Riddhi Sen is one of the most versatile millennial actors. The 23-year-old actor is the youngest in India to win the National Award for Best Actor for his performance in the Bengali movie Nagarkirtan.
Apart from Tollywood, he has been a part of several Bollywood movies like Kahaani, Bhoomi, Lion, Parched and Helicopter Eela.
During the COVID-19-induced lockdown, he acted from home in a short film called 'Shilpi' along with his parents Koushik Sen and Chitra Sen. Adding to that, the actor is all set to come up with his directorial debut soon which is currently in the post-production stage.
Sen spoke to Sakal Times about his quarantine diaries, the film industry post-pandemic and his take on nepotism that is one of the most trending debates after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
How has this lockdown treated you? Anything you have discovered about yourself?
A: I think instead of myself, this overall generic realisation which I think most of us went through was that the idea of necessity being changed after the lockdown. We now know what exactly do we need to sustain. Not only the lockdown but the cyclonic storm Amphan has also taught us the difference between luxury and necessity. The idea is much more apparent to us now, and that is one thing I have primarily realised.
Another thing that I realised through this period is the concept of adaptability. Overall the structure of work which has transformed currently has left us with no other choice but to adapt to the situation. You can't stop no matter how difficult the situation is, we just need to adapt to that.
How did you spend these three months of lockdown? Was it productive enough for you?
A: The idea of productivity varies from person to person because for me, someone working or creating something is referred to as some productive activity. I would say the lockdown itself has been productive. Those three months of homestay when the world was in a standstill has been productive for me as a human being because I observed so many things and didn't get bored at all, I didn't even realise how these three months passed. It was like learning about the world differently with a lot of confusion and questions surrounding our minds since it was an all-new experience. Of course, there were times when it was demoralising and depressing since the shootings were stopped and the economy came to a halt, but again during that period, I discovered so much about our country.
Previously, I didn't even know that there were so many migrant workers in our nation. In our families, we are constantly taught about maintaining physical distancing, but I have been continuously thinking about those people, living in slums with more than five family members who don't have that kind of privilege that we have. Many people had even lost their daily jobs. We also tried to help them in our own way by distributing food and essential items. I think we are privileged enough to make our lockdown productive by thinking, questioning and learning new things, whereas, for most of the people, it was chaos. Obviously, I read a lot of books, watched movies, studied a lot, but the things happening around me were a lot more productive is what I mean.
Like most industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the film industry hard, not only the actors but also the technicians and other staff are going through difficult times. So how do you think the industry is coping up with the crisis?
A: I think the industry is coping up well because there were so many people from all over the world who tried to help us by giving donations. We created opportunities for both theatre staff and technicians to keep them going for the last three months, where we all did our bit to help them. But obviously, this was not the permanent solution. Currently, things are opening up slowly; the serial industry has already started where things are happening in a different light. Actors have to maintain a safe distance while performing in front of the camera and not more than 35 people are allowed on the film sets.
But it is still very disheartening because the film, web series and theatre section are yet to open up. It's quite logical to keep them closed since now no one will come to the theatres to watch plays neither will people visit a movie hall. A lot of film releases have been postponed while many of them have been sold digitally so right now we are in a state of confusion.
However, I hope after July, the situation will be more stable. There has been a little change in the scenario though, where people are coming up with audio plays and online concert tours. But I am delighted that our industry and also all other industries are trying to sustain and battle the situation.
You have recently worked in the Shiboprasad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy directed lockdown short series fourth film "Shilpi" along with your parents Koushik Sen and Reshmi Sen. How was the experience of shooting from home for the first time?
A: Initially, I was really sceptical about what's going to happen because shooting from home was something which we haven't done before. But we loved the concept so much that we had to do it. The script inspired us a lot since the story is based on the uncertainty faced by theatre artists amidst the pandemic. We really enjoyed doing the film as we were the technicians, crew and actors all together and it also gave the three of us an activity to look forward to, and that is really important during such times.
