Masuma Rahman Nabila and Manoj Kumar are now leading actors of the television drama industry of Bangladesh. Nabila has the success of her film ‘Aynabaji’ and Manoj is a veteran theatre actor. The two were found shooting the Bioscope Original web film ‘Mon Mondire,’ at Durga Mandir in Kaola. They shared with Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Al Faruque Ratul, the thought process that goes behind choosing a role or a script, and why some actors of the industry are seeking popularity over artistry
Please start by describing your characters in this Web film.
Manoj: We play characters of two different religions. The characters we portray vary from this angle, as compared to our previous work. The characters form a relationship with each other, and the drama shows the ups and downs of that relationship; described as a “journey.” The story of this drama is about that journey.
Nabila: I agree. The story is about two young individuals, who belong to different religions and their love for each other. Since, the lovers belong to different religion; it is natural that conflicts and complications will arise. The drama is not just about that crisis, but also about the love and personality of these characters. How the crisis is dealt with and where the love ends between them is the crux of the story.
Scripts that show inter-religion relationships are considered to be quite progressive. How happy are you two to be working on this script?
Manoj: Yes, the script is quite progressive. This kind of script is rare to find. From my experience, I have worked on very few scripts of this kind. Nobody wants to show the love between characters of different religions. This production has courage and the project is quite exciting.
Nabila: When I received the synopsis of this drama via email, I showed it to my husband immediately after reading it. After he heard about the story, he automatically said, “You should do this.” This is a very catchy script. Just as you said the story is quite progressive and what I felt while reading the script was that; I have not read or heard too many stories like this. Maybe, I have watched something like this in a movie, but I have not seen any TV plays like this. Every script is different, but this is apart from just a regular Hindu-Muslim love story. You will see.
What processes do you employ while choosing script and characters?
Nabila: Usually the script is emailed to me. I try to prioritize the story over the character that I am to play. If I hear a good story, or if I read one, and I feel that I enjoyed it very much, it helps me make the decision. If I can visualize the story and get convinced by it, then I feel I can definitely work on this.
Manoj: In my case, I look at the character first. I assess if I can do justice to the character. That is my first priority. Second priority would be the story and if there is a need for a third priority, I try to predict the overall direction of the project. I also see who the director is, and what other work he has done. If it all comes together in my mind, then I say “yes” to the character.
You both are relatively new in this industry. What challenges do you face as new artists?
Manoj: I do not face that many challenges. Whatever I have achieved so far, I would describe the journey in this way. When I work, it is seen by many people. After the work is completed, the writer, producer and director talk about my acting, and assess if they can give me more work. Like that I get opportunities. What I believe is that if anyone works honestly and sincerely, then he will not need any additional leg-up, and will not face any obstacles.
When actors debut with a certain character, does the industry start typecasting him?
Manoj: There are some productions that get more popular over others. They get noticed more. The characters seen in that production, or the image portrayed by the actor in that drama gets so popular, that people want to see them again. In that way actors frequently get similar scripts. However, I personally try to work on different scripts. If you see my past work, you will notice that I have portrayed a diverse set of characters. If the character’s background is the same, then I tried to give it a new “image.”
So as an artiste you want to do versatile characters. You do not want to be typecast?
Manoj: Absolutely not. I like doing diverse roles. And I do not think of myself as a traditional “hero.” I feel all “heroes” are pretty much typecast. I like portraying protagonists of different backgrounds.
(To Nabila) What do you prioritize - diversity of roles or characters that are your strengths? Maybe you have proven yourself in portraying a certain kind of character. Do you like to play according to that strength?
Nabila: There is a difference between Manojandme. He is a very good actor and his acting experience is far superior to mine. He learned acting. He also teaches acting. Therefore, it is possible for him to show that courage. As he mentioned, he has done many different roles.
