I am fearless – Chandan Roy Sanyal
“The best part about living your life as an artist is that you live fearlessly. I am fearless,” says Chandan Roy Sanyal. His latest film Prague may have banged at the box-office, but the talented actor Chandan Roy Sanyal’s performance has garnered much appreciation from the film critics. He was first noticed in Rang De Basanti and Kaminey for his supporting roles. Still trying to find his deserving space in the film industry, Chandan Roy Sanyal’s dream may not be too far as he has other interesting line up of films such as Aditya Bhattacharya’s BMW, Subhash Ghai’s Kaanchi and Abbas Tyrewala’s Mango. On a freewheeling conversation with Pandolin, the actor went back in his life and told us how his love for acting bloomed into a full-fledged passion.
Tell us about your background.
Firstly I am from Delhi. For a year, I studied at Kirori Mal College, then I went to Zakir Hussain College to do my honors in Mathematics. During my college days, I worked with the theatre veteran Mr. Habib Tanvir for a year in Chhattisgarh. After finishing my studies, I went to Bombay and worked with the theatre personality and ad film maker Mr. Alyque Padamsee in three of his productions. Later I opened my own Theatre Company called Proscenium where I directed, produced and wrote some of the plays. I did four big productions. First was ‘Sakharam Binder’, which was a Marathi Play adapted into Hindi followed by ‘Aashadh Ka Din’, which was a play about Kalidas. Then I did ‘The rise and the fall of the city of Mahagonny’, a musical composed by me. Last year I directed ‘Waiting for Godot’ for children theatre festival. I was also a part of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, which was a play of Royal Shakespeare Company Production in association with the British Council. The play took me to England and I performed all over Europe, North America, Australia, and South Asia before I came back to India and did Vishal Bhradwaj’s Kaminey. Since then I have been active in films and theatre.
What was the reason your film Prague got delayed in its release?
Prague got stuck at the censorship level. Initially, television promos and songs that were supposed to go on air did not get approved by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) because of the language used and sexual content, hence promotion level went down due to limitations. Secondly, there were too many big banner films releasing in August and September, when our film was initially scheduled to release. So we felt, somehow delaying was a blessing in disguise for us.
What was your involvement in the film besides acting?
Prague’s director Ashish R Shukla and producer Rohit Khaitan are my friends too. They offered me the protagonist’s role in their film. The reason why I accepted the role because it challenged me to portray a new character. Once I became a part of their project, I got involved in all aspects of the film. I took workshops with other actors too. I also invited filmmakers like Nikhil Advani and Vishal Bhardwaj to share their views and advices with the Prague team.
Tell us about your role in Prague.
My role is of an architect, who studies in an Architecture college in Mumbai. He gets his first chance to go abroad through scholarship to finish his academic paper on the architecture of Prague . In the city, he falls in love with a beautiful girl called Elina Kaizan, which triggers the deepest insecurities in his relationship. In the film, Chandan is a very weak man and a brilliant architect but when it comes to normal relationships, he really sucks, that’s what Prague is!
How did you prepare for your role in Prague?
I spent about three to four months preparing for the role before we started shooting. Ashish had asked me to refer to Christian Bale’s character in the film Machinist, in which he is sleep deprived and weighs almost 45 kgs. I was asked to work in that space because that’s what we were trying to achieve like our own film. Machinist was a one man show, similar was the case with Chandan in Prague. Every scene has me in it. So, I started my preparation by watching the film first. Thereafter, I started meeting my architect friends and spent some time with them to understand their professional style, read about architecture, tried to learn to hold the pencil, using scale and rolling out the sheet etc. When I was holding a pencil in my hand, I had to show the passion. I also lost some weight and also went sleep deprived while we were shooting in Prague for a month. We shot all day and then the whole night I used to be up, partying on the streets of the city. Hence, on and off screen I was just my character Chandan.
How long have you been in the industry? Were you always interested in acting?
