In a chat with OTTplay, the acclaimed actress addressed why she gets fewer work offers, her camaraderie with director Indranil, and how OTT space has been impacting actors professionally. Read on…
Daminee Benny Basu is surely the actress of the moment right now in the Bengali entertainment industry. Ever since Indranil Roychowdhury’s Chhotolok was dropped on Zee5 on November 3, her performance has been the talk of the town. The murder mystery which also features Ushasi Ray, Gaurav Chakrabarty, Priyanka Sarkar, Indrani Halder and others has been receiving positive reviews by critics and viewers alike.
While Daminee, who plays sub inspector Sabitri Mondol in the web series is known to be a fine actress, she is not often seen on the screen. Now after her stupendous performance in Chhotolok, cine-experts and viewers have raised questions on why her filmography does not match her calibre.
Meanwhile, Daminee, who has worked with Vishal Bhardwaj recently in Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley as an actress and acting coach, is enjoying the appreciation that Chhotolok has been getting. “I know I am very good at what I do,” she said with confidence. In a chat with OTTplay, the acclaimed actress addressed why she gets fewer work offers, her camaraderie with director Indranil, and how OTT space has been impacting actors professionally. Read on…
Many people – common viewers and people close to the Bengali entertainment industry – are talking about Chhotolok and your performance. How are you enjoying the appreciation?
There was a time when some people who had access to the preview said that while Chhotolok is a good series, it might not appeal to the mass audience. Some people even doubted if the Bengali audience was ready for a show like this. It is indeed quite different from the regular Bengali works. I am happy that Chhotolok is being appreciated by everybody. With wide access to OTT platforms, people can now watch shows like Kohrra, Mare of Easttown, and so on. Many viewers have said Chhotolok is a global standard of work. This is making me very happy.
What about the appreciation you are getting?
Of course, I am happy about that too. I am very happy that my students are watching and talking about my performance.
Tell us how you got the offer of the character of Sabitri Mondol.
It was February 2022 I think. Kobi (Indranil) called me pretty late in the night. He told me that he thought of a character for a web series and he wanted me to play it. I immediately told him that while he might have thought my name the channel might not agree. He said that he dealt with that part and that ‘battle was fought by then’. ‘I fought on that front. Now if you agree and have dates, I will go ahead with the script,’ he said. He gave me an outline and I told him to continue. I have a small commitment and I asked him to give me a heads-up before the shooting. The shooting deferred a few times and then the shooting started. By then I realised that there was one thing that Kobi did for me that nobody ever did. He fought for me.
There is one question that is doing rounds on social media: Why don’t we get to watch Daminee Basu often on screen…
This is not something I could answer. Casting depends on other factors too. It is not just about art and craft. It is also about business. Craft will look for craft and business will look for business. The water-down version of this logic is actors and actresses need to have a certain amount of mass appeal. Like actresses needed to be attractive, actors are also expected to be tall and handsome. When I was young, I used to feel bad about it. But then I kept on doing what I have always been good at. I acted. I give my 100 percent to every bit of role that I get – be it in the films of Kaushik Ganguly, Ujjwal Basu, or Indranil Roychowdhury. Now I understand that I am not an office goer and I will have my share of uncertainties in my career. My parents are theatre workers and that gave me a better vision. I knew what I was signing up for. Like there are heartbreaks and disappointments, there are brighter sides also. I focused keenly on how to better myself.
After Chhotolok, whoever is asking, ‘Where were you all this while,’ my reply to them is, ‘Gokule Barchilam (I was brought up in Gokul) (laughs out loud). On a serious note, those who had the responsibility of using my craft did not use it. What can I do about it? It may sound arrogant but I know I am very good at what I do
Tell us about your journey with Indranil…
As a director, he just knows what he wants. Moreover, he is a master of film writing. He makes it evident how film writing is different from literature. This is not an intuitive skill. One needs to learn it.
But for me, Kobi is way more than just a director. Kobi is my friend. He has always been my friend, always had my back, and has always been there for me. He speaks my language and handles my extreme mood swings. I am not easy to handle. I can be stubborn at times. I need my space. In shooting, there are decision changes at the drop of a hat. I take time sometimes to get on with such things. Kobi always had my back. I have known him since July-August 2013. I believe that Rituda (Rituparno Ghosh) left me with Kobi as a parting gift. It is not just an actor-director relationship.
How did he brief you about Sabitri Mondol?
Oh, Kobi and I fought over the character. Ever since I agreed to play the character, Kobi used to send me write-ups and texts about it. I have a very clear subtextual understanding of Sabitri. However, I was not able to see Sabitri Mondol intellectually and physically. And I used to yell at Kobi. I used to tell him, ‘You could not Sabitri Mondol and hence you cannot show me.’ And he used to tell me, ‘Ask me questions about Sabitri and I will answer you.’ Finally, he told me something that changed the world for me. He said, ‘Sabitri Mondol was never told that she is intelligent. Nobody told her that.’ This worked as healing for me. I went to meet my grandmother who single-handedly raised her family. She was smart and I realised no one ever told her that she was smart. I thought that there was a Sabitri Mondol in my dida. I followed her gestures – batting eyelids, squeezing my nose to fix glasses, and sitting with drooping shoulders. Then I started travelling on the Metro. I used to observe women, I realised that I could not guess the professions of these women from their looks. Some might be doctors, some can be a professor, and so on. I used to take their pictures and steal everything from them. My domestic help Ranu has also been an inspiration for me. I picked glasses like her. When I worked in front of the camera, Kobi never dismissed anything that I brought with me. All he asked me was to put on a bit of weight.
So what’s next?
There is no acting project as of now. There are coachings. One of my students will be working on Atlee’s next film.
Do you think OTT space has created more opportunities for skilled actors and actresses?
It is true that with so many platforms, there are many projects and hence rooms for experiments. However, there is another side to it as well. There is a budget goal as well. When makers pitch a project, it sounds like a Hollywood series. And then there is no money when it comes to the remuneration for the actors and actresses. When they ask for theatre actors and actresses, I fear it is because these artists don’t ask for a lot of money. Theatre folks are usually way more focused on their craft. Their dedication is often exploited. There are associations for technicians and there can be no negotiation. Actors and actresses are the only negotiable point.