Interview Hindi

Urmila Mahanta: Majid Majidi extracts good performances even from extras


Apart from the celebrated Iranian filmmaker's next, Beyond The Clouds, the actress is playing the lead in Viraam and a supporting character in Akshay Kumar's Padman.  

Urmila Mahanta with Majid Majidi

Keyur Seta

Every year, countless people from far off places try their luck in the film industry. But very few manage to taste success. As far as actress Urmila Mahanta is concerned, she has got more than a chance to fulfil her dream of making it big in the film world. After working in Tamil, Bengali and Assamese films, she now has films like Beyond The Coulds with Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi and R Balki’s Padman with Akshay Kumar. Her film Viraam is all set to be premiered at the ongoing Marche Du Cannes. 

During a chat with Cinestaan.com, Mahanta gets talking about her upcoming films, experience with biggies like Majidi and Akshay and her journey from Assam to the film world. 

What character are you playing in Ziaullah Khan's Viraam?

I am playing the main female protagonist in it. The name of the character is Maatun. She is a simple, confident and bold girl with high ambitions. Her character has lots of shades. Sometimes she is sweet and bubbly while sometimes she is a low-profile village girl. Sometimes you might even see her in a glamorous avatar. 

The film is going to be premiered at Mache De Cannes.

The film where I got to play a character with so many shades is going to Cannes is like a blessing for me. Cannes is a very reputed and respected place. It is beyond my imagination. 

How did you land a role in internationally acclaimed director Majid Majidi’s next, Beyond The Clouds?

I feel very fortunate to be a part of this film. I got a call from Honey Trehan’s office and they called me for an audition. They took the look test and showed it to Majidi sir. They told me just one thing that 'sir is looking for a character, not a heroine'. I think he found it in me. And I was praying that sir finds me good enough to play the character. After all, he is Majid Majidi. We have learnt a lot watching his films in FTII. Not even in my dreams did I think I would even get a chance to see him in real. But I have now worked with him. God has been so kind to me that I got an opportunity to work with him. 

Urmila Mahanta

You have observed him working on the film. How would you describe him and his method?

He knows exactly what he wants from his actors, DoP (director of photography) and everyone. He knows how to extract good performances. We know his films are very, very realistic. He is very focussed on what people are doing. Even if an extra is standing somewhere, he is concerned about him too. He extracts the right performance from him too. So you can imagine what he expects from the main actors. It was a heaven for me. It was a learning experience for me. 

How was your experience with him off the sets?

I met him only 2-3 times after the shoot because he is very particular — he comes, shoots and leaves. He is very professional. He is very friendly, sweet and down-to-earth. It doesn’t seem like you are talking with Majid Majidi. He is like a common person. But the way he works; that reflects what Majid Majidi is.

Is the shoot of the film completed?

My portion is over. They had shot in Rajasthan. Right now, the last schedule is going on in Mumbai.

You are also playing a part in R Balki’s Padman with Akshay Kumar. What character are you playing in it?

I am playing a real character because it’s a real story on menstrual hygiene. My second schedule is going on. I have worked with Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor in it. Amit ji (Amitabh Bachchan) is also making a guest appearance since it is Balki sir’s film. 

How was your experience with Akshay Kumar? And do you have scenes with Bachchan?

It was a superb experience. Initially, I was intimidated by him since he is a superstar. But when he gave the shot, he appeared very simple and normal. He was very supportive. During one incident, he urged me to come in the frame saying, ‘Yeh tera bhi shot hai.’ Sonam is also a lovely person. I don’t have any scene with Amit sir. I told them, ‘Ek scene toh rakho sir ke saath!’ (laughs)

Did you always want to be an actress?

Initially, it was just a hobby for me. I am from Assam and I used to do theatre over there. I have also done children’s plays. My elder sister insisted that I should join some acting training as I am interested in it. At that time she was studying in Pune, so she got some forms from FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) and submitted on my behalf. That’s how I got into FTII and decided to be an actor. I secured the second rank in all over India for the selection test over there.

I got my first break in a Tamil movie (Vazhakku Enn 18/9) in 2012. Then I shifted to Mumbai. Meanwhile I also finished my course at FTII. Fortunately, I got to work with Mr Ketan Mehta in Manjhi – The Mountain Man (2015) to play the second lead opposite Prashant Narayan. Last year, I played the main culprit in Akira (2016). My next film Chakkalaspur is also ready for release. It’s a satirical film on farmers’ suicides. 

You have worked in Hindi, English, Tamil, Malayalam, Assamese and Bengali films. How do you manage to speak so many languages on screen?
I know Bengali because I belong to Assam. We are quite familiar with the language. But south Indian languages are alien languages. Plus, before shooting my south Indian films, I had never been to the south. So, I was a bit scared. But I had to mug up the lines and say them on the sets. And they dubbed it later.  

You have shot for Ajita Suchitra Veera’s internationally acclaimed film, The Ballad Of Rustom. 
Ajita happens to be my super senior from FTII. She called me to play a character in the film. I readily agreed since she is my senior. And it got selected for 86th Academy Awards. It was a lovely experience because everyone working in the film were from FTII. It was like, ghar ke hi log hai (all are from the same family).