Bengali wunderkind in Bollywood: Meet 19-year-old National Award winner, Riddhi Sen
From the blink-and-you-miss role of a chaiwala named Poltu in Vidya Balan starrer Kahaani in 2012 to bagging the National Film Award for best actor for director Kaushik Ganguly’s Nagarkirtan this year, Riddhi Sen’s rise can be only described by the overworked adjective meteoric. And, oh boy, isn’t he the youngest recipient of the coveted award at 19!
However, a rather precocious Sen, whose curly hair and full lips somewhat remind one of Naseeruddin Shah, says he can’t be another Naseer even after several rebirths.
Clad in an olive green T-shirt, a pair of blue denims and red sneakers, Riddhi looks every bit like an iPhone-swishing Gen-Y member. Sipping on Earl Grey at a popular cafe in South Kolkata, Sen talks about acting, family and how life has been kind to him. We were intermittently interrupted by curious onlookers, young and old alike, requesting him for that mandatory selfie.
Excerpts from the chat:
So, you are really popular now (alluding to the requests for pictures by fans). Has life changed for you after the National award?
Yes, in the sense that I am getting recognised by many people, who are praising me and also by filmmakers from different regions including Maharashtra and Delhi. But personally speaking, my life hasn’t changed a bit; my philosophy and attitude remain the same.
How hard did you work for this award?
Unlike movies in the West, where you can get a lot of time to rehearse and shoot for a film, the industry here work on tight schedules and limited budget. We wrapped up Nagarkirtan in 20-25 days flat. The film was supposed to be completed in 2016, but it got shelved indefinitely due to lack of producers.
Most producers shied away since it was a movie about the third gender and it made them sceptical on how much will it earn, or how people would react. I got very disappointed but Kaushik Ganguly was adamant. Meanwhile, I got busy with other projects but the script was still with me, which I occasionally flipped through. Then one day last year Kaushik Ganguly informed me that shooting would commence from August 2017. I had barely a month to prepare.
How did you prepare yourself for such a challenging role as that of a transgender?
I read a lot of books on them including the first one by Man Into Woman: The First Sex Change by Lili Elbe and met a few transgender persons, who enhanced my understanding of the third gender. I minutely observed the mannerisms of all women I came across, whether at home or outside, the way they talk, walk, sit or get up, their gait and every little gesture. Besides, Kaushik Ganguly’s scripts are very detailed and do not leave anything to imagination, which helped me a lot to prepare for the role. And I had such a good co-actor, Ritwik Chakarborty, on the sets.
Were you apprehensive about the role of a transgender?
Professionally, I was overwhelmed for getting offers for such a challenging role at such a young age. I was also circumspect about whether I could live up to the expectations of the director. For the first time, I was wearing saris, did make-up for an hour and shaved twice every day. I felt cumbersome and uneasy on sets on the first day of shooting, but everyone present there made it easy for me.
It’s often than an actor gets overpowered by the character he plays? How do you tackle that?
When I was shooting Parched, director Leena Yadav taught me that after every shot, one should go back to zero and never let that mood linger. One shouldn’t get attached to a character. While shooting Nagarkirtan, too, Kaushik Ganguly, never let me look at the script after a great shot. He would always ask me to take a break, talk to my friends or family. It’s essential to build up the mood, and for that you don’t need to live the character 24X7.
How much has it helped to have actor parents (Kaushik Sen and Reshmi Sen)?
The one thing that many colleagues envy me for is having a great set of parents, who are actors, too. I am lucky to get such talented parents, who have provided conducive environment at home for me to learn acting from a very close range. They never formally trained me, but rather helped me to observe the world around me and taught me how to handle crises. I haven’t seen a more empathetic couple, who never thought twice before giving away everything to run their theatre group (Swapnasandhani). I have seen my mother selling her gold bangles to fund theatre. All this made me love my work passionately.
You seem to be extremely family-oriented.
I am very attached to my parents. We three know everything that is going on in our lives. If my parents have some relationship issues, they don’t conceal it from me. We share anything from adult jokes to politics to cinema with each other. In fact, I saw my first adult movie, Parzania, with my parents at the age of six. My parents always told me that if a love-making scene adds to a good cinema, there is nothing wrong in it, but if it’s forced comic porn, that’s not right.
You created quite a stir a couple of years back when you romanced your mother on stage in the drama Punascha? Did you feel weird acting your mother’s lover?
Yes, it was a drama based on Syed Mujtaba Ali’s story, where a man meets his two lovers in a single night at Paris. It was not a bit weird to act opposite my mother, in fact, it was thrilling. But many people couldn’t digest it. They thought we did it for publicity. Nevertheless, I enjoyed acting in it.
Are you comfortable more on stage or before the camera?
Cinema has retakes, but, in theatre, there is only one chance. But retakes do not always help, since, at times, you might give a fabulous shot but the camera might not be in focus and during the second shot you might not emote that well. I am more comfortable in cinema since I have a few more things to learn about theatre, such as, reaching to the audience in the last row, with my expression and voice in balance. I need to practise that more.
How was it working with Kajol in Pradip Sarkar’s Eela?
Oh! It was a fabulous experience. It will be the first Hindi movie, where I play the male protagonist. It’s a lovely mother-son story, where Kajol plays my mother. Kajol never gossips and is extremely family oriented. She lives by her instincts -- if she likes something, she will do it otherwise not.
Tell us about your other works?
I am reading quite a few new scripts and also gearing up for directing my first short film, based on author Nabarun Bhattacharya’s short story, Cold Fire. I plan to shoot the film in July end. Besides, I will be seen in my father’s new stage production Tarai Tarai (In The Stars), where I will be playing a young boy suffering from the same crisis as Van Gogh did.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love playing the guitar, listening to songs and spending time with family and friends. I keep myself updated about everything, be it a new song, politics or the latest scientific discovery. You never know when it comes to use. My life is not restricted to Facebook, Instagram and nightclubs alone.
Sun Sign: Taurus
Favourite movies: Satyajit Ray’s Kanchenjungha, Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik and Mrinal Sen’s Ekdin Pratidin
Favourite book: Dostoevsky’s The Idiot
Comfort food: Home cooked meals and anything continental
Favourite colours: Black, white, blue
Fear most: Time is running out
Scared of: Death