I have been acting for past ten to eleven years, when I was just nineteen. Being a Bengali, I used to watch all the Ray’s films. Even though I had inclination towards acting, I never thought that I would ever become an actor. After schooling, I also tried getting admission into IIT for two years but couldn’t. Then by chance, I got involved with SPIC MACAY and did workshop with Mr. Habib Tanvir, and the journey began. I used to sit in the libraries reading Shakespeare, George Bernard Show etc. and then realized that I should have taken literature as my honors rather than mathematics. But my education in Mathematics actually took care of me because when I shifted to Mumbai, I worked in a small junior college to earn part-time income, which was about 800 bucks a month.
How would you describe your time in Mumbai?
I came to Mumbai in 2003. I worked as a production boy in various productions, doing job like escorting artists to stage and then back to the workshop, filling water bottles for the actors, which made me earn Rs 50 to Rs 100 a day. By then, I already was a trained actor, yet I had to do all that. I used to teach also. I lived the whole day on beaches and bus stops and then slept in a locked apartment for a month. Slowly as I began getting work, I got the recognition that I wanted. The best part about living your life as an artist is that you live fearlessly. I am fearless. I came from the dust, I can go back to the dust. I think, theatre took care of that. I don’t play safe. I stand for what I believe in.
How did you get your first break in the industry?
From Rang De Basanti I came into notice, hence one can say that it was my first break. But before RDB, I worked as an extra or junior artist in Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hun and Raghu Romeo. My role in Kaminey was also a breakthrough for me. For both the films, I had to go through screen tests. The assistant director of Vishal Bhardwaj’s production Honey Trehan was on a lookout for a new actor for a supporting cast, which was an important character. Since I was already involved in theatre, he heard about me. Since I had done a few shows of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Mumbai and Delhi, people knew me and spoke about my work. In theatre communities everyone knows everybody and what they do. Initially I got an audition call from Honey Trehan, who was then a casting director for Delhi Belly. I also got selected but things never took off with that original casts, all because the director got changed and hence new casts were formed for the film. But Honey always had me in his mind. That’s how I got into Kaminey.
What is the difference between a minor and major role?
One of my gurus, Alyque Padamsee had told me that there are no small parts and no small actors. It works very well for me. In our film industry, people have prejudices and preconceived notions. Actors get type casted. For me, there are no small characters. I also did D Day, which is a movie with big star casts. I had a ten minute role in that film. I chose to do that because I loved the script and it was an interesting part. I think one can make a difference in a short time. But as an actor, we also get tired of doing small roles. Hence besides Prague and BMW (Bombay’s Most Wanted), I am doing Subhash Ghai’s film called Kaanchi in which I am playing the lead and then there is Abbas Tyrewaala’s film Mango.
What is your general approach towards acting?
I believe acting is a serious job. There is a method to it. People think that anyone can act but I believe like every other job, it takes years to establish oneself as a good actor. To get into the skin of the character, I try to find many coordinates of the character by doing a lot of research.
Who are your favorite actors?
I like Christian Bale, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Kamal Hassan.
Where do you see yourself in the future as an actor?
I see myself working with Woody Allen, one day.
You have also worked in Bengali films. How was the experience? How different it is from the Hindi film industry?
Currently, Bengali cinema is a very small industry in India. While in Hindi films, there are more than 200 people in productions, Bengali films works with a very small unit of 30 people. The best part is that everybody knows everybody. They all have worked with each other at some point of time. Most of them come from a theatre background. One can see respect for each other and dignity of labour, which I found very interesting.
What’s your future plan?
I dream to introduce a Broadway kind of theatre in India, and for that I need a lot of money. I have come to realize that theatre is an expensive hobby. Every time I do a show, I end up shelling out money from my own pocket into my production.
Tell us more about your next film BMW.
It’s a film directed by Mr. Aditya Bhattacharya. His first film was Raakh in 1989, which starred Aamir Khan and he also directed Dubai Returns with Irrfan khan. To work with someone who has directed such big stars in their younger days is like a trophy to me since I am also new to the industry.
Bombay’s Most Wanted is about the underworld, uncovering underbelly of cinema. I play a corrupt police officer, who is also an underworld informer. Tanisha Chatterjee is casted opposite me and Javed Jaffrey is playing a role of a very interesting cop.