Saturday, May 25, 2024

A conversation with Pranjal Saikia – Veteran actor from Assam

Robin Bhuyan (Editor-in-Chief)

Manish Das

Naba Kumar Sharma

Enigmatic Horizon recently had the opportunity to interview Pranjal Saikia, who is among Assam’s most well-known and versatile actors. He has acted in radio, plays as well as on the big screen. Join us in our exclusive interview, where we discuss his life, his career and his journey into the world of cinema.

How did you take your first step into the world of acting?

I attribute my entry into acting to my upbringing. Growing up in a natural environment surrounded by trees, forests, birds, and various animals in Jorhat, Assam, played a significant role. My childhood was spent near Tarajan Buragohain Pond. Opposite the pond was the Torajan Honmiloni Mandir (Torajan Conference Temple), established in 1935. Our house was nearby, and during Puja festivals, my father would organize dramas. These events, including bhaona, the traditional art form with a history of around 600 years, captivated me. I lost interest in my studies due to the vibrant atmosphere during Puja preparations. A month or two before the rehearsals, I would abandon my study table to watch them. That’s how I got involved in drama and plays at the age of 8 or 10. My formal acting journey began when I was in class 7, with a small role as a mechanic alongside a taxi driver.

You’ve acted in drama, cinema, and radio. Can you highlight the similarities and differences among these three mediums?

After coming to Guwahati, I got opportunities in drama, radio shows, and eventually cinema. I opened my own shop during Puja to raise money for admission to the National School of Drama (NSD), but it was quite challenging. One day, I saw an advertisement for a job at Rabindra Bhavan, Guwahati, and I passed the interview successfully. While working there for two years, I auditioned for radio in 1975 and began my journey in radio drama. Simultaneously, I got a chance to act in Shiv Thakuria’s film Faguni. The differences among these mediums are striking. In drama, we express ourselves loudly and vividly, whereas in cinema, we adapt to the director’s vision. Radio acting focuses on the nuances of voice, tone, and dialogue, requiring us to convey scenes through words. Each medium demands a unique set of skills and approaches.

You’ve played various characters in cinema. Could you share which character has been the most satisfying for you?

As an actor, satisfaction is often elusive. I’ve been selective in both films and dramas, so I haven’t acted in as many movies as I could have. Among the films I’ve worked on, Raag Birag by Bidyut Chakraborty stands out. Bidyut is incredibly talented and knowledgeable, having received a National Award. I played the role of a Bramhachari who leaves home at the age of 20 to become a devotee of Sri Krishna. I’ve also enjoyed working in Munin Barua’s films, such as Pita Putra and Prabhati Pakhir Gaan. More recently, I had a remarkable experience in Kadua: The Night Bird again with Bidyut Chakraborty, where the concept and characters were exceptional.

Could you share some memories from your time studying at NSD (National School of Drama)?

I joined NSD in 1978 after a successful interview in Patna. It was a competitive time, with 33 seats allotted instead of the usual 28 due to the high number of talented candidates. The first year was challenging, and some students left, but the exposure at NSD was invaluable. I had the opportunity to work with Dulal Roy and learn from experienced faculty members. NSD offered various drama classes, teaching us the perspective of drama, direction, and much more. The curriculum covered diverse subjects, from literature to practical aspects, modern Indian drama, Western drama, classical drama, and more. After specialization in the third year, I graduated alongside over 60 Assamese actors from NSD.

What do you think are the challenges in Assamese cinema, and what steps should the government take?

The Assamese film industry faces several challenges. While the industry has evolved over the years, many of our demands remain unmet. One of our primary needs is more cinema halls. With a limited number of theaters, it’s crucial to expand this infrastructure. I believe the government should focus on establishing a minimum of 250 to 300 modern cinema halls in Assam, equipped with the latest technology. Additionally, control over these theatres should shift from third-party organizations, often Mumbai-based, to an Assam Government board. This would help prioritize regional and northeastern cinema.

You have connections with actors like Naseeruddin Shah and others in Bollywood. Could you share your experience with them?

Bollywood operates differently; they consider themselves professionals, but I would describe it as commercial. It’s not just about being professional; they often work day and night solely for financial gain. In contrast, I cherish my family life, my culture, and the simplicity of nature. I prioritize my health. While I have had friends like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Raj Babbar in Bollywood, their relentless pursuit of work leaves little room for personal time. I am content living in Assam, away from the mechanical hustle and bustle of Mumbai or Delhi. Although there may be fewer financial opportunities here, I find happiness in my roots.

Your thoughts on OTT and digital movie platforms?

Many prefer OTT because they can’t afford going to the theatre, as ticket prices are getting costlier. I think this problem should be addressed. In addition, OTT allows filmmakers to release content without censorship. Thus, they end up creating content which is vulgar which can be harmful for our youths. I think censorship is very important, and it should apply for OTT as well.

What qualities do you believe are essential for success in acting?

First and foremost, actors should avoid developing egos, which can emerge after just a couple of projects. It’s essential to remember that many talented individuals work in various fields worldwide. To excel as an actor, one should watch films, attend plays, read stories, novels, and poems, and be comfortable with different languages. Maintaining an attitude of learning from everyone and everything is crucial.

Finally, could you share your future plans with us?

I live in the present and make small plans as needed. I write stories and poems, which are also a form of planning. Everything in life has a plan, including filmmaking and drama production. Currently, I’m occupied with various responsibilities at home, and that’s where my focus lies.

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