Now the original of this article appeared today, the 14th of November, 2010 in Bangalore Mirror, but here’s the original unedited version :P
You’ve seen him in several films, you’ve seen him in plays and I can bet you’ve seen him in a few ads too... But Joy Sengupta, is still quite the man of surprises when it comes to first meetings.
What had we heard about him, before we had our first conversation?
Well, firstly that, ‘he was cute enough to eat,’ secondly that, ‘he was a pleasure to watch on stage,’ and thirdly that, ‘he had a smile and a voice that could kill’.
Our verdict? Well, completely right on all three counts!
Joy Sengupta is a pleasure to meet, to say the least and as we caught up with him over the week, while his play ‘Dinner with Friends’ premiered in town, we found, that there was so much more to this multifaceted actor.
L Romal M Singh: You’re a fabulous actor, we needn’t tell you that... But where did the love for acting start?
Joy Sengupta: Thank you, first of all, and to answer that question, well... Firstly you’ll have to believe that I was an introvert! I really was! (smiles) In school, which was both in Nepal and Delhi, I was a really shy and timid boy. As I grew up, my love for acting however, got me into a few plays and I realised I was more comfortable playing someone else. You could call it some sort of escapism if you’d like, but I was always encouraged by my teachers and directors, who always reminded me that I had a knack for stage. That’s where it all began.
LRMS: So was it all about the acting and praises?
JS: Not really! When I was in the 6th Standard, I was in Nepal, thanks to my dad’s career as a Government employee. The new experience however gave me new opportunities and soon I directed my first play! I know that sounds ridiculous, but here’s what happened. The school had a rule that only the students from the 11th and 12th could take part and direct these plays. But I was convinced that I could do it too. So I directed a simple short play with a few friends and then showed it to the teachers in-charge. They were impressed and the rest is well... my own wonderful history.
JS: Of course not. In college, which was in Delhi, I was a part of a group that revived the dying college drama society. We had a really enthusiastic cultural head too, and she even organised a training workshop with a NSD product — Surendra Sharma. If it weren’t for him, we’d never have taken theatre seriously. He made us realise that theatre could be a way of life.
LRMS: So was college where you made your first entry into professional theatre?
JS: Not really. College was over in a few years and then I was caught up with deciding what my future would hold. I gave a thought to social service and to advertising and even mass communication. I even did a few of these courses to buy time. By then however, the friends from the drama society in college and me had started a proper theatre group called Act 1. It still exists today and that is so encouraging. I soon found my peace however, in a group called Jananatyamanch that specialised in cultural activism. I also began teaching Theatre-in-Education for a school called Blue Bell and that was an experience in itself. But I was still waiting for my true calling and that came when NSD icon Ebrahim Alkazi returned to India and founded the Living Theatre Academy. I joined without hesitating and I’m extremely glad I did. I received my first offer to work in a play, a few years later, when in 1995 as a 24 year old; I was cast in Lilette Dubey’s production of Mahesh Dattani’s ‘Dance like a Man’.
LRMS: So there’s been no turning back since, we assume?
JS: Not really, I did a few more plays and then even tried my hand at anchoring TV shows, which wasn’t something I enjoyed too much, but paid my bills. My real break however came when I moved to Mumbai in 1997 thanks to a TV show I was hosting then, and was offered a role in a play called ‘If Wishes were Horses’ with Kitu Gidwani. I was soon offered my first film role in Govind Nihalani’s ‘Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa’ and then there was no looking back.
LRMS: So was it smooth sailing thereafter?
JS: It would be wrong to say, I didn’t get offers coming my way. I wasn’t struggling for sure and by 2001 I gave up on TV altogether. I still did a few ads and a few more films and plays and strangely enough, the Bengali film industry noticed me. I then did some really interesting Bengali films including Chaturanga that released in 2008 and is still a favourite at International film festivals.
LRMS: We’re not surprised quite frankly, but moving on to more controversial topics, per se, you’re one of India’s first actors to have played an openly gay role in 2007’s ‘68 pages’, how was the experience and weren’t you afraid of being stereotyped?
JS: This wasn’t the first gay role I’d played. I had already worked in Lilette Dubey’s production of Mahesh Dattani’s ‘On a Muggy Night in Mumbai’, where I played a man questioning his sexual identity. I won’t call the role in this film challenging, per se, just because it was of a different sexuality, what however made me enjoy and take the role on as a challenge, was the non-stereotypical portrayal of a gay man and his partner. I had to look around me and see how real gay men behaved. About stereotyping however, the only stereotype I’m worried about right now is of films portraying me as the ‘intellectual city dweller’.
LRMS: So you don’t like being portrayed as ‘the intellectual city dweller’?
JS: No! Which actor would? Theatre gives me more options to play around when it comes to characterization; the same can’t be said of cinema. I would really like to play a raw, earthy character in some film soon. But that doesn’t seem to be on the cards for me right now.
LRMS: Now that we’ve almost come full circle, what is that one role that you’ve always wanted to play?
JS: Hamlet! Though I guess I’m too old for that role right now.
LRMS: Finally, like always, what projects can we look forward to you in?
JS: Well, ‘Anjaana Anjaani’ has me as a friend of Ranbir Kapoor, and is in theatres right now, but otherwise, there’s ‘A Prayer for Rain’ on the Bhopal Tragedy that should be out in theatres soon. ‘Dinner with Friends’ is still touring the country, and so might a few others that I’m a part off, so you might just see me again in Bangalore, pretty soon!
With that we exchange a few more pleasantries and we take our leave.
Joy Sengupta will remain to be one of the most interesting actors India has ever produced and we hope and pray that we’ll see him in more interesting and diverse roles in the future too. And about the cute part... Oh! Yes! He definitely is one helluva looker!