When a friend called to ask if I wanted to audition for a lead role in a Bengali film her brother-in-law was working on, I said yes. The big task was convincing my parents: the last two roles I had played on stage had involved a full-fledged kiss and a tiny-skirt-and-cigarette-smoking scene—the parents had not been amused. After much haranguing, pleading and emotional blackmail, I had consent. Unfortunately, though, the role went to someone else—my rendition of the character had been a little too dramatic for the director’s taste. I sulked for a day or two, muttered many imprecations, then shrugged it off and went back to my classes.
Then, one night, at 11.30 pm, I got a call. There was an opening for a bit role: the best friend of one of the leads—was I still interested? I was.
I turned up the next afternoon, as instructed, at the infamous Rabindra Sarobar, the preferred make-out spot for South Calcutta’s privacy deprived masses. Apart from a minor interruption in the form of a phone call from an irate professor demanding to know why I was not in class, all went well. I was required to speak approximately seven sentences; I did so in a most subdued manner, trying hard to tamp down on pesky dramatic impulses. Only one other scene was being shot that day. Once both were done, I was fed some biryani, given the date and location for the next shoot and bid goodbye.
The second day was more in keeping with what I’d imagined of a film shoot. Many scenes being shot simultaneously, fraying tempers, technicians with glazed expressions, multiple costume changes, ten kilograms of pancake on my face, takes, retakes, re-retakes, madness. One of the lead actresses—the only co-actor for all my scenes—I discovered, was the least liked person on set. She insisted on walking off every five minutes to refresh her make-up and iron her hair, holding up each scene for at least twenty minutes. She also insisted on ‘improvising’ most of her lines, leading to an increasing sense of bewilderment among the rest of the cast and crew. Caught up in the general excitement, I gestured wildly and delivered my lines with great exuberance. No one seemed to mind. On the day of dubbing, I watched starry-eyed, horrified by the amount of make-up that had been put on my face, thrilled about seeing myself on screen.
Three months later, hoardings for the film appeared everywhere. A premiere and a big multiplex release took place; my mother got excited, I called everyone I knew and told them to watch the film. Then my parents watched it. And came back to glare accusingly at me. I had neglected to tell them that it was a sex comedy.
I have no idea if the film was commercially successful. It garnered mixed reviews, my relatives were scandalized and my friends thought it was a great lark to see me on screen. I went and watched it thrice at the theatre for the sheer thrill of seeing my name when the credits rolled. None of this, alas, catapulted me to instant stardom. However, I did have the dubious satisfaction of being accosted on campus by aspiring starlets and was asked for guidance regarding potential film careers.
Almost six years have passed since my glorious film debut. Between then and now, I have changed cities, changed my life. But that film remains a memory I cherish, a DVD I hold on to tightly, for it remains one of the most carefree, happy-making things I have ever done.
It is also something that catches up with me in the strangest of ways. In the winter of 2008, while I shivered under my blanket, longing for soup, I suddenly heard what sounded like my voice echoing outside. Scrambling out of bed and flat, I tiptoed towards the source of the sound—my landlady was watching the film on television. Perfect. Did I mention it was a sex comedy? Chittaranjan Park landladies are not renowned for their appreciation of their tenants’ unusual claims to fame. Thankfully, she never made any mention of the film. Then, a few months later, at C. R. Park Market No. 2, two boys walked up to me and asked if I was an actress. I shook my head nervously, grabbed my change and fled.
A version of this appeared in Tehelka in May 2010: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main44.asp?filename=hub220510personalhistories.asp