Interview Hindi

At a stage where I can branch out: Chandan Roy Sanyal on turning 39


On the eve of his birthday, the actor spoke about upcoming projects, his growing 'wisdom' and trying his hand as director with short films. 

Shriram Iyengar

Chandan Roy Sanyal loves the Hindi blockbuster world. The actor, who made his mark as Shahid Kapoor's friend in the cult Vishal Bhardwaj film, Kaminey (2009), has already starred alongside Saif Ali Khan in Chef (2017) and Shah Rukh Khan in Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017). The actor certainly enjoys it. Speaking with Cinestaan.com on the eve of his 39th birthday, the actor confessed that working opposite these big stars has its advantages. 

"Jab Harry Met Sejal took me into the television living room," he says. The actor went on to recollect an incident while visiting director Imtiaz Ali's parents in Jamshedpur recently. "The whole colony turned up, and they wanted to meet me. I had a small scene in the film called 'Gas' Ghyasuddin. But everybody remembered that part," Sanyal said before adding, "It is an honour to be signed on, and noticed for a 3-minute role in a Shah Rukh Khan film." 

The actor's beginnings go back to the more free flowing and rebellious theatre movement of the late Habib Tanvir. Though he was still a teen when he came into contact with the legendary playwright, Sanyal noted Tanvir as his 'mentor'. "With him, I learnt how not to act," he said. 

But acting is not the only craft he is focussing on. Turning 39, the actor has turned director with critically appreciated short films like 35mm and Azaad. With films like Manto lined up for release, Sanyal looks to be branching out into his own. 

Following are excerpts from the interview: 

Turning 39, does it feel like a big step?

Not really. It is just another year. I am just looking back, and it feels good. But I will keep working on the little things. Building up, as always. 

I always knew it would be a long journey, and was just hoping for a healthy mind, healthy soul and a healthy body.

You started out in the world of theatre, working with Habib Tanvir among others. What was he like as a person? How influential was theatre on your career?

When I started out with Habib saab, I was only 19 years old. It was an enriching experience for me. With him, I learnt how not to act. Usually, actors working for him were farmers, potters and people from the villages. They did not know to read or write. They would improvise from hearing the script. That was a revelation for me. 

Later on in my life, when I went to England to do Shakespeare, it was interesting to see an opposing point of reference in Western theatre, which is strict in terms of text. In the folk theatre of Chhatisgarh, we are known for the physical form of acting. 

Habib saab was my mentor at a very young age. 

I believe theatre acting and film acting are different arts. In theatre, you are amplifying your emotions to reach the last person on the last row. Film acting has to be a lot more subtle. More of an internal process, where you do it so well that it looks effortless. The one thing which is common, I learned, is the truth of the scene. Until and unless you learn the truth of the scene, the audience will never believe you. 

Chandan Roy Sanyal in Kaminey (2009)

So has anything changed over these years?

The core of me has remained the same. I have become wiser. You start out and win the breakthrough performance and all that. But as I travel more, read more, I have come to realise how inconsequential it all is. 

I have grown as a person and an artist. The person seven years back is a lot different thna who I am now. I see myself approaching a scene, or a film, with far more maturity than I did. I have been making a film, and have been making short films over the last couple of years, it has made me realise that unless one has lived, breathed, experienced things, you feel empty as an artist. 

But what was it working with stars like Saif Ali Khan in Chef or Shah Rukh Khan in Jab Harry Met Sejal? The experience must have been very different to a theatre world or indie cinema...

I have grown up watching Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra and Nasir Hussain, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. Then, I didn't know a Stanislavski, or David Mamet or a Tarkovsky. For a young man from Karol Bagh, New Delhi, cinema was entertainment. There was no rightist cinema or leftist cinema, or the power of cinema. It was a layman's view of the world where I could watch Bharat: Ek Khoj, or a Tamas, and a Parwana, with a stylish Amitabh Bachchan getting off the train. 

