“Theatre actors don’t make better actors; it’s the only way to make them!”

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Chandan Roy Sanyal

Chandan Roy Sanyal has scaled the tall walls of Bollywood after a decidedly rocky start writes Malaika Sujeet


With a spirit undeterred by the obstacles thrown his way, Chandan Roy Sanyal took to the theatre scene to prove himself before getting his first Bollywood mini-break in Rang De Basanti. Moving to Mumbai, the city of stardust dreams as an outcast from his hometown in Bengal, he was your local newspaper-walla, washing machine salesman, donning costumes to sell oil on the streets, even selling tiny gadgets on rickety local trains. Describing his struggle he ensures “I am here for the cross country marathon where the runner with endurance and appetite for destruction survives and gets his goal. This is no 100 metres hurdles.” With movies like Kaminey, F.A.L.T.U, Bengali film ‘Aparajita Tumi’, Prague and D-Day under his belt, Sanyal is a force on the rise.


The defining moment in Sanyal’s journey began at a Spic Macay workshop in Mumbai where as fate would have it he met veteran theatre personality and his future guru Habib Tanvir who started him off on his tryst with the art of acting. Though initially routed to joining IIT and with a degree in Mathematics from Delhi University, Sanyal changed tracks completely once under guru Tanvir’s guidance. Traveling with Chattisgarhi folk artists and living in Bhopal for an entire year he gained insight into himself; acting was the only way forward.


With experience beyond his 35 years Chandan has travelled over Australia, America and Asia with a Shakespeare performing theatre group. “I have acted before the likes of Judi Dench, Jeremy Irons and Sir Ian Mckellen, [before] returning to storm the world of Hindi films with Kaminey. It’s inspiring for lot of people out there I am told-” On questioning him on the merit of theatre he simply states “Theatre actors don’t make better actors, that’s the only way to make actors, the stage breeds that bacteria of punctuality, leadership and group man ship, it creates a human being of a live form called theatre. Full stop.”


One must reiterate, Sanyal is no stranger to hard times. “[My] struggle has been amazing where I have waited for a week outside a film maker’s office just to meet him, say hello and show my work which everyone does and this was before the Facebook twitter days when there were no ways to reach out to a film maker.” Speaking of the first Bollywood director he ever worked with Sanyal is ironic “I waited outside Mr. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s office for weeks, travelling from Mira road a far flung station to Mahalakshmi in a local train just to meet him once. One day he was leaving in his car and I was right below his building, I knocked on the window of his car, he rolls down the window and says come tomorrow. Interestingly I got to play a small part in Rand De Basanti through a screen test.”


When speaking of inspiration and drive Sanyal is matter of fact. “Nobody inspired me to become an actor, the toughest question for any actor is that, the glory and achievements that follow depends on one’s answer to that question. The whole journey is about the answer for life, the search for the truth in every scene. You can’t act all your life just getting inspired by a particular actor’s work or his career since everybody is extinguishable.” He reveals that in all honesty “The success lies in the answer. I wanted to act because it gave me peace and made me settle down with the skeletons of the past.”


On whom he admires in the film scene “My biggest inspirations would be film makers like Kusturica, Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherji, Satyajit Ray, Jim Jarmusch, Michael Haneke, Kishore Kumar, Mahmood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robi Ghosh and many many more.” The diversity he shows in his idols is translated directly to the diversity in roles he takes up.


His upcoming films include Mango, Bangistan, Island City and the Aishwarya Rai Bachchan starrer Jazbaa. “In Mango I do comedy and play a private detective who cheats on his best friend, In Jazbaa I play a very rude shrewd drug dealer who gets convicted for murder while in Bangistan I play seven different characters with bits of it being in Polish and in Island City I play a Gujrati lower class motor part dealer who is insensitive to his girlfriend.” The term diverse to him is a compliment – “Thanks for saying that, my madness for diversity has given me an identity crisis in public, haha, people don’t recognise me since nobody knows what I look like.”


When asked if he was nervous to be acting with huge stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Irrfan Khan and Shabana Azmi in the upcoming Jazbaa, Sanyal admits that the prospect is rather daunting. “The biggest challenge is to be working with such senior talent who have been acting since God knows when and are so impeccable and immaculate in their approach towards acting and to share the same screen space in this lifetime is huge, to get a few nods in bargain for your portrayal is damn commendable for an outsider like me, my career depends on every film I choose and how good I am in it. Since I have no Godfather and connections to keep me afloat, only that will see me far is my hungry dreams, passion and the knowledge of the process called acting. I have to be bloody damn good to survive here and I assure you I am, and its confidence and not arrogance.”


With a head full of dreams and the will to accomplish them, Sanyal’s plans for the future are very elaborate. “I want to make a theatre of my own, I want to make my own films and do roles which no one can do in films.”