'I prefer to be called an actor', says Tollywood's reigning star Jisshu Sengupta
For actor Jisshu Sengupta, the undisputed reigning star in Tollywood, time has always been the biggest arbiter. Last year, saw the handsome and polite actor in Mainak Bhaumik’s Ghore and Baire, Srijit Mukherji’s super hit Uma along with his elder daughter Sara Sengupta and Puja box office highest grosser Ek Je Chhilo Raja. All these movies firmly established him as the most bankable actor in the Bengali film industry. His performance as the debauch and controversial Bhawal Raja was so convincing that it resonated with the audience much after the movie got over. The spell of good luck continues this year, too, with his class act in Kanagana Ranaut’s movie Manikarnika, where he played Rani Lakshmi Bai’s husband, Gangadhar Rao.
The first part of NTR biopic, which released recently in Tamil Nadu, has also been well-received. Here too, his role in Kamaleshwar Mukherjee’s Mukhomukhi has been appreciated by critics. March 1 will see him on silver screen, in the role of Bengal’s only iconic star Uttam Kumar, in Soumik Sen’s Mahalaya. The movie is based on a famous incident in 1976, when legendary artiste Birendra Krishna Bhadra, famous for his rendition of Mahishasurmardini, was replaced by actor Uttam Kumar to recite the same on All India Radio, on the auspicious day of Mahalaya. It met with huge public disapproval and Birendra Krishna’s version was played again on Sasthi, the first day of Durga Puja.
Apart from Mahalaya, Jisshu will also be seen in Mainak Bhaumik’s next, Bornoporichoy, Aparna Sen’s Ghare Baire Aaj, Mahesh Manjarekar’s Hindi gangster movie, Devidas Thakur and Sujoy Ghosh’s web series for Netflix. We had a relaxed chat on a pleasant afternoon with Jisshu about his stardom, work and family. Excerpts:
With the success of Ek Je Chilo Raja and Manikarnika, you are the toast of the season. How does it feel?
I don’t feel anything, really. I just do my job and prefer not to carry any baggage. If I become conscious and keep thinking, how I can better myself as an actor, then I will not be able to perform. Hence, I take life as it comes and start each new film with a fresh mind.
There were times when you were branded as jinxed by a few producers, after some of your early films flopped. Did it hurt then?
I never really cared about what people said and I have never been sad about all that. I believe time is the biggest decider, and I had just done my job honestly all the while. I am lucky to have got enough opportunities to prove myself as an actor, and make a success out of my career.
You are the reigning star of Tollywood now, with everyone eager to work with you...
I don’t believe in the word 'star'. I don’t want to be projected as a star. Ever since I had the opportunity to work with the late filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, the only aim in my life has been to become an actor. I tried to do justice to the roles whether it’s a bisexual character, a villain or a hero. I would love to experiment with more characters. I think actors are the new heroes, and they last longer than a star.
How was it playing Gangadhar Rao in Manikarnika, and how was Kangana as a co-actor?
Kangana was brilliant, to say in a word. Not much is known about Gangadhar Rao and hence, I had to rely upon Krish a lot to understand the character and portray the king.
I usually don’t prepare myself for a role in the strict sense of the word. I like to go with the flow and follow my director’s instructions, since I’m a very spontaneous actor. I am not comfortable with rehearsals and prior homework.
And, was it difficult to play Uttam Kumar in Mahalaya?
It was, to a certain extent. I have already done two films, where I play the characters that Uttam Kumar had portrayed on screen before (Ek Je Chhilo Raja and Chiriakhana). But playing the actor himself was complex in the sense that little is known about how Uttam Kumar was as a person, in real life. What helped me was the fact that my mom-in-law (actor Nilanjanaa Sengupta’s mother, actor Anjana Bhowmick) was his contemporary and they were good friends. The anecdotes helped me put the act together with a lot more conviction.
Was it a big challenge?
I was apprehensive about whether I could act well, but I won’t call that a challenge. Filmmakers offer me roles only when they believe that I can do justice to them. Hence where’s the challenge? A role can be physically challenging at times, but not mentally.
How have things changed with success?
Personally, nothing much has changed. But professionally, now, I can afford to choose my films because I have money. Previously, I had to do many commercial films, because I needed money to run my family, and I am proud of those films...It's because of those films that I'm now in a position to be choosy about work.
Is there any particular filmmaker you look forward to working with?
There are two, in fact – Kaushik Ganguly and Arindam Sil. Both had offered me roles many a time, but things didn’t work out due to date problems. I am really looking forward to working with both of them.