I owe everything to theatre, says Sherni actor Sampa Mandal


“To portray the emotions of a character effectively, it is important to understand her back story. The same may not show in the expressions, but the actor must live with it to do complete justice. And that is where theatre training comes in,” says actor Sampa Mandal, who was recently seen in the movie ‘Sherni as Jyoti, the tribal woman.

A pass-out of Capital’s National School of Drama (NSD), Mandal, who was also seen in the film ‘Sonchiriya’, ‘Maxim Gorky’s Mother’ (Bengali) and the web-series ‘All About Section 377’, stresses that not only has theatre fine-tuned her as an actor but has also been instrumental in shaping her as a person. “It has developed my thinking, and instincts. The art form teaches you how to ‘build’ a character. Rest is all about effective presentation.”

Her stage to screen journey started when in the year 2018 she received a call to audition for ‘Sonchiriya’ and was selected. “There were plenty of juniors vying for this role as well. But luckily, I was selected. That was the beginning.”

Then a year later, her friend Aditi Singh called her and told her about the character in ‘Sherni’. “She felt it was a tremendous character which she would love to play herself, but might not make the cut. Singh felt I fitted the bill. They sent over the script. And I gave the audition. Considering there was no reply for more than a month , I thought I didn’t make it. So, there was no following up on my part. After nearly two months, I got a call and was asked to send the audition again. This time I was told that I had made it.”

For someone who has always wanted to play well-etched and powerful characters across mediums — theatre, television and cinema, she feels lucky that only such roles have come her way. “Just the kind of roles that stay with the audiences long after the last scene is over. What is paramount in my scheme of things is that I do complete justice to them.”

Mandal feels that the advent of digital platforms have empowered actors and opened never-before opportunities. “Not just the quality and quantity of work around, look at the number of viewers. Which other medium gets you that? What is also exciting is that people are experimenting as there is no pressure of the box-office. People are ready to follow their creative instincts, adopt different story-telling techniques and are willing to explore uncharted territories. Interestingly, even small-budget projects now have a platform.”

The actor feels that the country can definitely do with more theatre repertories as they provide a financial net to actors. “Personally, I owe a lot to the NSD repertory far as the security of a fixed salary coming in is concerned. There should be more of them, but having one in each state can mean less competition among actors. Currently, actors from across the country compete for a few seats at the NSD repertory.”

Clear that for her theatre comes before cinema as that is where she started off her career, Mandal adds, “I owe everything to theatre and without it would not be where I am today. My life was different when I was in Kolkata — just a regular one. Theatre introduced me to a whole new world with an array of possibilities — and not just professional,” she concludes.

(Sukant Deepak can be reached at sukant.d@ians.in)