre in a very innovative way.
I think it’s our primary responsibility to take theatre forward and keep it alive for the future generation. It’s a pity we can’t watch such brilliant theatres by iconic thespians like Sambhu Mitra and Utpal Dutt among others, and hence, preservation is the need of the hour and we are working on the same with UK-based Bengal Heritage Foundation spearheaded by Kaushik Chatterjee. Recently, we finished documenting Hamlet with an eight-camera shoot following the stage exactly the way the eyes of a live audience move, keeping the essence of theatre intact. We plan to preserve many an important play by groups like Nandikar, Chetana and others, which will be on an online platform for viewing for a minimal fee.
Do you think organic theatre will rise in popularity?
Organic theatre outside of proscenium will definitely grow because a time will come when the audience will be bored with proscenium. In intimate theatre the connection between the audience and actors is different. In fact, my dad’s next production will explore the intimate space.
Tell us a little about Oddventures production.
While making the short Cold Fire, I decided to start Oddventures with my friends Rajarshi Nag, Surangana Bandyopadhyay and Rwitobroto Mukherjee since we wanted to learn the ropes of production and support new talents who are seeking an impartial platform.
We did the music campaign video for Ami Arts festival which celebrates the universal appeal of art. I directed it and it was incredible how Rajarshi, Surangana, Bisakh Sarkar and Ujan Chatterjee handled a 100-crew team during the shoot. We also wish to do a series of commercial projects on mental health awareness including a few creative campaign films in collaboration with mental health organisations. Besides, I want to make a feature film next year. There are two original concepts in my mind and I might go ahead with one around April-May 2023.
Any upcoming release?
There are two movies by Pavel called Daktar Kaku and Mon Kharap which are waiting to be released.