Satyajit Ray aficionados would remember Swatilekha Sengupta as the comely wife caught in a love triangle between her rich husband (Victor Banerjee) and his freedom-fighter friend Soumitra Chatterjee in Ghare Baire (1985). The film showed her caught in a whirlwind of emotions as she had to choose between her sedate husband and the charismatic admirer. It was a sensitive performance and won her admiration on the festival circuit. Her lip-lock with Soumitra in the film did ruffle a few feathers. Negative reviews of her performance at home affected her strongly and she didn’t sign a film for close to 30 years after that. She was recently seen in Bela Seshe (2015, The End) directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee. In this she was reunited with Soumitra. The 70-year-old actor, who is known more for her plays than films, suffered a heart attack some time ago. The actrress is better now. And she's excited about her upcoming movie Bela Shuru (The Beginning). Starring her and Soumitra Chatterjee once again, the film is a sort of spiritual successor to the team’s earlier film. Excerpts from an interview with Swatilekha – a Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner, who has lost none of her pizzazz to the passage of time.
A GIRL FROM ALLAHABAD WOULD’VE TRAVELLED TO MUMBAI AND NOT KOLKATA TO BE AN ACTRESS. WHAT MADE YOU DO THE CONTRARY?
I came here in 1975-76 after completing my MA from Allahabad University. I was always interested in theatre. Eventually, I joined the Nandikar group (she worked under the direction of Rudraprasad Sengupta, one of the founders, whom she later married). Sombhu Mitra was an icon of the theatre world at that time. I did German dramatist Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo with him. I hardly had any role in the play. But Satyajit Ray watched it and he wanted me to play Bimala in Ghare Baire (1985).
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST MEETING WITH SATYAJIT RAY?
I didn’t want to take my final exams in school. So I’d written a letter to Ray saying, “Please take me in your film, I don’t want to do this exam.” But I didn’t get any reply. Years later, I got a call from actor Rabi Ghosh saying Satyajit Ray wants to meet you. I didn’t believe him. But eventually, I agreed. There was a bandh the day I was to meet Ray. I walked 14 kilometres to reach his place. When he opened the door, he looked like he’d seen a ghost. He said, “How could you come today? Everything is closed.” I said, “Okay, I’ll go back.” He said, “No, no, sit.” He started making my sketches and said, “You’re my heroine.” He gave me the script of Ghare Baire, which was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novel of the same name.
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