There’s a decade of experience and then there’s an entire lifetime of experience, and the latter is what Dibyendu Bhattacharya brings to the table. Whether it is the hit series Undekhi recently, or his roles in Criminal Justice, Lootera, Dev. D., or Maqbool, his plethora of acting experience comes from the fact that acting and everything that flows from it is his life. Here’s my chat with the wise Dibyendu Bhattacharya:
You’ve done Dev D, Lootera, and Undekhi recently. We never really hear about the inside struggles of actors, not the stars. What made you believe that you could step into the entertainment industry and participate in it in a sustainable fashion?
The answer of this question must reflect my entire journey from childhood. I’ve been brought up in such a way in a family, my parents sent me for varied classes – music, drawing, table. I was also a gymnast in my childhood. I’ve been involved in such activities from childhood. I did many plays in my school. The journey of acting as a whole is an amalgamation of different art forms. As an actor, everything in life is related. Acting is an entire language, consisting of your body, heart, mind, understanding psychology.
I started doing hardcore theatre in 1988 after Grade 10. I was doing theatre, including directing and acting. You end up being a theatre worker. I did college in the morning and then straight away, I was going to rehearsals, printing tickets, checking proofs – that was a completely analog era. You had to do everything on your own.
In 1993, I went to the National School of Drama. I believe in studying and I believe immensely in that institution. I stayed in Delhi for three more years after that to do a lot more theatre. Then, I thought about doing cinema. I did Monsoon Wedding as my first film and then I moved to Delhi. Then that’s how the journey begins. I was already involved in significant films, whether the role was big or small.
So it wasn’t a sudden thought entering my mind that I would go to Bombay and do films. It is a long journey. It was a very organic journey. I’m still connected with my life, my family, and friends. The learning is still on. This is not a part-time job that I do. I have studied this art thoroughly. I am also teaching also – I’ve coached also different actors – for Ishaqzaade, Arjun Kapoor; for Hasee Toh Phasee, Siddharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra; and I’ve done workshops for the Fukrey gang. I also do a lot of workshops for children and adults. I earn my bread and butter from this industry. My work has generated more work for me, so that is how it has worked. The support from my family and friends has also helped me in this journey because I have always been connected with them.
What is the biggest learning lesson you give to an actor when coaching them – both from a technical aspect and from your personal journey?
Coaching can consist of ten days or one month – so I’m not teaching them acting. But it is important for the actor to know oneself. See, character build up is much more easy to do. I’m a practising actor so I know problem areas, where the actor may be getting confused – I try to solve those areas. I believe in basics. I try to coach and teach with the basics – listening to the co-actor’s dialogue carefully; going back to your own memory. Sometimes, you may have gone through something psychologically so you need to understand yourself is the core of acting. I go through that basic component. Know yourself so you don’t borrow someone else’s emotions. The emotion has to be yours. And I’m still learning every day. Every character throws me a challenge.
So what is a more recent challenge and how did you overcome it?
Characters throw you challenges because they are completely different human beings. Even two cops can be different – one from Punjab, one from Bengal. Don’t go by the uniform/the costume – they are two different human beings. Those are challenges for me and I try to be aware of making sure I am true to my character and not just the costume.
Undekhi – everyone has been saying that they have not been able to take their eyes and ears off the show. How do you come out of a project like that and make sure it doesn’t affect you on a personal level?
Undekhi, yes, is getting a lot of applause from the viewers and the fraternity. The show is very relevant today – it is talking about a huge spectrum of our life, of our society. One is very powerful, rich; one is the oppressed and suppressed class. One murder is happening to end thousands of years of abuse; another murder is about the mind and how connected you are. Both are criminals yet both murderers are going through the experiences of what they just did very differently.
As an actor, you cannot be judgmental when you are playing a character. As an actor, you cannot take a stance. But when I watch the show, as a human being, I realized how real it is. You realize you don’t want to be in this type of society.
See, every human being is flawed and actors are flawed so when we play a character, we must bring those flaws to the surface and do justice to the character.
But the overall experience of that shoot was fantastic because it was also a fantastic team. It was such a light-hearted unit. Physically, it was raining, snowing – because we were shooting in Manali – but everyone was on the same page, and nobody was complaining so it was a fantastic experience.