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Bandit Queen as Ghalib's ladylove

Seema Biswas is back where she belongs — theatre. S.M.YASIR speaks to the lady who acts opposite Mirza Ghalib on stage.

Seema Biswas... from "Pinjar" to poet's muse. Photo: Sandeep Saxena.

MANY YEARS ago a 15-year-old girl was married, married to the stage as soon as she set foot on it for the first time, totally unaware that one day she will be commemorated for the same in Delhi. She cried and she laughed not because of stage fright but to breathe life into the numerous characters that she was to play. Drama became life for the little girl. Bound by script, she performed for the poor audience of Assam, a memory that she still cherishes. It was only later that she realised that life isn't always obliged to stick to the dictates of the script. Such was the humble beginning of the actress who was later seen as a fireball of fury in the internationally acclaimed "Bandit Queen". The film might be unforgettable for Seema Biswas who went on to win the national award for it, but so is the struggle that she had.

"My teachers warned me that this won't fetch me bread and butter. I had to compromise. I didn't go to college for a year or so. I managed to pass only because of my friend who made notes for me while others gave me books that I couldn't afford. Theatre took the front seat again and at one time I was doing three hundred shows in a year," she recalls. Her talent took her to the National School of Drama, her alma mater. It was difficult living with the 750 rupees that she used to get but she somehow managed in a rented room in an MP's house. Life was wonderful until something most unexpected happened.

"The MP wanted to sleep in my room," she expresses her shock. "I rejected his idea at once. Next thing I know is around 30 people came to my house ready to fling all my belongings out of the window. We had to leave that place. I was feeling breathless and it was only later that I came to know that I had three broken ribs," she reveals. To make matters worse, she had to perform the next day and the next day and the... for an ongoing festival. Life continued. In the few trips from her hostel in Mandi house to Pragati Maidan that followed, she went on numerous flights of fantasy. Finally she got the kind of role that she had dreamt of. Shekhar Kapur offered her the role of a lifetime. She liked the role but took months to decide. "There were a few crucial scenes that I was uncomfortable with. I was simply not bold enough for them," elaborates Seema who later also delighted the audience with sheer brilliance in "Khamoshi". Yet when she did the film, she was able to assault one's sensibilities with the range of emotions and turn this tale of gore into a sentimental drama.

In the absence of good roles she had to return to her first love - theatre - and was in Delhi recently for a play where she plays the girl friend of Mirza Ghalib. A diametrically opposite role as this one is what excites her the most. "I am still in the process of learning. I want to spread like an ocean. Theatre allows you to improve yourself apart from the strong message that it has. One of my plays, `Antigone' is on today's political scene and violence," explains she. Roles of course come and go and so do the awards. It doesn't matter if one does a few odd roles such as "Boom" and "Pinjar" as long as the struggle is on. Rest assured, roles in upcoming films such as "Ek Haseena Thi" and "Bombay Godfather" will see the indomitable spirit that she embodies.

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