Art & Entertainment

Nivedita Bhattacharya On Ageism: We’ve A Guy Who Is A ‘Hero’, And He’s Still Romancing Women Half His Age, Whereas Vice Versa Doesn’t Really Hold True

Nivedita Bhattacharya has been in the film industry for over 3 decades. From theatre to television to films to now OTT, she has done it all. She opens up about ageism in the film industry, her husband Kay Kay Menon, working on ‘Bambai Meri Jaan’ with him, the response to ‘The Vaccine War’ and lots more.

Nivedita Bhattacharya
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Nivedita Bhattacharya has been in the film industry for over 3 decades. From theatre to television to films to now OTT, she has done it all. Does she see cinema having evolved over these many years? Have the audiences changed? Has her theatre background helped in the kind of cinema that she has been doing over these years? The actress reveals everything in detail.

Talking to Prateek Sur, Nivedita Bhattacharya also opens up about ageism in the film industry, her husband Kay Kay Menon, working on ‘Bambai Meri Jaan’ with him, the response to ‘The Vaccine War’ and lots more. Excerpts from the candid chat.

You have been acting for almost 3 decades now. How much has cinema changed from the time you started and now?

I’d say cinema hasn’t changed a lot. What I mean is, we’ve always had different kinds of movies. But with the Internet and OTT coming in, people now have more access to all sorts of stories and cinema from around the world. The only real change is the technology getting better, making cinema a more wholesome and richer experience.

Having said that, despite all these advanced upgrades, I feel we’re still largely focused on the same hero-centric stories. People still go to theatres for the same. So, the real change we need is for all kinds of content to get the same attention and support. That way, good and different kinds of movies can stick around for longer. That, I think, would be the big change we’re looking for.

While the way cinema is made has changed, do you feel audiences have changed?

The audience has definitely changed, but I would say there’s still a long way to go. As I mentioned earlier, with the rise of OTT, they are very supportive of great and newer content. However, when it comes to the theatre and the big screen, judging by recent records, they still lean towards the same kind of stories and content. They are not really going all out to support different exciting subjects, barring a few. The numbers are still not very huge. People are still enjoying the same hero-centric stories, of course, supported with better technology. So, yes, the change in that direction is still very, very desirable.

With this age of OTT, are you getting better roles and characters than what you used to get say about 12-15 years ago?

Well, in this case, I can only speak for myself. 12 - 15 years ago, I was consistently offered significant roles and central characters where I played an intrinsic part in the story. At that time, my focus was primarily on television. However, with the advent of OTT, we get to portray more detailed characters, exploring different aspects of the same character and experimenting more. On an OTT platform or in a film, we have a bound script, which means we know the character’s journey from start to finish. Understanding the character’s arc provides the space to play with and delve into different facets of the character.

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This is quite different from television, where the end of the story is usually kept open. where there’s a deadline, and we often have to deliver the episode in a day or two. Sometimes, we get the scenes in the morning and have to come up with the scene in an exciting way and deliver it. It has its own set of challenges, but it’s also exciting because although You know your character, you don’t have enough prep time, yet you have to give your best within that short span of time. It’s an exhilarating process for an actor. The constant challenge is to keep yourself invested and engaged in the role, making your character interesting, and at the same time not letting the audience get bored of you. Day in and day out, you have to keep their interest alive.

My theatre background comes in handy here. When a scene is given to me last minute, I have the facility to memorize lines faster and come up with different variations and improvisations. These are things you are trained to do from the very beginning, and they prove helpful. Every medium has its own advantages and limitations, and that’s the best part about being an actor – you have to circumvent and overcome everything and enjoy being real, no matter the platform. With the rise of OTT, there are definitely more opportunities. The stories are detailed, demanding more from actors. OTT is more character-driven and talent-driven rather than star-driven. Regardless of gender or age, there is a demand for actors, and I think that’s great.

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Is ageism still a thing among actresses? Like are actresses after a certain age not considered for lead romantic roles whereas heroes even in their late 50s continue to get the leading man romancing women more than half their age?

Hahaha, my answer would be a big yes to this question. The latter still holds true largely, I would say. We still have the central character, a guy who is a ‘hero’, and he’s still romancing women half his age, whereas vice versa doesn’t really hold true. We do have those subjects, but they are very rare, where a woman is a central character, and she has all the liberties of romancing a guy that she thinks is fit for her. We are getting there on OTT, but in Cinemas, I would say, there is still a long, long way to go. In Cinema, stories are still largely very hero-based, and the same thing keeps getting reiterated and rehashed. A woman is offered mother parts to the same hero that she once romanced a couple of years back, whereas the reverse is still not the case.

You’ve been a performer on stage all your life. Even if you do the biggest of movies or biggest of shows, what is it in theatre that always draws you back?

I started my acting journey on stage, and the stage holds a special place in my heart. It’s a live experience where you connect with the audience in the moment. There are no retakes, and a significant amount of rehearsal time is invested in understanding the character. The stage will always have my attention, drawing me in with its unique appeal.

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Moreover, each stage show is different because every day brings a new moment with a fresh audience. Reactions vary, keeping the experience dynamic and exciting for an actor. The unpredictability of each day adds to the charm, constantly keeping my interest alive.

