Seema Biswas

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Tourism Assam


Seema Biswas: The sequence that leads Phoolan to become a ‘Bandit Queen’ (1994)
Seema Biswas,: After Phoolan Devi becomes the ‘Bandit Queen’ (1994)
Seema Biswas (left) in ‘Water’
Seema Biswas

Seema Biswas is an Assamese actress who shot into prominence with the role of Phoolan Devi in Shekhar Kapur's film Bandit Queen (1994). Seema Biswas was born on January 14, 1965 in Guwahati, Assam, to Jagdish and Meera Biswas. Her mother was a history teacher and a pioneering figure for female theater artistes in Assam, an early influence; and she came into contact with artists like Bhupen Hazarika, Phani Sarma and Bishnuprasad Rabha early in life. She took to theater at a tender age.

She studied Political Science at Nalbari College, and later joined the National School of Drama at Delhi. After completing her studies at NSD, she joined the NSD Repertory Company. She staged a performance of a play titled Khubsurat Bahu (NSD Repertory Company) following which Shekhar Kapur offered her a role in Bandit Queen. Although she had earlier acted in Assamese cinema this was her first big break into Hindi cinema, and she arrived with a bang.Biswas won the 1996 National Film Award for Best Actress for her role in the film.

She has a reputation for performing strong character roles.Biswas won the 2006 Best Actress Genie Award for her role as Shakuntala in Deepa Mehta's Water (2005).Rooted firmly in theatre, she refuses to be typecast, and have worked in a variety of films and character roles. She has also worked in a number of Malayalam, and a Tamil film.

Seema Biswas began her career as a stage actress. Her gritty screen debut in the title role of Phoolan Devi the eponymous ‘Bandit Queen’ (1994), shook arthouse audiences across the world into noticing her. It was the true story of gang leader Phoolan Devi. It would have been an achievement for any actress to play the part of a woman who was molested, gang-raped and humiliated in public, and who takes up arms to seek a violent revenge. But for a soft-spoken, shy young woman from Assam who had never acted on film before it was truly a tour de force.

In Deepa Mehta's ‘Water’ [2005] she played Shakuntala, a pious widow who begins to have second thoughts about all her religious principles. This won her more international acclaim and a Genie Award for Best Actress. Critic Jennifer Flinn writes, ‘Despite the luminous beauty of her costars, Biswas was the true heart of the film in a brave performance…’ The climax of the film turns on Shakuntala’s inner strength and her decision to choose her conscience over her faith and tradition. In a completely different way, the character is just as strong as Phoolan Devi. The difference is that with Shakuntala, everything happens on the inside. It was another acting tour de force for a woman who in real life is very feminine, attractive and soft spoken.

Seema explains that she imagined an entire life story for her character, a widow, in Water. She imagined the character she created took control of her life by deciding to go to the widow’s ashram. “She has complaints, but doesn’t pity herself,” Seema says. “Fine, I will do everything, but I have the right to stop all of these things so the next generation will not suffer.”

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