Interview Bengali

Nagarkirtan goes beyond all misconceptions about transgenders: Ritwick Chakraborty

The film, starring Riddhi Sen, has already won the National Award in four categories – Best Actor (Riddhi Sen), Best Make Up, Best Costume and the Best Jury Award.

Roushni Sarkar

One of the finest actors of Bengali cinema, Ritwick Chakraborty falls into the category of actors who always manage to carefully hide the effort they put in when they appear on screen.

Chakraborty is known for his seamless performances in mainstream films, in which he took part more in the beginning of his career, and also in parallel films by some of the most important filmmakers of the industry.

An active participant in the theatre from his early days, Chakraborty debuted with Pagol Premi and is known for his remarkable performances in Chalo Let’s Go (2008), Cross Connection (2009), National Award-winning film Shabdo (2013), Bakita Byaktigoto (2013), Asha Jaoar Majhe (2014), Bibaho Diaries (2017), Maacher Jhol (2017), Happy Pill (2018) and many other films.

Chakraborty’s ardent fans are awaiting his performance in his upcoming film Nagarkirtan by Kaushik Ganguly. The film has already won the National Award in four categories – Best Actor (Riddhi Sen), Best Make Up, Best Costume and the Best Jury Award.

Nagarkirtan will be released on 15 February.

In a candid chat with, Chakraborty shares about his journey of working in the film that attempts to tell a love story between a man and a transgender woman.

Why do you think people should watch this film?

It is a very important film. It tells a love story of a transgender woman. We have a lot of misconceptions about transgender people and we live with those baseless and created ideas about them. Since it is a love story, it goes beyond all those misconceptions. It shows that their love story is not different from the ones of a girl and a boy or the passionate love between Radha and Krishna. I think it is extremely important to understand that.

The Supreme Court has decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. We can say that the lack of freedom that we had in terms of love is not there anymore. However, the step has been taken by the law. Now it is time for the society to realise and implement it as well. I think, the film will play an important role in taking those realisations a few steps further and help bring clarity in understanding.

We all know that 14th February is Valentine's Day and Nagarkirtan is releasing on 15th. I think people will also have a more comprehensive idea on how to celebrate love after watching the film.

Can you talk about your character Madhu?

Madhu is from Nabadwip. He comes from a family which is traditionally associated with kirtan (singing worship songs) and he also plays the flute. He currently stays in the city and works as a delivery boy in a Chinese restaurant. All these are already known! Now the film shows how Madhu traces his journey towards realising his sexual orientation and how he eventually falls in love with Punti (Riddhi Sen).

What all did you have to keep in mind when you enacted making love to a male actor, imagining him to be a transgender woman?

It is true that two males are acting, but if you take that away then you can only see that Punti and Madhu have fallen in love with each other. We have enacted falling in love many times before. There is no difference in the love between these two characters and the others. They don’t express love in unusual ways. They convey their love in the same way our previous generation have made love to each other or the way the future generation will. Therefore, we have faced both the usual difficulties and comfort that we generally do in a love making scene.

The visible chemistry is an organic outcome of the performances. At the same time, the credit equally goes to the strong script and directorial concepts behind it. The chemistry is an overall outcome of all.

According to Riddhi Sen, he could bring alive the femininity because you were adequately romancing with him on the sets. Also, you left a lot of space for him to feel those moments to convey on the screen.

Riddhi Sen in Nagarkirtan

As I said before, Madhu had to romance with Punti as he is in love. An actor has certain responsibilities and when he becomes a co-actor then he has different responsibilities to carry out. Hence, both Riddhi and I had to carry both kinds of responsibilities. I feel, if one doesn’t do justice to his responsibilities as a co-actor then he falls behind as an actor in entirety. There is no greatness in it, this is what an actor should do, do his own job and leave space for the co-actor as well.

Riddhi Sen had to observe and be with a lot of transgender people in order to create his character. Did you also engage yourself with them?

No, I did not. After observing them when Riddhi became Punti on the set, I only saw her, imagined myself as Madhu and delivered my performance. I did not have to look for a transgender to imagine myself as her lover, Ridhhi was enough for me.

Is Madhu placed in the film in contrast to all the transgender characters? Will the audience see the film through his eyes?

No, not at all! They are in love and the film shows how the society looks at them. We know how society treats transgender people. We know that we often fake sleeping in the car at the traffic signals when they knock on our windows. We also partly know how the society reacts when transgender people fall in love. The film touches upon every single aspect of these reactions. As the film has carried the tradition of kirtan and its culture throughout the film; closely observed the life of transgender people, their shabby houses, dressing sense, their way of living and the rituals, similarly it has also depicted how the present society receive them.

You have worked with Kaushik Ganguly before as well. What are the biggest takeaways of working with the filmmaker?

Kaushik Ganguly

He has always offered me the most interesting roles which are rarely conceived by other directors. Apart from being an amazing director, he is a fantastic and extremely skilled actor. Hence, there is no possibility of bad acting or some mistakes while working in his films. He ensures a kind of secure environment as the actor knows that behind the monitor, an actor par excellence is observing his or her work.

How do you think that the four National Awards are going to add to the success of the film?

I am not sure how it is going to add to the success, but getting a National Award is a success in itself. At the next stage of success of the film, there is no direct relation with the National Awards. A lot of films get National Awards, but Nagarkirtan has received the recognitions in some important categories - Best Actor, Best Make Up, Best Costume and Best Jury Award that suggests that unofficially, Nagarkirtan can be considered as the second best film of the country of the year, if the film receiving the National Award is considered to be the best. People who closely follow the National Awards will understand that the film is quite important in that sense. But that all has already taken place. Now the film is releasing and we hope that the audience will find it engaging.

How was the experience of working with Riddhi Sen?

Riddhi Sen

He is a good actor and he has been acting since his childhood. A lot of actors perform since their childhood but Riddhi is not doing it just for fun. He has been doing it seriously and he has been educated in acting or rather he can be called an educated actor. And the way he has been precise in his performance and has turned into Punti in this film is quite fascinating.

I have observed him closely and have been mesmerised to see the transformation. The National Award has already given him the recognition but now, I am quite sure that the recognition will come from the audience. Such enthralling performances are quite rare in Bengali cinema.