We are all performers in many ways and yearn for limelight. But there are many who have talent and are extremely good with their skill not caring about limelight at all. We interviewed Srestha Banerjee, an actress who has been in the industry since two years and been doing female- centric roles and not compromising on strong and exciting content. She shares her journey with Curious Hounds.
Q- Let’s start with the basics, you’re an English Literature student. What propelled you towards acting?
Well, I would just put it honestly- I always wanted to pursue acting as a career option, since I had a very artistic bend of mind right from childhood. I was simply waiting to connect with the right kind of people, prepping up with circumstances and never being a part of the rat-race. Literature came as a blessing in disguise for me, as initially, just like any other naïve school pass-out, I assumed English honours to be a mere language course (laughs) that would help reinforce my communication skills and command over the language, since I was lauded for my grip over the subject during school days. Then, I found great mentoring under the esteemed professors of SGTB Khalsa College’s English Department during 2009-12, who not only widened my horizons towards life, but also, propelled me to unleash the fire within and harnessed my creativity towards an altogether new level.
Q- Curious Hounds would like to know how has your journey been so far?
It has been incredible!! I am currently at that stage where I believe that all kinds of opinions, brickbats, criticism of all sorts- condescending, positive, negative etc. has actually motivated me to push my comfort levels away and look forward to challenging roles and identify with nothing but solid content. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to make it due to end number of reasons, but as they say, denial paves the way for opportunities in the long run. I am happy with the way things are taking a concrete shape now. Some very good projects are already in process. Some have been already shot, others are due for release.
Q- Do you believe Indian cinema has to catch up or is it perfect the way it is?
Actually, I believe that there can’t be one concrete opinion over this aspect. Everyone has their own Point of view, when it comes to a decisive factor which can be put in quotes as “Indian” Cinema redefined. But yes, if you are referring to mainstream Bollywood, then yes, I would say that things have definitely shaped up for good. Look at some of the recent releases in last 5 years, Mukkabaaz, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain, City Lights, Gangs of Wasseypur to name a few- all of them have unconventional plots, stellar performances by people who didn’t have any lineage from tinsel town, simplicity in presentation but rock-strong in content, and most importantly, unconventional-looking actors with a completely ‘no-nonsense’ badass attitude, poles apart from the conventional idea of tall, fair, so-called “upmarket” looking actors and actresses to play lead characters.
Having said that, I still believe, many other factors, such as ill-treatment towards artists, lackadaisical approach towards lesser-known faces, delays in payment and favouritism need to be done away with, because a true artist always proves his/her mettle in the long run. If one can be so flexible, then why can’t the same be expected of people who have been in the industry for so long? Humility doesn’t harm anyone, does it?
Also, it would be my humble request to the esteemed Government of India, that is it high time that they recognize the film-industry as a rightful source of livelihood for so many aspiring talents all across the country. If we get due recognition, things would be so much easier for the ones without any source(s) to connect to the right kind of people and opportunities would grow multi-fold.
Q- Do you think technology has helped budding actors to showcase their talent?
To a certain extent, yes. Earlier, in the 90’s, aspiring actors would be terrified as to even imagine about the wilderness called “Mumbai- the city of dreams”. Now, post 2000’s, cities like Delhi, Chandigarh and even Bhopal and Jaipur have top-notch casting agencies and ever since the influx of social-media, things have definitely changed for the better. All you need to do is search through some casting agencies on the net, through which one can check reviews, get authentic contact digits, look at the work done by the casting houses, some of which have successfully developed into full-fledged production houses too by now, for a quick verification. E-mail and WhatsApp are the most favoured ways of forwarding profiles, as per the specifications of each casting update that is posted on each page or by the casting director, but nowadays, certain agencies have introduced applications that allow you to update your portfolio, work links or audition videos, latest pictures etc. too, absolutely free of charge.
When I began sometime around December 2016, I scrolled through facebook and Instagram to locate certain known and semi-known, even budding artists and theatre repertory members too. Then, we interacted over arts, upcoming projects, trying to locate whether there was a possibility of either of us fitting in, and that’s how we connected. I have been lucky and Thank the almighty for having the opportunity to share screen space with most of the people I initially connected with as a novice in the industry.
