'I love cerebral acting,' says Bangladeshi actor Jaya Ahsan, who's equally popular in Tollywood
The description of superstar rests lightly on Jaya Ahsan’s shoulders. The three-time Bangladeshi National Award-winning actor tells us that she prefers being identified as an artiste.Hailing from a family of freedom fighters, the powerful actor had no prior connect with the film world. But a deep love for acting since childhood, accompanied with stunning looks, couldn’t keep her away from the limelight for long.
After successful stints as a model and a journalist, Jaya spent a decade working in Bangladeshi television, leaving behind a rich body of work, before bagging her first National Award in Bangladesh for Nasiruddin Yousuff’s film, Guerilla (2011), where she reprised the role of freedom fighter Bilkis Bano. This was followed by two more National Awards for her class acts in Chora Bali (2012) and Zero Degree (2015). Also, her movie Gorom Bhaat has been included as an integral part of the syllabus at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune.
Jaya has always carefully chosen her movies, which bear strong messages. “I don’t like doing movies where I only get to dance around trees. As an actor, to an extent, I am also responsible for helping develop the audience’s intellect,” says the soft-spoken actor.
The Box Office queen
A look at her work so far in both India and Bangladesh reveals a wide range of movies that she has been a part of — including Arindam Sil’s Aborto and Eagoler Chokh, Srijit Mukherji’s Rajkahini, and Kaushik Ganguly’s Bishorjon (Filmfare Award East for Best Actor). More recently, her performance as Bhawal Raja’s sister in Srijit’s Ek Je Chhilo Raja — last year’s biggest Puja hit — has been lauded by all.
This year too began with a bang for Jaya, with Bishorjon’s sequel Bijoya, which is a box office smash hit. The role of Padma, as essayed by her, is matched effortlessly at every step with Ganesh Mondal portrayed by filmmaker Kaushik Ganguly himself. It must feel great with all the adulation coming her way, we enquire. “I never really thought of it that way. The best phase for me is when I am shooting a film. I go into a trance, deep into the skin of the character. When the film works, it makes us happy, but actors give their best even in the ones that don’t,” she reasons.
The best of both worlds
Jaya has worked in the film industries on both sides of Bengal. Does she find there any difference in work culture? She replies, “A little, maybe... Bangladeshi movies have soul, and are rich in variety, but the packaging is not that good. But the movies are way bolder, content-wise. Can you imagine a movie on marital rape here?” Jaya, incidentally, recently completed a Bangladeshi film called Peyarar Subash, based on exactly that subject. She will also be seen in a movie called Beauty Circus,where she plays the owner and trapeze artiste of a circus troupe.
So, how does she always manage to look different in each film? “The script helps a lot, and after years of acting, an expertise develops. But unwavering concentration helps me a lot. I still try not to keep the cell phone with me while shooting, as phone calls are a positive nuisance. I’m in a different zone altogether while enacting a character,” she explains. And, is she a method actor, we prod? “Not really. I believe in cerebral acting, if I may say so,” she says, adding, “It’s very painful to come out of the character, if it’s a very deep or layered one. I discover myself through work, and if you ask me who the real Jaya is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.” Each role can be very demanding in its own way, she explains. “It all depends upon the gravity and depth of a role. Earlier, it used to take a lot of time...I need a break of at least a month or two toget out of a character.”
When we ask about the one role that she covets the most, the thinking man’s actor says she has always wanted to portray Ratan from Tagore’s short story, Post Master, on celluloid. “I loved Ratan ever since I saw Satyajit Ray’s Teen Kanya. But I am no longer in my teens to play it,” rues Jaya, a huge fan of the maverick filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, whose film Ajantrik is her all-time favourite.
A real life story
The actor also donned the role of a producer for the first time last year, with her production house C Te Cinema releasing Debi in Bangladesh, based on celebrated Bangladeshi author Humayun Ahmed’s fictional character, Misir Ali. The movie has been appreciated by both critics and audiences. Currently, she and her team are busy scripting a comedy film, Phurut, which revolves around a wheelchair-bound old woman, a little boy and a goat.
The actor has been straddling work both in Bangladesh and in Tollywood with the ease of a juggler, and she will be seen next in acclaimed filmmaker Atanu Ghosh’s Bini Suto, opposite talented actor Ritwik Chakraborty. “It’s an extremely fascinating story, and I cannot fail at any cost. I’m tensed if I can do justice to the layered role that I’m playing. This movie will be a hit with those who love watching something out of the box,” offers Jaya.
Besides Bini Suto, she will also be seen as a speech therapist in director-duo Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s much-awaited film, Kontho, based on the real life story of a cancer survivor. The movie is slated for release in May. “That was very challenging, as I had to train with a speech therapist for a long while. It was an overwhelming experience to work with Shiboprosad and Nandita,” she reveals.
Within a span of six years, Jaya has managed to work with almost all renowned directors of Tollywood, including Srijit Mukherji, Kaushik Ganguly, Arindam Sil, Shiboprosad-Nandita and Atanu Ghosh, among others.Was there any one director, whose style of work impressed her the most, we query. “Each one has a distinct style. Srijit loves to explain the character before shooting starts, while Shiboprosad and Nandita are very committed and involved filmmakers, who are always there beside you always.It’s a different level altogether with Kaushik. His script reading is so emotionally charged that at the end of it, you end up with tears in your eyes,” she says.
The actor also mentions that she’s looking forward to work with new and promising filmmakers too. “Besides working with these renowned directors, I’d love to work with Pradipta Bhattacharya and other young talents too,” she adds.
A few life goals
To wind down on off-days, the actor tells us that she loves to spend time with her retriever Cleo, and tend on her exotic garden. She also stays extremely media shy, and keeps to herself when not working. Though a lot of female actors bond with each other in Tollywood, she has no ‘close’ friends here, says Jaya. “It’s extremely difficult to find time to mingle. I don’t have time to even romance,” she exclaims.
What about marriage; is she seeing someone? The bubbly actor laughs off the suggestion: “Not right now. Marriage can wait. I don’t want to settle down to domestic bliss so early. I want to work more. Family pressure is there, but I pretend not to listen.”
Even then, just for the record, what qualities would she look for in her prospective life partner? “I don’t care about looks much. He has to be sensible and sensitive, and a committed man. He has to appreciate and value a creative person and her thought process,” she reflects.
Pictures: Somnath Roy / Costumes: Abhishek Dutta / Hair and Make-up: Abhijit Paul