Have you ever heard people talking about GB Road in Delhi or Sonagachi in Kolkata and reacted immediately? Most people’s knowledge about these red light areas is extremely superficial and full of stigmas that overlook the plight of the women working inside the dark, confined walls of these brothels.
Television actress Barkha Sengupta, considering it as a taboo, feels that women working in this industry undergo several other grave struggles and challenges. She believes that the physical aspect of this profession is at the bottom of the list.
In an exclusive interview with TheStatesman.com, Barkha, who recently portrayed a prostitute’s character in Anil V. Kumar’s original work ‘Ratri Ke Yatri’ opens up on her experience of working in the show and breaking sexual taboos.
What is the genesis of the story ‘Ratri Ke Yatri’?
Ratri Ke Yatri is a show helmed by Anil V. Kumar. He is one of my favourite directors and I think he is among the most creative directors that we have today. When he called me for the show and I heard the story, I immediately said yes to it. Basically, it’s an anthology of five stories, each story is separate and not connected. Each story shows the life of a particular character in the red-light area. It shows their life, emotions and deeper side to them. Every story has a message and every episode is thought-provoking because it has characters that come to the red-light area and all of these characters and their lives are incomplete in some way.
My story is of a boy who is the son of a prostitute. And he is extremely angry with his mother for being in this profession. He comes to the red-light area and meets me and takes out his frustration on me. Tries to put me down and show that I am in a disrespectful profession or I am doing something very wrong.
Through this whole journey, he also did his bit; I also happen to have a six-year-old daughter. And I am doing this to make her life better. My daughter should’ve better life than I did. It’s this whole realisation though it’s a profession that doesn’t look so nice from the outside but there is a deeper meaning to this as well. There is a side to it which is emotional, deep and very real which we don’t want to look at. That’s what my character and story is all about.
In one way or the other, it is a women-centric show; do you feel the tide is turning for females.
Yes, Ratri Ke Yatri is completely a women-driven show. And in terms of whether the tide is changing for females or not, we can look at television. Television is women-centric. All shows on the TV are about women. So I have been experiencing this while I have done television. But I think in the webspace, they are very open, making either of the sexes the central character. So, I think it’s only films where mostly the hero is the man. Films are changing too. There are a lot of films that are around women. But the web essentially is a relatively new place where it is exploring various aspects of life and these people don’t have to be necessarily men. I think that’s a great thing for us actors because the web is a space where there is a lot of creative content, unlike television where women are central but they are very type-caste. Each show is no different from the other. Most of the shows are very similar.
Web is one space where we women as actors get to explore our talent and performance levels. And I think it’s great to see women realize that they can also be a hero. And that’s what exactly Ratri Ke Yatri has done. Each woman is a hero of her own story because she is the driving point of the story. I think it’s great that women are finally coming to the forefront.
Essaying the role of a sex worker in the show, how did you manage to adapt to the language and gestures of the character? Did you feel uncomfortable while portraying the role at any point of time?
Well essaying a character from the red-light area is always a challenge because it’s a side of life which you probably won’t have seen. Normally, as an actor, we take experiences from our real life and put that into the character we portray on the screen. But to portray a character that you probably will never meet in life or have contact with is definitely a challenge. I think the director plays a huge role here because you have to go by conviction of the director. So that’s exactly what I did. I followed Anil Sir’s ideology of how this character should be. Thankfully, he didn’t let me play the character typically which is loud, sometimes abusive and over the top. He made me play the character like a very normal person. Also, I am a mother in this story. So, the whole thing of being motherhood and a real normal person is what I believe they are. I actually believe they are the real people at the end of the day. I am really grateful that he didn’t make me really go over the top and show who you are. I just played the character like a normal person. And of course, the script was extremely powerful and that helped. I was really lucky that way.
As far as being uncomfortable is concerned, I didn’t have any scenes where I felt discomfort in any way. And, I just trusted Anil Sir blindly. He is creatively very sound. He will never make something which is something out of any actor’s comfort zone because he believes that your performance won’t come out the way it should if he or she is not feeling uncomfortable. So, I didn’t feel uncomfortable. Rather, I was very comfortable. I didn’t feel that I was doing something different in a negative way or doing something negatively different or weirdly different. It was just playing a character and getting into the skin of it. Just playing the part.
Prostitution business is not only driven by physical pleasure but rather driven by economic and psychological distress. What are your views on it?
Not that I am not aware of the prostitution world as such. But having done the show and during Ratri Ke Yatri, Anil Sir and the team would have done a bit of research on it. I somehow believe the physical aspect of this profession is at the bottom of the list as to why these people do what they really do. But yes it’s economical and psychological to an extent. The physical needs and demands of this profession come much later if I had to really kind of rate them. Yes, it’s true a lot of people do this for money because they run their houses. They have mouths to feed. They look at it as a job/profession. They don’t look down upon what they do. Because if you look at the larger picture, they are people who are feeding their families and taking care of their loved and closed ones. For example, my story is about doing this for my daughter. I want her to have a better life. So, I believe the physical aspect of this profession comes way down.
To what extent, your show will help break sexual taboos, especially for women?
I think while making Ratri Ke Yatri, we were on some kind of mission that we have to break some taboo or simply out there to prove a point. But yes, we definitely hoped this show helps people if not break a taboo but understand the sensitivity and emotions. If you see, Ratri Ke Yatri is a very sensitive show and it imparts a certain amount of wisdom. The kind of experiences that these people from red-light go through, I would say they have more wisdom than a lot of other people having cushioned lives. So, yes, I do feel, through our show, people would at least try to understand other perspectives and the thought behind certain professions.
And in all the stories of Ratri Ke Yatri, it’s the women who are empowering men in a certain way and imparts wisdom to them. We have done it with a good intention and I really hope that people like the show.