One of the seniors in Bengali theatre today, Sohag Sen has carved out for herself a distinct identity as a theatre personality. She is among the very few who can effortlessly switch between theatre in the English language and that in Bengali. Starting her journey in theatre somewhat unwillingly, Sohag went on to become fascinated by the creative process involved in play-making. As director, she believes in a workshop-based, participatory approach where all involved with a production bring in their inputs. Sohag Sen has also made a name for herself as a trainer of actors for films of the notable filmmakerslike Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Rituparno Ghosh, Anjan Duttaand she offers the same for today’s young filmmakers as well. Though not a stranger to films, this director of many successful plays such as Party, Sonata, Uttarpurush, Udbhatpuran prefers theatre over cinema.
Sohag Sen speaks about her somewhat accidental entry into theatre, instigated primarily by her friend, Aparna Sen and theatre legend, Utpal Dutta. Her English-medium schooling never hindered her doing Bengali theatre. Even though she was not very seriously into theatre initially, she soon started to take an active interest in the many processes and technicalities involved in the creation of a production. She speaks about her time with the theatre group, CPAT and then her forming her own group, Ensemble Kolkata. She points out that the creative process – the rehearsals – always fascinates her more than the show. She was never intimidated by the big stars of Bengali theatre she directed, primarily because she did not allow her directorial position to get into her head. Sohag Sen says her directorial signature lies in this that she never tried to imprint upon her actors her ‘style’ and ‘manner’ of acting; she tried to bring out each actor’s individuality. She speaks about the decline of English-language theatre in Kolkata. She very clearly says that her theatre is of and for the urban educated middle-class. She does not attempt to present rural reality in her plays as she cannot connect with that reality on an emotional level. Sohag does not feel that the majority of those who are gravitating towards theatre these days are doing so out of any ideological urge, but rather to gain quick fame, especially through acting in films.
She speaks at length about the presence of women in theatre, situating the issue in its socio-historical context. Sohag Sen is not very certain about whether at all there can be a special perspective that is unique to a woman director. She points out that men might also suffer some of the problems that women generally do when they come to do theatre. She then speaks of how despite her continued presence, she remains outside the ‘fraternity’ of Bengali theatre. In this clip, she repeatedly stresses the point that she was and still is an ‘oddity’ in Bengali theatre. She is critical of the current atmosphere of the divisive and discriminatory politics in Bengali theatre. She talks about how both the CPIM and TMC governments and those with political power have not been able to co-opt her within their agenda. She too has chosen to remain politically non-aligned, knowing fully well that she would then have to miss out on certain opportunities and benefits. She believes benefits need to be earned, not received as reward for political obedience.
Sohag Sen speaks of why she has chosen a workshop-based approach to doing theatre. She feels it is the best way to impart theatre training to people who have no theatrical background. Workshop-based productions develop as a result of the participation of all who are involved. She stresses the importance of discussion and exchange of ideas among group members while getting a production ready. She then speaks about her experience of training actors for the screen, emphasizing that there is a difference of degree between acting for the stage and that for the screen. As a trainer of actors, she has no problems working with film directors, even though she is director in her own capacity. She speaks about her technique of handling actors during their training, addressing their fears, weaknesses and insecurities patiently and somewhat diplomatically. The term she uses, however, to describe her role in films is ‘facilitator’ and not trainer, at least as far as established actors are concerned. She speaks of the smooth working experience she has had with many renowned actors. She ends by marking her preference for theatre over films.