On the other hand, I am a novice. As I have mentioned I look at the story more than the character. At the current stage of my acting career, I would say I do not have enough experience to take a role that requires a great deal of courage. If a director feels that I will do a justice to a role in their script, and shares his confidence with me, then maybe, I try to brave that role. As long as the director guides me well, and trains me in the portrayal of such a character, I might attempt a very challenging role. I am preparing myself for such roles, but I would say I am progressing slowly.
Manoj: There was a little bit of preparation for my acting career, as I started with theatre. While doing stage productions, the practice of portraying many different characters helped me a bit. That is how I perceived the profession of acting, which is, “acting is about playing different characters.” Acting for me was not just about either being a villain or a hero. Having said that, the roles I am offered is not dependent on me. If I do not get a different script or a character, then I will not be able to play a different role. Maybe my previous work showed my versatility, and that lead me to get different opportunities. I agree with what Nabila said about how the director needs to first believe in the actor. If directors are willing to experiment by offering various roles, then only we can do more versatile characters.
Would you say that the actors of this industry are seeking to improve and purify their artistry in acting, or would you say currently, they are prioritizing getting more acting opportunities?
Nabila: I would say both kinds of actors exist in this industry. There are people like Manoj who came to acting after learning it, and their learning never stops. They continue to work and learn through every production.
On the other hand there are actors give more priority to popularity. We cannot really blame them, as the responsibility needs to be taken by directors as well. Guidance is very important. My start was with such a director and a team that the guidance I received from them inspired me to take the path I am on now. Not everyone gets lucky with such a director and a team. So how can we expect them to know how to think about their roles, and improving upon their acting skills? So maybe they just experienced the popularity and that is what they are prioritizing now. It is really about experience and guidance.
Manoj: From my observation, two decades back there was a practice that theatre actors would come into television acting and they came into acting with the mindset of doing more research on the subject. Maybe things have changed now, but what I think is that, the entire industry and its people are responsible for this. The industry people decide the trends, and how things are done. Blaming someone directly for not looking at acting as a craft is actually unfair. This is another challenge that actors face in the industry.
How has been your experience of working with each other?
Manoj: The experience is very good. I first met Nabila at a program, where we talked about her film. We first worked together in a drama called “Kotha Hobe To,” after she completed her film. Back then I was very new. She was already a film star by then…
Nabila: Still, I was very new to acting at that time.
Manoj: (laughing) Yet she was still a film star! I was worried if I would be able to work well with her. After I went to the production set, I saw that we completed the work in a very friendly manner. We shared ideas with each other. Our chemistry developed very well from that project. Whatever chemistry was required for that script, I felt that it was well-established.
(To Nabila) How do you deal with the expectations that came with the success of “Aynabaji?”
Nabila: I am dealing with it by not doing more films (laughing). I do not want ruin the expectations that have come with that role. I do not want to do films for sake of becoming a film star. This is for acting in any medium. What I feel is that my responsibilities have increased because of that success. After “Aynabaji” I have become more selective over acting roles. If I feel that the viewers will like the script, then I decide to act in it. I try to look at scripts from the perspective of the viewers. If a viewer like me could enjoy it, then the drama would definitely be liked someone else. I try to choose my work based on what the viewers might think about the work.
How do you both balance your personal life with the professional one?
Manoj: I actually work as a private service-holder, which many people know. So, with a job and acting, I pretty much have no personal life. (…laughing)
Nabila: Yes, he was saying that he would like to take a trip just for himself, but he cannot make the time for it. In my case, I am not as busy as Manoj. I think I am the least busy artiste. As I said, I work in very few acting projects. I have a lot of leisure time. Probably I work for 15 days in a month, and the rest of the time I am free. I give time to my family. So, my family has not had the opportunity to complain, really. They get enough time from me. They know when I have work. Just like today, I got out of home really early to work here. They have no problem with it. They are very supportive. So, it is not really hard for me to maintain a balance between work and family.
Manoj: I like to constantly be involved with some work. Without work, I feel very “blank.” Hence, I am constantly on the hunt for work. (..laughing)