Q- To what extent negativity can effect an aspiring actor? body shaming, colour & caste, which is apparent in India.
Oh!! A lot actually. But then, like I said earlier, denial paves the way for better things to take shape in the future. I was straightaway denied by many, being told frequently that “Madam, your profile fits only junior roles and crowd appearances”. One may ask any actor in any corner of Oshiwara and Aram Nagar in Mumbai and Laxmi Nagar and Rohini in Delhi, as to what is the most frequently heard phrase- “Sorry, you don’t fit our requirements” or “Your look ain’t fitting in for the lead/parallel” etc.
It just doesn’t end over body shaming, there are other aspects as well- delayed payments, lasting 9-10 months on end and in worse scenarios, even, declining of the payment altogether. Did I just mention manhandling of artists too?? Well, that happens more frequently during peak hours of auditions and especially, when a lot many characters are to be cast on a roll, with limited time period, depending from client to client.
There are many actors in my circle, with whom I have faced such instances mutually too, but then, ultimately their grit and determination to prove their mettle through all odds- social ostracism (for choosing such an unconventional career option), racist attitude towards preference over fair skin for lead characters, body-shaming for not having perfect vitals/ having a non-muscular or lean frame) have led them to even bag strong characters requiring none of the above requirements. They have played such characters so effortlessly that now, acting has actually developed into a full-time paying job too in certain instances.
Q- CASTING COUCH – is global and happens with both women and men, what are your views on it?
Yes, it is a reality but, let me put it forward clearly- it is NOT the end of the world. With a lot more awareness nowadays regarding authentic casting directors and verified projects, aspiring actors and actresses are relatively safer from the clutches of such pretentious individuals. It is pretty easy to spot a fake casting call- they will promise you lead/parallel lead roles without an audition, charge undue fees in case you don’t have prior work links/show reels. In case you are a good actor, they try to condescend you by saying “your biological age is already beyond being fit for a lead character, so, I suggest you to compromise earlier lest you regret losing your role to someone else”.
The industry has enough for everyone’s need, not their greed, hence, one must never fall into the trap of these unscrupulous people. There are enough roles for people from all walks of life. No one can snatch any role if it has been destined for an individual, come what may.
To make it big in the industry, as one of my filmmaker friend, Mr. Nishant Jha has rightly said, “You need to give your self, not your soul”, as that would tantamount to dealing with the trickster devil here.
With whatever experience I have gained over a period of less than two years of being in the industry, I can vouchsafe for one thumb rule- Age is just a number, as an authentic casting team as well as production houses and even director(s) are only concerned with TWO basic qualifications- a) your screen age suiting the character, b) a powerfully executed audition that looks convincing enough towards your suitability to do justice towards the character.
There is no shortcut to success- you have to take the stairs.
Q- What is your advice to all those who are studying drama, acting or theatre in schools and colleges and aspire to become actors in the future?
I would be honest here. Since I myself haven’t pursued any specific acting course from an acting school/academy, I cannot really comment upon the framework of the course(s) being offered. I have my humble beginnings from School and College Theatre groups , some precious guidance by the celebrated People’s Theatre group- Jana Natya Manch (JaNaM) alongwith some Local level Cultural Program Societies and Durga Puja Samities (being a Bengali by ethnicity).
An aspiring actor must believe in himself/herself first, then only can they do justice to the character being offered to them. Secondly, one must be comfortable in their own skin, never, and I repeat, ever try to ape anyone- all of us are unique in our own way and precisely, may be that is why, all the celebrated actors today (irrespective of the stardom and status achieved) are famous for some of the milestones they achieved by doing justice to the iconic characters played by them solely in their own inimitable style. Thirdly, it’s a game of approx. seventy percent of patience, twenty percent of talent and ten percent of luck in making it big in the cruel world out there.
The universe rewards you with whatever you are seeking, and good things take their own sweet time to become a reality. Hence, patience is a virtue here, accompanied by humility that must never be forgotten, even if you touch the skies.