‘It was tough to play a sex worker’

Chingari isn’t at all a ‘today’ film. It took me a long time to come to terms with myself after I peeled off the make-up of Basanti, Sushmita Sen tells V. Ananth

Sushmita Sen in a still from Chingari
Sushmita Sen in a still from Chingari

WHEN Kalpana Lajmi approached Sushmita Sen with the offer to cast her in Chingari, she grabbed it by the collar. "It is amazing that both Kalpana and I believe in Durga. Chingari is my tribute to my goddess through my profession. Even before Kalpana narrated the climax of the film, I told her that I was ready to shoot for the film." says Sushmita Sen.

According to Sushmita, Chingari isn’t at all a ‘today’ film on any count. "Even when I agreed to be a part of the project, I asked Kalpana whether she was sure that I was suitable for the role of Basanti, the hard-core sex worker and she said that she would work on the role. What I liked about her as a director is that she told me that it did not excite her to cast an actress only according to the image of the actor."

‘I am a woman who believes in standing up for her rights’
‘I am a woman who believes in standing up for her rights’

How did she prepare herself for the role? "To get into the skin of my character, I listened to Kalpana and put on koyla, kajal and Johnson baby oil all over my body to get the tanned rural look. When I was ready I did not have the guts to step out of the make-up van. Though I felt I looked strange, Kalpana assured me that I looked Basanti every inch. I had to work a lot on becoming Basanti from Sushmita and also vice versa. It took me a long time to come to terms with myself as Sushmita after I peeled off the make up of Basanti."`A0 `A0

Sushmita confesses that after essaying the role, which disturbed her as a person off the screen, she fell headlong in love with Basanti. "My mannerisms also changed. I got goose pimples when the climax of the film was shot even though I am a part of the scene only as an actress. Never in my career have I experienced physical as well as mental exhaustion as much as I did while essaying the character of Basanti. It is indeed strange but true that every time Basanti got a slap, I as Sushmita used to feel the pain. Every time Basanti was touched, I, as Sushmita, felt I was being humiliated."

Admitting that it was tough to play a character with which she couldn’t identify herself, Sushmita states that an actor should never attempt a film like Chingari because the feeling of getting disgusted with her lasted a long time after she had completed the shooting of the film and headed back home. "Personally I do not subscribe to whatever Basanti does because I am a woman who believes in standing up for one’s rights and fight against the system if it gangs up against you, especially if you happen to be a woman."

Sushmita plays a rock star in Tanuja Chandra’s Rockin’
Sushmita plays a rock star in Tanuja Chandra’s Rockin’

The worst aspect of working in Chingari, according to Sushmita Sen, was that she had to shut down her own self-belief. She adds. "It is a fact that you cannot lie through the camera. We know how to disassociate with the emotions, yet my own self-belief as a woman turned into a state of vulnerability. I felt Basanti was getting into my space and I was getting violated when I performed. If Mithun Chakraborty who plays the village priest Panda touched me more than a finger, it used to disturb me though I knew that our job is to just act and not become the character, which we are playing.

Chingari isn’t at all a feel-good film. Though Kalpana has not shown the sexual overtones but only suggested them subtly in her own style, at times, as Basanti I felt naked at places."

Right now Sushmita Sen, besides awaiting the release of her first ever international project Karma Confessions & Holi with Naomi Campbell, Rati Agnihotri, Suresh Oberoi and Deepal Shaw as her co-stars, is busy with Abbas-Mustan’s next film starring Saif Ali Khan and Fardeen Khan, Richard Gere’s Expat etc, besides a film with David Dhawan and Tanuja Chandra’s Rockin’ in which she plays the role of a rock star. —MF

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