Upala KBR (DNA; March 18, 2017)

Bengali director Srijit Mukherji, the man behind the acclaimed Rajkahini and its upcoming Hindi remake, has declared that Vidya Balan was always the first choice for the character of Begum Jaan. This has shocked and confused Rituparna Sengupta, the star of Rajkahini. Throughout the film’s making, she was never made aware of this fact.

Speaking to us from Kolkata, Rituparna says, “I am not aware that he had wanted Vidya in Rajkahini, too. Or why he’s saying that today. We were in talks about doing a film together for the longest time. Srijit had told me that he would come to me only when he had a role which matters. I was in Delhi attending an event. When I checked my phone, I saw it had 10 missed calls! He called again and said, ‘I have got something very exciting for you.' I asked him to wait for me till I returned and the moment I reached Kolkata he was at my home, ready with the script and concept.”

She admits that Srijit’s latest comments hurt her a bit at first, but when the realisation hit that there’s nothing she could have done about it, she made her feelings known on social media. And once she came to know, she thought better of speaking to the director. “I am quite empowered that way. I can own things in my own way. I own my character Begun Jaan in me. Nobody will forget Rajkahini’s Begum Jaan. Who was the first and second choice doesn’t matter! I have a deep regard for my director and am aware of what the film has done for me, so there are no complaints. But there is a lingering feeling of disappointment… Had I got the National Award for it, I would have been happy. The amount of pressure, hard work, love and passion I put in the film, the battle I fought to get into my toughest character till now, was not trivial.”

She adds that after the film released, she got a call from producer Mahesh Bhatt “congratulating me on my performance. He said that he had never seen such a characterisation of a strong woman. It was a big compliment coming from him. We had even formed a Rajkahini group where Mr Bhatt would post interesting insights about the film. I heard about the Hindi remake, but took it in the positive spirit when he asked Vidya instead of me.”

Rituparna says she was initially hesitant about taking up the role. “But Srijit was very confident that I could pull it off. I asked him if he really thought I could do it. Srijit said that I had to take out all the feminism in me. It was a role that required a lot of mental and physical prepping. I was very fascinated by what he offered me and though it was a big challenge for me, Srijit tutored me very well. Begum Jaan was such a very different zone for me. After the filming was complete, I got immersed in voice modulation. I had to shout my lungs out into the microphone and then dub for it to get that hoarseness in my voice. I would get exhausted and lie flat on the ground for some time and Srijit would say, “Take a break and come back”. That’s the regime I went through, so when I missed out on the National Award, I was really upset and disappointed. This role was one-of-a-kind and for regional films like Rajkahini, the National Awards is the only place you can compete with Hindi films. But I am a strong-willed person and I am sure there will be another time…”

It is being reported that Vidya said yes after watching Rituparna in Rajkahini. She admits to reading the reports. “She has always raved about my performance and told me whenever we have met. I am sure she has also interpreted Begum Jaan in her own way and will make it her own character but you can’t compare the two,” Rituparna insists.

She has seen the Begum Jaan trailer. “I have watched it and there’s a feeling of déjà vu. Every scene, every nuance, every shot is so similar to Rajkahini, I felt that I was seeing my own film — only the faces have changed. I was like, ‘Oh my God! I am seeing my own film in a different way!’”

The actress is coming to Mumbai today to start shooting for her next Bollywood film Good Morning Sunshine with Shabana Azmi and Revathy. She has two more Hindi films on hand — Tere Aane Se and a biopic on Khudiram Bose.

What Srijit said
“Originally, Rajkahini was written to be a bilingual and I was supposed to cast Vidya Balan to play the role in both the films. Only after I didn’t get her dates and things didn’t work out, I thought of doing the Bengali film and approached Rituparna.”