No One Remembers Who You Received the National Award From: Riddhi
A tete-a-tete with the 19-year-old who won the National Award for Best Actor this year.
He may be only 19. But Riddhi Sen doesn’t shy away from throwing punches - in acting or words. One of the youngest recipients of the National Award for Best Actor, Riddhi took home the laurels at the 65th National Awards for Nagarkirtan, a Bengali film directed by the much-feted Kaushik Ganguly, in which he plays a transgender.
We caught up with the young actor to talk about how he prepped for the unconventional role, the National Awards controversy, and more. An edited excerpt:
Q: Congratulations for the National Award! What made you greenlight such an unconventional project as Nagarkirtan?
Riddhi Sen: I don’t look down on any kind of film. It’s good or bad cinema. When I am looking at a script, I don’t really see the prospect of a film as commercial or art house. If the script is good and if my character has something to contribute to it - be it two scenes or 15 scenes - I get hooked.
Q: You said in an earlier interview that you played the role “as a woman”. Which characteristics/ sensibilities did you imbibe for the performance? What was the most challenging bit?
Riddhi: In regional cinema, we shoot in very tight schedules. We barely had any time for rehearsals, so that was the most difficult bit. But to prepare for the role, I read the book Man Into Woman: The First Sex Change by Lili Elbe, watched The Danish Girl. I observed a lot - be it my mother or girlfriend or any woman - how they are walking or running or eating.
Observation played a huge role. The most challenging bit was getting into the psyche of a woman - as a person who has a woman trapped in his body. It’s something very, very hard to perceive for us.
Q: A homosexual person/ transgender is often at the receiving end of ridicule in our society. What did you do to ensure your character is not caricaturish like it often is in our films?
Riddhi: That’s a very fine line which I needed to walk throughout the film. The credit for the fact that Nagarkirtan is not caricaturish goes to filmmaker Kaushik Ganguly, who’s one of the most sensitive directors in the country at the moment. He wrote the script and the character and didn’t offer me any space to fall into the trap of being a caricature.
“And like you said, just the fact you are different makes you open to ridicule nowadays - whether you are a homosexual, Dalit, Muslim - everything and everyone is labelled. Living in a society like this, we can’t afford to be caricaturish.”
Q: What was Ganguly’s brief to you?
Riddhi: He’s a very detailed writer. He doesn’t leave things to be done on the set. So the brief was the script itself. It was so detailed and so close to my heart - it grows on you and you get emotionally attached to the script. When you are reading it, you fall in love with the beauty of the story.
Q: You are quite open about your political leanings. What’s your take on the National Awards row?
Riddhi: What happened created a demarcation and it’s something definitely nothing to be appreciated. But five years down the line, people will only remember the National Award, not who you received it from. It has been an extraordinary year for regional cinema and the credit goes to Mr Shekhar Kapur for bringing out such great cinema from different parts of the country. The award is given by the nation and the jury who watched these films.
“With all due respect, Mrs Smriti Irani or the President are busy and don’t have time to watch the films. It’s the jury who watches them over weeks and decides the winners... A lot of people are saying that the fact that Mrs Irani is giving the awards is painted in political colours, but I personally don’t think so. Had it been so, a lot of the films would never have made it to the winning list.”
Q: You are a third generation actor and practically grew up on the stage. What do you think your inheritance is as an actor?
Riddhi: The best thing I got was atmosphere. My family was my first school and it was the best I could get, a place where I could be completely myself. My parents actually fought with me to tell me that my actual vocation is acting and not Physics or Chemistry or Mathematics, which in itself is a huge blessing.
Q: What are your upcoming projects?
Riddhi: Nagarkirtan will release soon. I am also working on a play which my father (actor-director Kaushik Sen) is helming and also stars my mother (actor Reshmi Sen) and musician-filmmaker Anjan Dutt. It revolves around sanity and insanity and how we perceive them. There’s also my film with Kajol that’s being directed by Pradip Sarkar - we still have about 20 per cent of the shoot left. I am also planning to make my first short film soon - I want to learn the art of filmmaking well first before trying my hand in direction.
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