This indoor shooting was also a kind of a practice for me since I just wrapped up the shooting of my first short film which is my directorial debut before the lockdown, right now I am working on the post-production of it. I want to be a filmmaker in the near future, so this was a great experience for me. Also, this was the first time I shared screen space with my parents though it was shot on a phone camera. But we were flabbergasted by the response; I still remember three of us getting many calls and texts as soon as the film released online.
I am glad that we were able to inspire people and give them hope as artists even during this lockdown. I am grateful to Shibuda (Shiboprosad Mukherjee) and Nandita di (Nandita Roy) for giving me this opportunity.
Most of the people have been forced to work from home since the lockdown, do you think it was easy for artists to do the same since cameras and other devices are the primary equipment during a shoot?
A: Honestly, the work from home idea won't work for our industry, temporarily it can but not for an extended period of time. Still, we can manage short films and ads on DSLRs but for the industry to run on this is not an ideal solution because the nature of our work involves a lot of people. We, as actors, can still manage, but that will be unfair to the technicians and other staff whose daily income is dependent on this. But the fact is, it's not possible to shoot a film or stage a play staying at home because the foundation of the work is like that, it's a composite art, and it cannot happen without people. But I am glad that things are improving gradually.
Have you resumed work yet? How is the situation post-pandemic? What kind of guidelines is being followed on the sets?
A: Actually, no. The daily soaps have started, but the film shooting permissions have not been released yet. Right now, I am doing some post-production work for my film, that is my first directorial venture. The sets are following the usual guidelines issued by the government, but since the actors cannot wear masks while shooting in front of the camera, it is quite problematic for us, but we are trying to adjust to the situation.
So, the sudden demise of Sushant Singh Rajput came as a major shock during this situation, netizens are bashing certain celebrities and directors for not supporting him during his difficult times. What do you have to say on that?
A: Honestly, this year has been a really tough one, and the sudden demise of Sushant was shocking for all of us and this coming after Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor's death was even more depressing. Many people are feeling personal about his demise. But I am glad that this monopoly that exists in the Bollywood industry where 4-5 powerful people rule is being revealed now slowly.
I feel the silence deserves to get broken. But one thing I want to say is that we still don't know the truth. And I am quite disappointed with the fact that without knowing the actual reason, people are literally calling out certain people and bashing them constantly. I think we are nobody to judge or decide and blame someone without knowing the truth. Related to his demise and the speculations on depression, I would like to say that depression is something that is really hard to understand and detect where it comes from. But blasting out and speculating his death cause is really far-fetched, we should at least maintain some basic respect and ethics to that.
Since you also belong to a filmy background, so what is your take on nepotism?
A: There are two sides to every coin. Many undeserving actors get a chance in films just because they are linked to some known personality in the industry. On the other hand, we have seen many examples of people from known families who are genuinely good actors but failed to establish themselves. When you have a family pressure at the back of your head, and you are constantly getting compared to your 'star' family, it takes a toll on your mental health.
People do even blame the family for your lack of success. Just because someone belongs to a filmy background, that isn't enough for an actor to get going. I think the audience also plays an important role in an actor's success because nowadays rather than an actor's name or background, the audience looks for a good story when they visit a movie theatre. So it is definitely difficult to sustain in the industry just by being some known person's son or daughter. It is also true that it is unimaginable for an outsider to come and work in our industry, be it Bollywood or Tollywood. But at the end of the day, I honestly feel the work you do is what matters the most. If you have the talent and are worthy enough, that will surely reflect while you are performing.
Tell us something about your upcoming projects? What are you currently working on?
A: I have finished shooting for a film called Bismillah by Indradeep Dasgupta in February. It is supposed to release next year. I was also going to start shooting for another film which got stalled because of the lockdown. This year, I just completed my first directorial project called 'Coldfire' which is currently in the post-production stage. It's a short film, but we shot it as a feature film. My father (Koushik Sen) and Somak Ghosh play central characters in the film. We are yet to decide the film release, whether to launch it on some OTT platforms or send it to some film festival.