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An Honest Confession Mohona Dutta
An artist can be perceived as an individual with a wide array of attributes. But one characteristic that is evident and perhaps most poignant of all is his or her honesty towards the execution of a particular art form. An honesty, which perhaps is impervious to age, time or place. Girija Das is one such name in the field of entertainment that embodies this sincerity and honesty to perform better than before and age being just a number. Born in the town of Tezpur amidst a tea garden atmosphere, Girija Das perhaps always felt that she belonged to the stage. Her father Late Chandra Kamal Saikia was an actor himself, having performed in various plays was highly encouraging and this led to her entrance in to the field of theatre as a child artist in 1951. She debuted on the Majgaon stage and then continued her journey as a child artist on the then famous Ban Stage in Tezpur under the immaculate direction of Late Bishnu Prasad Rabha and Late Phani Sarma. She continued to carry on with her passion throughout her school and college and was an ardent performer at the various Inter College youth festivals on several occasions. She has also performed in various Assamese, Bengali, Oriya and Hindi plays till date. Her theatre career runs over a 100 plays which includes plays like Jaimati, Dhatriputra, Karengar Ligri. Putalaghar, Mokorajaal, Ghar, Sarapator Basanta, Badan barphukan, Bhogjora, Kesa Pator Sas etc. She has performed as the leading lady in the plays held in Tezpur, Nagaon and Guwahati. And till date she says she is actively associated with most of the theatre organizations in Guwahati, Nagaon and Tezpur. She is also a recurring Jury member of the Assam One Act play competitions which are held all over the state including at the Assam Natya Sanmilan. Her love for theatre led her to lay the foundation of 'Subham', a drama school where she believes that aspiring artists from the various towns and cities of Assam who otherwise due to financial constraints cannot hone their skills at the other expensive institutes, come and groom themselves to be finest performers. The faculties that are invited are usually great artists themselves and the students have performed at Rabindra Bhawan, ITA Machkhowa, Srimanta Shankardev Kalakshetra to name a few. The drama school has been successfully running for the past seven years and has shown a ray of hope for many individuals who would have delved in to the abyss of anonymity and misery because of lack of funds. Indeed when one looks at this lady, the humility is overwhelming. A common notion that is prevalent about artists is their fragile egos and the act of throwing tantrums at any erratic person. When asked about the trait, Girija Das laughs and says that during the period when she had the chance of working under the stalwarts like Late Bishnu rabha Prasad, late Phani Sarma, Balai Sen, Jahnu Barua, Siba Thakur and so on the artist were more eager to learn and perform than act unruly and egoistic. A true artist she believes is not defined by how many laurels he or she has won or many zeroes are attached to the payment but how many times he or she has felt the same zeal and sincerity while performing the scene over and over again till the director felt it is perfect. For Girija Das, name, fame, awards will be there and they are always good and motivating but the real award she believes as an artist is the fact that people still remember her performance in films made 20 years ago and still find it charming. Talking about her advent to movies she says that she had started her career in films in 1981 with Balai Sen's Manashi and then there was no looking back. With movies like Ghar Sansar, Nayanmoni, Son Moina, Pita Putra, Firingoti, Priyajan, Pratya Bartan, Mon Mondir, Pratima Tyag, Jiban Nadir Duti Paar, Maa where are you and the national Award winning Daman. Talking about the disparity in the approach of making movies then and now, Girija Das says there is a vast difference. Not that the directors of today aren't talented, but their approach is absolutely different. Perhaps it is the changing times which are to be blamed. Because when directors like Siba Thakur, Balai Sen, Jahnu Barua made the movies the aspect of commercialization, glamour and sundry were missing. It was an effort to get a message of social, political, emotional milieu across to the audience with lesser amount of frills and trimmings.
The directors of yesteryears, she says had a way of imbibing the character in to the heart and soul of the artist. So what you could see on the screen was an amalgamation of honesty, effort and artistic calibre of not only the actor but of the director as well. Now days the essence of professionalism is more. She says it is very important to be professional in certain cases, however sometimes the humane touch goes missing. The actors, she feels should cut back on the eagerness for being more glamourous and stop hankering after fame within a short span of time. The influence of Hindi movies is rampant and every individual in the fraternity is after creating a pot boiler. However, while working with the cast and crew of Kalpana Lajmi's Daman and being associated with actors like Raveena Tandon, Shiaji Shinde, Sanjay Suri and all she was impressed by their working style and the constant effort of creating a piece of work par excellence. She says that materialism is immensely popular in today's scenario and for a lot of people art and culture is just a farce. When producers and directors who go about making crass city movies say that it's a popular demand, she believes that it is a lie. People have and will watch movies that are well made and yes, if there is a social message attached they will definitely appreciate the effort a bit more. And as going to movies is now more of a fashion than a hobby, unfortunately many directors have been feeding on this trend. They release movies which are made devoid of any proper plot, screenplay, actors and aestheticism and just a mockery of this wonderful genre called cinema is evident on the screen. She laments the fact that there is no depth in this art anymore. Girija Das is also a well known radio artist and her career in this field started simultaneously along with films in 1981. Till date she is a regular performer for AIR Guwahati.Her and also has written and directed a number of plays. The influence of commercialization is also evident in this genre, she says. Previously directors such as Nilu Chakraborty used to make all the actors rehearse together rigourously for the play. And today, she smiles and says the actors are given their scripts and are asked to rehearse at home individually. She feels everyone is in a hurry and every moment is a rush hour. And as such everything although material enough to give a sense of calm and composure turns out to be immaterial with a fraction of a second. After exploring the fields of theatre, radio and films, Girija Das has also done considerable amount of work in the television areana too. With several tele serials and telefilms like the first serial of Guwahati Doordarshan, Jibanor Batot followed by Papu Niku Sangbad, Onek Phular Surabhi, Ghar, Bandhu, Tez, Khoye Hue Taroka geet, Phehujali, Madhustar Dustabudhi, Anubhab, Mukta Bandi, Fehujali and so on. She has acted in more than 50 teleserials and telefilms and is still continuing to do so through Guwahati and Delhi Doordarshan and N E TV in Assamese and hindi. After speaking about a tremendous career in the field of acting, the question of a balance between the professional and personal life arises. To which she says, that her husband Badal Das, a well known actor, writer and director has been a source of tremendous support and inspiration. She was married at the age of 17 to him in Tezpur, but the wedlock didn't prove to be a hindrance for her achievements. Infact she says that it was a lucky charm for her and by God's grace this charm is still working wonderfully well. And the best part she says about their marriage is that, since they belong to the same fraternity there was a sense of compatibility and understanding always evident, which was also required for this lovely couple to stay away from rumours and controversies. The love for movies runs in the family she laughs and remarks, her children, Abhijit Das a graduate from F.T.I.I. Pune and Gitanjali Bhattacharya an ACS officer have been enamoured of this field since childhood. For Girija Das the love for theatre runs supreme. She says it is the one of the most pure forms of performance and the artist on the stage cannot take liberties to manipulate the honesty exhibited. Having said that, she mentions that she is a great admirer of movies and is privileged to have worked under great directors. Drama for her is more real and closer to life because a person on the stage cannot afford to make a faux pas as it's a live performance. She ends our conversation with the same theme of honesty she had begun with. She says that with the changing times people have become more distant to each other, true and sincere relationships and the solidarity amongst individuals are missing. Perhaps not today, but sometime in the future people will realise that the existence as true human beings does not depend on his or her material gains, accolades but in finding the honesty within oneself with which one can be a good individual be it an artist giving his or her lifetime performance on the stage or just a lay man selling his wares on the streets.