Following a few films and television shows, Chandan Roy Sanyal dhan-ta-naned into public consciousness in 2009 with Kaminey, in which he played the reckless Bengali gangster Mikhail.
Roy Sanyal subsequently rolled out a series of solid supporting performances in such films as F.A.L.T.U (2011), D-Day (2013), Chef (2017), and most recently, the MX Player web series Aashram, in which he plays the cunning enforcer of a crooked godman.
Roy Sanyal’s latest appearance is in the Zee5 anthology film Forbidden Love. Aahana Kumra and he play a married couple who have fallen out of love in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s instalment Rules of the Game.
“If I have to draw a parallel, then Rules of the Game is on the lines of Basu Chatterjee’s Rajnigandha and Basu Bhattacharya’s Avishkar, where a distance has developed between the couple, despite living in the same house,” Roy Sanyal told Scroll.in. “They are affluent upper class people living in a fancy house, and no matter how many gadgets and furniture they buy, nothing is filling up the space in their hearts. But the film soon becomes edgy and goes into thriller territory.”
Roy Sanyal has occasionally headlined projects, such as the 2013 film Prague and Bengali filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Urojahaj (2018) – in the latter film, Roy Saynal plays a car mechanic who forms a bond with the wreckage of a World War II-era fighter plane. The 76-year-old director and Roy Sanyal also worked together on Tope (2016) and have reunited for a third project. Excerpts from an interview.
Tell us about Mikhail in ‘Kaminey’.
Between 2006 and 2008, I was travelling with British theatre director Tim Supple for his adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We did a lot of shows over India, Europe, America, and around this time. Kaminey’s casting director Honey Trehan got to know of me from somewhere. He called me for an audition, I went and did it, and forgot about it.
Much later, in San Francisco, after a late night of partying, I randomly called Honey at four am. I did not have a mobile phone then, and I would check my email in 10 days or two weeks. It was afternoon in India, and Honey picked up and began shouting at me, saying, hey how unprofessional you are, we had been trying to contact you for a month, but you are untraceable, and Vishalji is looking for you.
Turns out I had got the part, and if I didn’t call that day, Vishal sir was going to get someone else for the role. So I sent my measurements from there to India, went to Toronto for some shows, returned to India, and within 48 hours, I was on set shooting Dhan Te Nan.
The credit for how the character shaped up goes to Vishal sir, who came up with this world of Bengali gangsters, and one of them named Mikhail. He told me that Mikhail is a football of fire and energy, constantly high and tripping. I did not want to overdo it, so as to not lose clarity in the portrayal.
On reaching India, I was immediately given the song, which I listened to constantly to get into the vibe. On reaching the set, this huge area, where the song was playing really loudly, I slowly got the walk and the rhythm, and from then on I did it step by step.
Anybody who watched ‘Kaminey’ will be surprised to see you as the refined Ronojoy in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Bengali drama ‘Aparajita Tumi’ (2012).
Aparajita Tumi has one of my more subdued and subtle and finer performances. I had to play a guy much older than what I was, a guy whose power and weight lay just in his words, a very learned and liberated guy, someone a woman would love to be with.
He had no entitlement over his woman. If the woman chose, she could leave, and that was alright with him. Years before the movie, I had played the lead role in Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder. He was a very aggressive guy, but he had a similar idea on relationships. I got a handle on Ronojoy because of Sakharam.
I realised that in this film, the whole sense of power and attitude lay in the lines themselves. He was so much in control of his emotions that he did not need to do much. It required a more British form of acting, which I imbibed in the years I worked with Supple. I work on the text a lot, and by the time I come to the set, I don’t need to look at it again because I have the subtext figured out. I just stay in the moment and respond.
In the early 2010s, you were headlining films like ‘Prague’ and the Bengali production ‘Ganesh Talkies’. Was that a planned decision?
These things were never in my hand. I took up what came my way. Neither Prague nor Ganesh Talkies worked. Between 2010 and 2014, I did a bunch of films, which either sank without a trace, or just did not find a release. There was Abbas Tyrewala’s Mango and Aditya Bhattacharya’s BMW: Bombay’s Most Wanted, which did not come out.
You played the lead role of a guy who’s not quite right in his head in ‘Prague’.
Prague is one of the most special films of my life. It was an out-and-out indie film. All of us were young and first-timers. It was my first lead role, the director’s first film, and the cameraman was new. The crew was 15 to 18 people, and the shooting was full guerrilla style. We had no permission to shoot in Prague. We stayed in a hostel. We bought sandwiches from the store, and shot while eating, and got lunch packed from the local Indian restaurant.
Ashish [R Shukla], the director, asked me if I had seen [Christian Bale-starrer 2004 film] The Machinist, because he wanted that vibe. I am an insomniac in the movie. So I stayed up the whole day for a month, shot through the day, partied the whole night, came back to my room around five or six in the morning, fell asleep, and our assistant director Shreeda Patel would pour a bucket of water on me or throw me off the bed to get me to go act.
That was the first time I tried method acting, stretched my limits, and that showed in the movie. Nobody watched the film, and I was heartbroken for a while. I lost trust in myself, thinking what did I do? Why did I do it?
You are stunning in ‘Urojahaj’ as a more lyrical version of the protagonist of Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Ajantrik’.
Buddha da [Buddhadeb Dasgupta] is very different from others. He is a poet. He never talked straight realism while giving directions. He spoke in an abstract, surreal manner. He would say, imagine you are a mechanic, and you want to become a bird who can fly, and then you mix with the blue in the sky. I had to pick up nuances from whatever he said.
He shot the films with just one lens, one take for each scene, so 50 scenes and 50 shots. There was a lot of prep. He would shoot one scene in the morning, one in the twilight, and nothing in between. Old school track-and-trolley shooting. Never a second take. So nobody made mistakes.
There was an old-world charm to his style. It felt like film school, like I was in a Polish film. He was also in hospital at the time, so he would shoot, go and get his dialysis done, and come back to shoot.
You play the deputy bad guy again in ‘Aashram’.
Prakash Jha told me do less, don’t overcook a scene. I said great, that’s how I perform. Most of the time, the actors couldn’t hear me. They would say, where has he come, what style of acting is this. I would say if people see me, they won’t see the scene.
I would keep it low-key. He is a criminal in the guise of a swami, a shrewd businessman, so he had all the more reason to not show what he is thinking. He could be smiling at you and plotting a murder at the same time.