One notable advantage of stage performances is the opportunity to forge lasting friendships. Due to the extensive rehearsal period spanning months, strong bonds are formed. I’ve made lifelong friends through theatre, some of whom have been with me since the beginning of my theatrical journey. Therefore, theatre holds a special and enduring place in my heart.

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Nivedita Bhattacharya Instagram

What kind of differences do you see in the different mediums like theatre, TV, Films and now OTT?

The primary difference between theatre and television, film, or OTT is that theatre is a live medium. You are performing live, and whatever is happening is occurring at that very moment. The audience is with you at that very moment, and you get an instant reaction from the audience. There are no retakes, and there is nothing you can do to mediate or rectify your work once it’s done. Also, because it’s a live medium, every show is different. Your reaction to a scene or a moment will differ every day because you have a different set of audience, and various factors are involved in a live performance.

In theatre, you might face unprecedented failures or challenges like what if there’s an electricity failure? Or what if the actor doesn’t enter the stage on cue? Or forget your cue. So you have to be so invested in your character that you have to come up with your own improvisation and salvage the situation. On stage, there’s no "cut," so you have to be prepared to navigate unexpected situations without letting the audience know about any mishaps.

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In television, especially in daily soap formats, the story is never-ending, and characters repeat the same actions for an extended period. As an actor, you must keep your interest alive and sustain your character for extended periods. The challenge lies in not knowing where the story will end, as it is TRP-driven. Your character might change abruptly based on TRP requirements, presenting a unique challenge.

In OTT and films, there’s a bound script, providing a clear character arc and space to explore different aspects. Unlike television, there are no external forces like TRP that can alter your character unexpectedly. As an actor, you have to adapt to these different mediums and keep evolving.

Additionally, the way you project yourself on stage is different from how you present yourself on camera. On stage, gestures and emotions need to be more pronounced to reach the audience sitting far away. In contrast, on camera, subtlety is more effective as the audience is up close. These differences require actors to use different tools and adapt to the nuances of each medium, making the journey exciting and dynamic.

You were recently seen in ‘Bambai Meri Jaan’ where you shared screen space with your husband after a long time. Do either of you ever take up a role in a film or show just so that you could spend more time with each other?

It was a fantastic experience collaborating with Kay Kay (Menon) after a very long time. But we never take up a project just to spend more time with each other. We do make enough time for each other off-screen (smiles). So, the reason for taking up a project in which we are both cast together is always the story. What is the character that is being offered to you, what is your contribution to this story, and the usual considerations that any actor takes into account for a project. The reasons are never different, regardless of who the co-actor is. It always comes down to what you are doing in the story, how you are taking it ahead, and what your contribution is to the entire narrative. That is always the primary reason for choosing our roles.

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Kay Kay Menon, Nivedita Bhattacharya Instagram

You and your husband being in the same profession does it ever become monotonous as you would probably have the same topics to discuss or talk about at home?

Being in the same profession for us is definitely a win-win situation. It is never monotonous because our profession has so much to talk about. We not only discuss each other’s works, but we also have conversations about great cinema, outstanding performances, cinematography, set design, editing, and much more. There is never a shortage of topics for discussion, and being in this creative field, you’re growing every day and learning so much. At the end of the day, when you have someone who’s on the same page, it’s great to bounce ideas and share thoughts, and monotony never creeps in.

Do you discuss scripts that are offered to you both? Has it ever happened that either of you has asked the other to not take up the role?

Yes, we do discuss scripts. Being in the same profession, we naturally talk about various things, and scripts often come up in our conversations. It’s not that we sit down to read each other’s scripts, but we share ideas. However, the choice to accept or decline a role is ultimately an individual decision. We do talk about certain topics or subjects, bounce ideas, and get feedback from each other, which I think is great.

You even did ‘The Vaccine War’ recently. Despite your character being so very appreciated in the reviews, the film didn’t get good footfalls. Where do you think you all went wrong?

Being part of ‘The Vaccine War’ was a fantastic experience. As an actor, it’s a unique opportunity because not every day you get to portray a scientist. It allowed me to learn and gain insights into a domain entirely outside my usual roles, and that aspect was truly exciting.

Despite receiving appreciation in reviews, I’ve pondered on what might have gone wrong. In my assessment, it could be a perception issue. Perhaps people assumed the film was more focused on COVID-19 and portrayed the horrors of the pandemic, which wasn’t the case. In reality, the film celebrated our unsung heroes – the scientists who swiftly developed our own indigenous vaccine.

‘The Vaccine War’ sheds light on the scientists who battled against COVID-19, crafted a remarkable vaccine, and saved lives globally. It emphasizes the triumph of developing the vaccine and pays homage to our unsung heroes. It’s possible that some viewers misunderstood, thinking it delved too much into the pandemic’s horrors, leading them to avoid reliving that experience. I encourage people to watch the film, as it was an eye-opener for me. It beautifully showcased the tremendous work our scientists have undertaken, sacrificing their personal lives, overcoming challenges, and creating something truly remarkable. Hats off to them.

What next can we see you in?

There are a couple of projects in the pipeline. As you know, everything is contractual, so we will have to wait and share details when we are ready to announce the projects.

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