“The play is about a person who is ambitious and at times wrongly ambitious. “
~ SOHINI SENGUPTA, ACTOR-DIRECTOR
Niranjan Sadan sports a different look from outside. The difference is evident once we step inside. The auditorium is abuzz with activity as actors are busy rehearsing for Nandikar’s upcoming play. Soon we spot actor-director
Sohini Sengupta, who is sitting in the front row with a microphone in her hand and is busy guiding a bunch of young actors. Sitting beside her are her parents and actors Rudraprasad Sengupta and Swatilekha Sengupta, who are watching the proceedings. Nandikar’s upcoming production Panchajanya is being helmed by Sohini and will premiere this week. Dressed in a simple cotton salwar-kurta, Sohini is a bundle of energy. We catch up with the National Awardwinning actor-director on her latest production, acting, life and more:
What is your play Panchajanya all about?
It’s about a politician and if you are to go by Indian history, the first name that comes to mind is of Lord Krishna. The thought if politicians are good or bad crossed my mind when BJP was about to come to power and politicians were delivering long speeches almost everywhere. I kept thinking if they have a nemesis? Later, I discussed the idea with Partha da (Partha Pratim Deb) and he started working on it. A lot of research went into it before he finally drafted the script. This play has nothing to do with Panchajanya, the novel. This production has a lot of scope for young actors to perform.
Is that the reason the play has so many youngsters?
(Smiles) Yes, most of them are amateur actors, who have acted on stage but have never really mouthed dialogues. So, it’s a new experience for them. They are a bunch of aspiring actors, who have been thoroughly trained at t the annual six-month-long workshop organised by Nandikar. The first four months involve rigorous exercise and no talking. We strictly tell them to quit smoking and drinking and switch off his/her mobile phone. We continue this till many give up and start grooming the ones who manage to survive. I didn’t know that Paris-based Théâtre du Soleil too follows a similar format. I came to know about it from Ariane Mnouchkine, who I met sometime back. I feel as an actor one must go through a grueling process.
Today censorship is trying to kill creativity. Do you feel a political play might ruffle a few feathers?
Neither do we believe in politicising things nor are we blaming any particular party or leaders. That’s cheap.
I think every issue has two aspects. Our play looks at t Krishna as a politician and highlights his life and actions. We show the two stages of his life. The first is as a young lover (played by Saptarshi
Moulik, her husband) and the second is as an aged and matured politician (played by Partha Pratim Deb). He was responsible for the Kurukshetra war, the death of so many people and destroying so many households. Did this bring peace in his life? The play is about a person who is ambitious and at times wrongly ambitious. This is his nemesis. Panchajanya was the name of Krishna’s conch shell. Though it’s possesses positive energy as an instrument, the war also began with Krishna blowing it. So, it was also like a war cry. And wars can never be positive. People have a lot of expectations from the play given that you are directing it and it stars veteran actors Rudraprasad Sengupta and Swatilekha Sengupta.
I am not thinking about that. For me, my work is more important. I am sure if I do my work with honesty, people will definitely like it. If I can guide and lead a group of good actors then theatre lovers will definitely enjoy their performances. It’s because of our honest effort that our last few productions did so well. Unlike plays by other groups, which don’t go beyond 20-25 shows, we do 200 shows. Agyatobas did 180 shows, Madhabi has completed 150 shows and Nachni has already crossed 100 shows. I’m also confident that the new actors will live up to everyone’s expectations.
You are a school teacher, an actor, a director and also manage a family. How do you balance things?
(Smiles) Theatre is my priority. My parents, in-laws, Saptarshi and my pets are also important. I am grateful to my family for allowing me to follow my passion. They have been my constant support system. (Pauses) But I still need to work a lot. My day starts at 6 am and ends at 2.30 am. I do everything myself, from cooking to washing and cleaning. I enjoy doing them.
What play are you doing next?
There are quite a few ideas. I have three scripts ready. I am really excited because Nandikar now has a set of young and good actors who I can use in our upcoming plays. We will start working on our next from August.
Is the theatre industry really evolving as people are only
interested in big theatre groups and actors like Nandikar, Soumitra Chatterjee, Bratya Basu, Debesh Chattopadhyay, Suman Mukhopadhyay.
Yes, theatre in Kolkata is definitely evolving. It reminds me of a saying by John Steinbeck: “Theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for 4,000 years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.” This is a very important thought. Theatre never died though many other forms and people have time and again tried to kill it. It has withstood everything and is still alive and kicking.
REVIEWED BY: Shreya Mukherjee (Hindustan Times)