'I'm not (just) a Bengali actor, but an Indian actor': Jisshu Sengupta opens up on juggling films in multiple languages
'I am a seeker of good content, I chase content. It is good that a crossover is happening for actors like us who want to work in different languages and different kinds of films, where you can push yourself as an actor.'
Kolkata-based actor Jisshu Sengupta is much in demand, not just in Bengali cinema but also in Bollywood and the Telugu film industry. After having done a significant body of work in Bengali films, including many collaborations with the illustrious filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, he was seen in several Hindi films this year with Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak 2 and Anu Menon’s Shakuntala Devi being his most recent releases. Sengupta's most recent outing is the horror-thriller Durgamati-The Myth, co-starring Bhumi Pednekar, and Arshad Warsi, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
“I am playing ACP Abhay Singh, he is a strong-headed person and he is on a mission to take revenge. He is there for a reason which I don’t want to disclose because it is a conspiracy horror-thriller and if I give out even one line then I will give away the entire film,” said Sengupta, who consciously decided to not watch the original Telugu version Bhaagamathie. “My director (G Ashok) told me that I can watch the Telugu version but I chose not to. Murli (Sharma) has played the part that I play, he is a great actor and I didn’t want to take that baggage on my shoulders. I just told the director to guide and I will push myself to perform,” he added.
Sengupta has played significant roles in films like Barfi, Piku, and Mardaani among others but for a while now he has been frequently cast as the partners of strong, independent, and successful female characters. He played Bikram Roy, husband to Rani Mukerji’s tough police officer in the Mardaani movies, and the husband of Kangana Ranaut’s Rani Lakshmibai in Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019), and most recently Sengupta played Vidya Balan’s husband, Paritosh Banerji in Shakuntala Devi, the film on the Math genius. “The films that I am doing now are going to change things,” says Sengupta with a laugh.
Sengupta doesn’t believe in rehearsing, being spontaneous works best for him, he says. “I don’t prepare myself before going on the set. I don’t even read the script much and I build up my character in my head trying to understand how the character was raised, how he grew up..these are the few things I juggle in my head and I talk to myself and go on the set. I absorb the vibe on the set and follow the director’s vision,” said Sengupta.
“Bhumi is a fantastic actress and she is also very spontaneous. She reacts to her co-actors and that helps. Even with Arshad sir, we would be having fun before the shot, and when the director said, ‘Action’ we would get into the character and do something that we had never rehearsed. Therefore all of us were working in tandem,” he says.
Sengupta has often said that he isn’t a “Bengali actor” but an “Indian actor”, as his mentor and guide Rituparna Ghosh once advised him to be. “I met Rituda in 2007 when I did my first film with him, The Last Lear which also had Mr Amitabh Bachchan in it. During a discussion, I said I am a Bengali actor and Rituda stopped me. He told me, ‘You are not a Bengali actor, you are an Indian actor’. His reasoning was that we all make Indian films, just in different languages, so I believe I am an Indian actor making Indian films,” he says. “And what I really miss now is travelling the world when I did those six films with Rituda. I have been to almost every film festival with him. I want to travel with my films, I want to show my films to people from different cultures and I am sure that is going to happen soon,” he adds.
That explains why Sengupta has been actively pursuing different language films. In addition to Bengali and Hindi productions, he was seen in three Telugu films in the recent past. In NTR: Kathanayakudu (2019), directed by Krish with whom Sengupta worked in Manikarnika. This was followed by Aswathama (2020) and Bheeshma (2020), in which he played villains.
“I think every actor would want to go through this phase which I am currently going through. There is some great content happening now not only in films but also on OTT. I am a seeker of good content, I chase content. I was always a fan of Malayalam films, look at Marathi films, Tamil, Telugu...the kind of stories they work on is superb. It is good that this crossover is happening for actors like us who want to work in different languages and different kinds of films where you can push yourself as an actor. You want to do different kinds of roles which is possible on OTT,” says Sengupta.
And when asked about adjusting to different processes in different film industries, he says, “There is no difference in the process. There are directors who work in a certain way but apart from that, the process of the shooting is the same. The only difference in the three industries — Bengali, Hindi, and Telugu is the money. Having a budget of Rs two to three crore is a huge thing in Bengal, and the average here, in Bollywood, would be around Rs 20 to 25 crore which is considerably a small budget film here. In the Telugu industry I have no idea what kind of money they work on, that mathematics I haven’t learnt.”
Finally, Sengupta admits to missing the big screen. “As an actor, I want to see myself on a 70 mm screen, that larger-than-life feeling is different. But talking about the OTT platform, at a time 200 countries will watch my films and that couldn’t have happened if the film had released in theatres. That is the best part,” he concludes.
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