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The stage is her world

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Seema Biswas is a queen of the screen when it comes to decoding complex roles

The stage is her soul. Here, Seema Biswas is the faultless foil to Satish Kaushik's salesman Ramlal. As the diffident Ganga, she toes Ramlal's line, soaking in his anger as ardently as she did it in their first performance.

As the rehearsal of “Salesman Ramlal” gathers vigour and stretches on, Seema, in between her scenes, untangles her beginnings in theatre.

Her link to theatre began with a string of images — of watching her mother on stage as a child in Assam.

“She used to put me to bed, and then go for performances. I would hear the car starting and wake up screaming. My father would then take me to the show.” Seema, then aged four, saw her mother perform — often tragic roles. Music and dance were part of childhood, but she soon knew: “I wanted to be like mom on stage.”

An introvert

A loner and an introvert, Seema kept her dreams to herself, till she took part in a local play. “I was not sure if I would be able to handle it. But on the first day itself I was very comfortable,” she says.

That led to a three-month workshop organised by the National School of Drama, which culminated in a play where her performance was appreciated. It set her heart firmly on theatre. She recollects travelling with her mother in the train from Nalbari to give her NSD exams. “The train was 19 hours late, and I spent time studying.”

But the route to NSD had heartaches in store. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was beyond the means of many families to have two children studying out of town.

As her brother was set to go away, the family decided to keep Seema at home, until a last-minute intervention from her parents' friends saw her take the train to Delhi.

Ever since, theatre has held together her life — about 40 plays, from “Karmawali” to “Nati Binodini.” Ironically, it is her relatively short stint in cinema, precisely one role, in and as “Bandit Queen” that has come to define her.

Seema admits many have told her “Bandit Queen” did not match up to her performances on stage. When she took up “Khamoshi,” post “Bandit Queen”, there were many who warned against taking an older woman's role. “I didn't want to be famous because of controversies, but for my performances,” says the artiste.

Despite films in Hindi and regional languages, Seema insists: “Theatre is my first priority, my capital.”

P. ANIMA

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