Since I've grown up on all this, it was a novel experience. Almost nostalgia to be working with Shah Rukh Khan or Saif Ali Khan. I remember I was telling Saif that when I was in Delhi, Aashik Awara (1993) had come out, and I was in my 20s. It is a very strange feeling when you are sitting in his room, having dinner, and telling him that. 

Chandan Roy Sanyal (R) with Saif Ali Khan (C) and the cast of Chef (2017)
Photo: Shutterbugs Images

You are a part of Manto. That is a fantastic cast as well.

Manto is not just a movie. It is a movement of ideas, thoughts, and his writings. He sought the hard truth, and was not bogged down. He had to pay a heavy price for that though. 

How was the experience shooting for that?

She (Nandita Das) is amazing. I have rarely worked with female directors. I had worked with Ruchika Oberoi for Island City, but apart from that no one. Nandita Das has this compassion, and she is an actor herself. Women are naturally born with more affection, greater sensibility towards truth. 

She had a beautiful, novel approach of explaining to actors. Almost like a mother. 

I play a Pakistani poet in the film, a friend of Manto's. I can't tell you much about the role, as I won't have anything to say during the film's release later on. 

So, adding Nawazuddin Siddiqui to the list of Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Shahid Kapoor...

I love that I worked with all three of them in a single year. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Manto (upcoming)

What's the difference in their approach?

I think what an actor is judged by is the kind of films one does over the years. When I am meeting these actors at the nascent stage of the film, there is just the worry of doing the scene right. Whether it is Nawaz, or SRK or Saif, all have the same approach. To get the scene right. 

They try to work according to the needs of the director. They are all the same in that. I am not trying to be nice, but all of them have the same humility towards the craft. Once the film releases, and goes on to the audience, you notice that is Shah Rukh Khan, that is Nawazuddin Siddiqui. But when I meet them, as a co-actor, I only see the hard work and effort they put in. 

You have also been working quite a bit in Bengali films over the years. How did that happen?

Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray, they are the names that are torchbearers of a beautiful, poetic, form of cinema. Their style of making films is very different from that of Hindi cinema. It is very organic. 

Then there is the newly found hobby of writing and directing. How is that going?

I have taken up a couple of short films. There was a time in the middle when the acting was not really working. There were a couple of films that released, but not many people saw it. Some others stopped in the middle. It starts to bother you a bit, when people say you are a good actor, but we can't see you in films. People started asking why I wasn't getting any good roles, or recognition. It starts to bother you. 

So, I started channelising my energy into writing stuff. I started writing short stories, reading and watching a lot. Then, I thought my goals are probably too narrow. I need to widen my horizon. For the first time I wrote a script, and showed it to Abbas Tyrewala. 

I value Abbas' opinion as a writer. He is very well read. So, when he says I can write well, it gave me some confidence. I narrated my whole film one night to him, and then began the struggle of making it. So, I went on to make another film, Hiroshima. I simply wanted to test myself. I can write, but can I make a film? So, I made 35mm with Neeraj Kabi and Priyanka Bose. It came out very well and was appreciated. 

Later, I made a short film called Azaad, which came out last year. Recently, someone approached me asking if I could make a film for them. We started working on a concept, and now I have a script ready. We are trying to finish it in time for the festival season.

I think I am at a stage where I can branch out and grow into something interesting. I have kept working, and slowly it will start to come together. 

It does look like an exciting year ahead...

On hand, I have signed on for another Buddadeb Dasgupta film, Udo Jahaz. For any actor, to be approached by Buddhadeb Dasgupta twice (he earlier acted in Dasgupta's Bait) is a matter of immense pride. I play the lead in it. After five years, I played the lead. The feeling of watching your character in every scene is something else. 

There will be Manto which will be released later this year. 

I am also part of Patangey which will be released later this year. I also did a film called Tippa, with a first time director called Safdar Haider, who is based in Kolkata. There's me and Sunny Pawar from Lion. It is a father-son relationship story and is very interesting. That will release hopefully in the coming year. 

I am trying to do something different.