In Bengal, films often set aside cultural values to be modern: Jaya Ahsan

After a long pandemic-induced break, Jaya Ahsan is now back in Bengal to work in two back-to-back films. In a chat with CT, the actress spoke about why Bengali films are going missing from world cinema, how the pandemic impacted her life, her new projects, dealing with trolls and more. Excerpts: Welcome back to Kolkata….

Thanks. I came here about two weeks ago and now I will go back only after I complete working on two films – one by Soukarya Ghoshal and another one by Chitrabhanu Basu. There is a gap of around 10 days but I’ll not return to Bangladesh. Airports have become a pain post Covid. There was a time when I used to have breakfast here in Kolkata, think about my mother’s cooking and go back to Dhaka for lunch. It was that easy. But now, I’ll have to get a Covid test done every time I travel. So, I would rather stay here, finish my work and then finally return home.

How did Covid-19 affect the cinema hall audience in Bangladesh? In Kolkata, we saw a pretty grim picture in the theatres after the pandemic…

Bangladesh has tackled the pandemic quite well. Right now the cases are pretty low and we have started working. We had a few releases and some of those films ran for five to six weeks in the theatres. Though the numbers are less than old times, people are still going to watch films on the big screen. This proves that the pandemic fear is slowly fading out in Bangladesh.

You kept yourself busy with quite a few projects in the meantime… Yes, I worked in two films. The first is my own production that we shot almost amid the pandemic. It is an independent film. The next one is based on Hasan Ajijul Haq’s Bidhobader Kotha, called Nakshikathar Jomin. It is a film on the Liberation War and is very important in our context.

You are familiar with the popular culture of both Bengal and Bangladesh. Do you think the popular culture of West Bengal pays enough attention to Bangla?

Language is like a river that changes its course throughout the journey. If we can think beyond films, we will see that Bengali is a bit more prevalent in our regular life in Bangladesh. From signboards to traffic instructions to number plates – almost everything is written in Bengali first. My Kolkata friends get very excited on seeing these on their first visit to Bangladesh. Meanwhile, in our industry, it is important for us to remember our cultural roots and to represent our intrinsic culture in global cinema. In this matter, West Bengal and Bangladesh both are slightly lagging behind. However, in Bangladesh, we still get to see some works on Bengali literature and the core cultural roots of Bengal. I’m not getting into the quality of each of such projects, but some people do work on it. In West Bengal, however, I have noticed that films often set aside the Bengali cultural values in an attempt to become modern. This trend was not visible in Ritwik’s (Ghatak) and Satyajit’s (Ray) films. They were modern, contemporary and global despite being very Bengali. Today, Bengali films are barely visible on the global movie platforms. We used to be prominent there once upon a time. I’ll give you an example. Suppose you are good at making both pizza and patishapta, will the global audience be more keen to try pizza from you or will they be interested in your own exotic dessert, patishapta? Isn’t it more tempting to serve them your patishapta garnished with Bengaliness? If you want to be contemporary on the global platform, you will have to use your core cultural values to be recognised.

Being a woman artiste, did you ever feel that your gender can make you more susceptible to adversities — like more trolls and gossip?

The entertainment industry all over the world is a male-dominated zone and we are no exception. Considering our industry, both here and in Bangladesh, I learnt how to live like a swan who can avoid all the filth despite living in a mud puddle. There was a time I used to get affected by adversities. If you go to my Facebook page’s comment section, you will see filth. But you know what, I really don’t care. I rather feel sorry for those who make so much of an effort to do this. If they knew the real Jaya, they would not have done it. There was a time when I used to get affected by all this. I used to think that these comments would hurt my family members and friends. But now I really do not care. Also, I got a lot of love from both the sides of Bengal. Sometimes, I am loved more than many heroes. This is what I wanted to do. Money was never my priority. I would have chosen another genre of work if I wanted money. I want to work in artistically fulfilling films.

After years of working in this side of Bengal, you exhausted almost all the top directors. Atanu Ghosh, Srijit Mukherji, Arindam Sil, Soukarya Ghoshal — the list goes on. What keeps you attracted to Tollywood?

For me, acting is like a journey and I do not have a particular destination. Now, I hope my journey goes on and I keep working with old and new directors, in experimental films and so on. I want to live like this. There are actors who get exhausted. But I love this life in which I live so many other lives through the characters I portray. This excites me more than awards, recognitions and appreciations. Only we actors can live multiple lives in one life (laughs). Also, I want to be a student all through my career. I do not wish to be a teacher. Surprises will keep coming if you remain a student.