'South industry is a bit like French cinema'
....says 19-year-old Riddhi Sen, whose role as a transgender in the upcoming Bengali film, Nagar Kirtan, won him the National Award for Best Actor
Riddhi Sen was on the sets of Eela with Pradeep Sarkar and Kajol, when he heard news of his winning the National Award. “I didn't believe my friend who called me about it. And then, my mother called. It didn't sink in at all. I just carried on with the shoot.”
And now, almost a week later, it seems to have sunk in. “It’s not just praise for the performance; it actually gives motivation that is immeasurable. The award tells me that I need to do better. That’s the only way people will remember me. The fact that I’ve got recognised as the best actor this year doesn’t mean people cannot forgot me tomorrow."
But Riddhi has a bigger fear. “I think I am afraid of myself the most. My biggest competition is with myself, and I’m constantly trying to live up to my own lofty expectations." That seems like a pretty demanding way to live. "I am a big Woody Allen fan, and his films have made me understand that death is a great equaliser. Why not utilise the time you have in the way you want?"
And acting, and acting well, he’s sure, is the way. “I am grateful to have been born into an acting family. My mother especially reposed so much faith in me. Cinema is my school; every director is a new semester." While he may have won the National Award for a performance-oriented role, he reveals that it’s hardly what he thinks about when signing a film. “I’m always more interested in the story. It doesn't matter how much screentime I get but how much my character is able to contribute. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Mathew McConaughey has a small role but it really gets you thinking about him. I hadn’t seen his films before, but was thoroughly impacted by his portrayal."
He’s particular that art ask questions. “It should start conversations. That should be the motive of any good film. Take Parched or Chauranga, two films in which my characters were starkly different. Both talk about liberation. In Parched, it is about how the women got free, and in Chauranga, it is about how the little kid gets on the train."
Nagar Kirtan hasn’t been released yet, but he assures that it will kickstart a conversation when it does. "It is made by Kaushik Ganguly, a winner of four National Awards, and is a love story between flautists and a transwoman. It deals with issues surrounding the transgender community. With us increasingly divided by gender and religion, the film talks about both in a profound and honest way."
Riddhi plays a transwoman in the film. “It’s quite disorienting to play a different gender. We don't get many months of prep time in regional cinema, like say in Hollywood, owing to economics. My preparation was meeting real transwomen and watching Eddie Redmayne’s Danish Girl,” he says. “I believe the primary objective of acting is observation and so, I observed my girlfriend and mom -- how they wore their dupatta, their posture while sitting or eating, the way they picked up things. I had to understand my body and try to make it softer and get rid of my masculinity. My father as well as Ritwick Chakraborty (co-star) also helped me a great deal by giving me a lot of information."
He hopes to work across languages. “I have a love for languages. Parched and Chauranga were shot in two different dialects of Hindi. If I get an offer from the South, I would love to do it. I haven't watched Tamil films but I am quite aware of its impact. I admire their love for their culture,” he says. “The South industry is a bit like French cinema. Their people don't care about speaking in English. As regional actors, you have to learn that. You can't get out of your roots and try to tell a story."