He was the crazy man-on the-tree Gojawho chose to live with a crowd of monkeys in Buddhadev Dasgupta’sTopeor the grounded young multimillionaire in Aniruddha Roy Choudhury’s Aparajita Tumi? Or, in Anjan Dutt’s forgettable Ganesh Talkieswhere he comes across with sparkling humour in his body language and his effortless performance? All these films have turned croppers. But he stuck out with his performance among those who happened to watch these films. He is Chandan Roy Sanyal who had a memorable breakthrough as Mikhail in Vishaal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey (2009). Is he a jinxed actor? Or is he wrong in his choice of roles? Not really because he has three very good films lined up for release — Manto, Chef and Rehnuma.
Q Why do we see you in so few films these days though you are extremely talented and have a great background in theatre?
I never really got that one role after Kaminey and few films I did like Prague, BMW, Mango and Kaanchi in which I had lead roles. But these films either never released or if they did, no one seems to have watched them to notice me or my performance. It broke my heart and I almost gave up. There was an extra lean patch in 2012-2013 when I was without work. I was truly hurt and humiliated when my character was eliminated from Rang De Basanti. I had worked very hard for more than two months and was only 23- 24 at that time. It was heart-breaking. I took up theatre again and started writing my scripts. Finally, things are looking up and I am ready to roar again.
Q I saw your group Proscenium’s production of Two Blind Mice on the Kolkata stage which you had directed. It was spell-binding. How did you do it?
It was an adaptation of Scene One of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot where the two principal characters — tramps Estragon and Vladimir — wait by a forlorn, leafless tree for Godot to arrive. I broke Beckett’s golden rule against casting women. I cast Trupti Khamkar, a young, podgy actress, as Estragon who, like the “child” she is expected to portray, lisps her dialogue to present the character as if she is a child. I wished to invest the play with a different treatment because it has always brought adult interpretations across time, space and scholarship. In creative terms, it was a great success.
Q You have worked with the best people in theatre — Habib Tanveer,Alyque Padamsee, his son Quasar and also modern directors like Atul Kumar. What parallels can you draw between these theatre giants and cinema giants like Vishaal Bharadwaj (Kameeney), Suman Mukherjee ( M a h a n a g a r @ K o l k a t a ) , Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Imtiaz Ali and Nandita Das? Besides, you are a director yourself so what are your perceptions about these experiences?
I feel it is a great honour to have been able to work with them. Both theatre and cinema personalities I have worked with. These names resonate with true art and culture. I have learnt different things from each of them in theatre and in cinema. As a film maker myself, I am using all my experiences with these artistes into my work. Making and generating moving images in my work. It will be special when I venture into film making and you will see shades of all of them in my films.
Q What role are you playing in Nandita Das’ film on Manto?
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is playing Manto and I am playing another poet who lived under Manto’s shadow. He was an impressive poet himself who lived in Lahore. It is not a very big role footage-wise but Manto has the ingredients of a great film. Das is an accomplished actress herself and brings a certain feminine sensibility into her direction. Sharing screen place with Naseeruddin Shah, Rishi Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Shabana Azmi was another big pull as an actor to accept this assignment.
Q You have been signed on for Chef also that stars Saif Ali Khan and is directed by Raja Krishna Menon. What role are you playing in this film?
Chef is the official Indian adaptation of the original Chef with John Favreau. I play the sous chef alongside Saif. The original was played by John Leguizamo, another brilliant Mexican American actor in the film. It is a beautiful film made by Raja Menon who recently made the big grosser Airlift. With Saif in the lead and me playing a chef which is a very pivotal role, it has been a winner for me all the way.
Q And then there is a very little-talked-about film with Shah Rukh Khan. How do you look at this change in your profile?
Imitaz Ali’s Rehnuma is finally the icing on the cake for me. Imagine the deadly combination of Imtiaz and Shah Rukh who is the only actor I got slightly intimidated by. It was hard for me to believe that I was actually enacting a scene with him. He is a gem of a person and never once made me feel I am minuscule compared to him. He pushed me all the time to do well and this lifted my spirits. It is a romantic comedy in which I play a Bangladeshi immigrant who lives in Portugal. I took accent classes from Suman Mukherjee to get my lines right.
Q What do you think is your biggest strength as an actor?
My biggest strength or not, I am an actor who adapts easily and all the time and people tend to not recognise me within a film. Whether my films succeed or not, I will continue with this adaptive trait in my forthcoming films too. I am a director’s actor. I just use my skills manoeuvred by the maker. An actor’s job is half done when he has a brilliant script with welletched characters and a sharp and transparent director. I have been fortunate to have begun with Vishaal ji who I consider my mentor who I am still in awe of because he believed in me, taught me to fly and gave me wings. I feel truly proud to have worked with some of the best directors in Indian cinema. Q You recently made short films too... When I was totally without work, I began to concentrate on writing scripts as a coping mechanism. I have made three short films Hiroshima, 35MM and Azaad. I produced Hiroshima myself. 35MM was produced by Vikrant Maseey and Nivedita Basu but is yet to release online. Azaad was produced for Sony Liv. Hiroshima is a sixminute silent film. 35 MM is a 25-minute romantic drama based on Guru Dutt’s characters from Kagaaz ke Phool. Azaad I acted and wrote and directed and it’s a film about freedom struggle in black-and-white.