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October 4, 1999


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'Acting is entirely an emotional experience'

Shoma A Chatterji

Debasree Roy She's acted in over 100 films. Won 40 state and National Awards. Is the reigning queen of Bengali commercial cinema. Yet, Debasree Roy has no starry airs. Which innate modesty only adds to her charming persona.

Many of her films have performed outstandingly at the box office. Some of them even brought her critical acclaim. In fact, Aparna Sen chose her to do the role of Aditi, Violet Stoneham's opportunist ex-student in 36, Chowringhee Lane when Debasree was just in her teens.

Her 10 best films
Tarun Majumdar’s Bhalobasha Bhalobasha
Ajoy Kar’s Bish Briksha
Mrinmoy Chakravarty’s Cinemay Jemon Hoy
Aparna Sen’s 36, Chowringhee Lane
Dinen Gupta’s Noti Binodini
Prabhat Roy’s Sandhya Tara
Amitabh Bhattacharya’s Gunjan
Chiranjeet’s Bhoy
Rituparno Ghosh’s Unishe April
Rituparno Ghosh’s Asookh

"But it was Tarun Majumdar who gave me my first break as a child artiste in his thriller, Kuheli. My first romantic role was also in Majumdar’s hugely successful Dadar Keerti. Tapas Paul got his break in it and rose to fame as well," reminisces Debasree.

Looking back on her earlier films, Debasree admits that she was too raw, too amateurish in most of them. "Were I to do them today, I'd do them differently, improve on them a lot, smooth out the rough edges. Of course, only of the directors permitted me to do so. I personally believe that any actress’s first responsibility is to try and understand what the director expects of her. I generally slip under the skin of the character. Whether it is a mainstream film, an offbeat film or a tele-serial, I insist on getting the entire script before saying 'yes' to an assignment. This has stood me in good stead, including my stint with Hindi films and serials," she says.

However, she adds, "Ironically, not a single director has utilised my dancing talent. I don't know why, even though the same people invite me to present dance shows," says Debasree. "Dancing and acting are two very different things. But both have a lot of rhythm in them. The sense of rhythm that I developed as a dancer helped me as an actress."

Few outside West Bengal are aware of Debasree’s talent as a dancer. Her troupe, Nataraj, which she formed in 1991, is often invited to perform both in India and abroad. Its first programme, Bichitro, was based on the regional dances of India. They then went on to present Basabdatta, inspired by a well-known poem by Rabindranath Tagore.

Debasree Roy She has also acted in several religious films: Pagol Thakur, based on the life of Ramkrishna Paramhamsa and Balak Gadadhar, where, as a three-year-old, she played the child Paramhamsa. She has also played the title role in Noti Binodini, which showcases a theatre actress who quit the stage when Paramhamsa walked up to bless her in one of her shows. More recently, she portrayed Maa Sarada in G V Iyer’s Swami Vivekananda.

"This is one of the unexplained mysteries of my life. I did not understand all this when I was young. But, as soon as I donned the make-up and put on the costume for my role in G V Iyer’s film, I felt strange emotions rise within me. This is a link that I feel, it's a special blessing I have been bestowed with," says Debasree, talking about her association with Paramhamsa through films.

Yet, she is still to play her dream role -- something that would incorporate the characters close to her heart, like Nargis in Mother India, Suchitra Sen in Deep Jele Jai, Meena Kumari in Pakeezah, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice.

Asookh Today, Debasree takes life as it comes. "I am now happy to have come out of the trauma of divorce," she says, shrugging away questions on her recent divorce from actor Prasenjeet, who has married again. "I have not shut the door to marriage, but am not thinking in terms of a relationship just now. The scars are still too raw, too fresh. They will take some time to heal. Any relationship that breaks is traumatic. It is no different for a filmstar. But work has been extremely good therapy, it's saved me from depression. The work environment right now offers a lot to look forward to."

According to her, "Acting is something that must come from the heart, not the head." A belief that she reinforces with her performance in Rituparno Ghosh’s recently released Asookh. After Aparna Sen, she is the only actress who has succeeded in riding the crest of aesthetic success and commercial demand. Interestingly, in this film, she plays an actress on screen for the first time in her career.

But Debasree achieved the pinnacle of critical acclaim with her performance in Ghosh's directorial debut, Unishe April. It fetched her the National Award for Best Actress in 1995. "Acting is entirely an emotional experience. I am a spontaneous actress and perform ideally with a good director," she says.

She has no reason to complain on this count for she has performed under very good directors. Including Tapan Sinha, Bhaben Saikia, Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen, Tarun Majumdar as well as under the Chopra banner for the teleserial, Mahabharat. She is also slated to perform in Gautam Ghose’s forthcoming film and Mrinal Sen has marked her out for his next project.

"In Asookh I portray Rohini, a popular filmstar who finds dark clouds looming over her private life. For one, her love affair goes sour as she feels her fiance, Aniruddha, has fallen for a fresh young starlet called Mrittika, who was once her friend," says Debasree.

"Then there is her mother’s sudden illness which eludes diagnosis for a long time, raising at one point, the spectre of AIDS. These two crises run parallel to each other and devastate her life. It opens up an increasing chasm between Rohini and her father, the meek, docile, yet self-respecting Sudhamoy, who fails to understand what is happening to his daughter.

"When I heard of this role, my first reaction was 'Yes, this is my role.' What helped me flesh out the character was the closeness I discovered between Rohini and myself. The lowest common denominator between us is the element of loneliness, the feeling of isolation and alienation every actress experiences as part of her life. Each of us lives in an island, in our own space, where we are completely, totally alone," she says.

Debanjalee In fact Rohini has shades of the character Debasree played in Bhaben Saikia’s Trisandhya. That film centred around a young widow whose innocent husband is gunned down by terrorists. She tries to gather strength from within herself but does not succeed.

"My character in Trisandhya did not develop completely," disagrees Debasree.

But she is happy that she is now in a position to pick and choose roles, despite tough competition from youngsters like Rituparna Sengupta. "I am still doing meaningful roles in popular cinema and am grateful to my directors for reposing their faith in me. I am now looking forward to my role in Nepaldev Bhattacharya’s Chaka, starring Mithun Chakravarty. I play a call-girl in the film, much like the one I did in Daho. The other film I am doing is Dilip Pal’s Amaar Bondhua."

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