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ABSTRACT: Following write-up is an endeavor towards highlighting the significance of actor Joy Sengupta’s noteworthy theatrical acting that, I feel, even supersedes his role as a film actor. The article (I admit with utmost sincerity) reflects my personal liking for this theater artist and is certainly oriented towards signifying his assets as a ‘theatre actor’ solely from my point of view. I also acknowledge that most of the description is based on my observation of the actor’s finer points of acting which can be construed well when he is seen acting on the stage rather than simply reading what I have written. However, this short piece is my way of expressing gratitude to this phenomenal actor who enabled me in the best possible way to write my dissertation on Girish Karnad during my Doctoral Degree Program (2012-2013). I recommend the readers to go through the bio-brief of the actor provided at the end of the article in order that they comprehend the erudite achievements of the actor which make him worthy of our liking and our attention.

Key words: Acting, Theatre, Abhinaya, Natyasastra, Natyayajna,

‘Acting’ is a popular theatrical art. Actors concentrate on portraying roles convincingly in order that the audience may identify with them. In fact, it is regarded as the victory of the actors when the audience is able to relate to a particular role(s) enacted by them. Some actors have a natural inborn quality of acting which gets honed as they work with established directors and theatre practitioners and some actually get themselves systematically trained in various facets like vocal projection, clarity of speech, physical expression, ability to imagine and improvise on the stage etc. Whether intrinsic or adopted, the phenomenon often observed is that recognizably ‘good’ actors are able to submit their ego or their worldly identity on the stage when they adopt a character. They prove that the inability to discard the overbearing sense of ‘I’ ruins the performance. It is often observed that actors obsessed with their flamboyant public image either lose track of the characters they portray or become narcissistically absorbed in ham acting! It is thus seen that seasoned actors differentiate themselves from dabblers or amateurs in the manner that they know the necessity of abnegation of one’s earthly consciousness during the process of acting. As per the Natyasastra (classical Indian treatise on the nature of dramatic composition – 200 BCE and 200 CE) the resignation of ‘I’ is mandatory in the process of Natyayajna(theatre as a fire sacrifice which necessitates immersion of ego in the process of the Natya which is equivalent to a sacred ritual of the fire sacrifice) and any egoistic claim on the part of the participants in theatre is unwarranted (Vatsyayan 1). We find that renunciation of ego and adoption of an identity on the part of the actors in theatre is comparable to the sacred ritualistic practices wherein the practitioner willingly submits oneself to the God or the deity that possesses him. Senior theater practitioner K.N. Panikkar drew this analogy between acting and ritualistic practices but he did not forget to distinguish the two either. As per Panikkar, unlike in religious rituals where the practitioner completely forgets one’s worldly identity, a good theatre actor knows the knack of drawing a thin line between his real self and the role(s) that he enacts. One knows, according to Panikkar, that dramatic acting does not allow getting carried away in the mode of the ritualistic practitioners who are not able to exercise control over them as they act. Scholars like Panikkar endorse the ability of adequately and proportionately immersing into the world of theatre and also differentiating oneself from it as and when required. The contemporary theatre has set forth a few distinguished actors who comprehend that theatre demands transcendence into the theatrical realm relinquishing the worldly ego without losing the worldly awareness that acting is different from reality. Theatre/film actor Joy Sengupta is one among these rare knowledgeable performers.

Joy Sengupta’s attraction lies in his extremely seamless mode of adopting the character he portrays which many a prominent actors lack. His introduction on the stage does not seem a leap or a plunge but a gradual blend into the role which does not even take a fraction of a second and rather seems a thoroughly rehearsed spontaneity which only eligible actors come to understand. The character essayed by him comes in front of us and at the same time, the original Joy remains firm, unperturbed by any transitions he has to carry out in his deportment on the stage. The expressions, the way of dialogue delivery, his attitude, all of it on the stage is of the character and not of Joy Sengupta and yet together he marks his own signature every time he speaks or acts, smiles or looks demure on the stage. It is a pleasantly paradoxical combination of the actor and character concurrently where one does not overpower the other but in fact each appropriately buttresses the other as and when required.

Another special feature of Joy Sengupta is his stage presence which is extremely humble and has a solemnity which earns him repute. When he represents a character, he does not fail to take into account the dignity of the acting profession that needs to be retained even while playing a negative role like Arun in Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan for instance. The disapproval is for the Dalit Arun who does not fail to take advantage of his position as a male and assaults his wife as he gets a chance. However, the actor Joy maintains his poise, his image flawlessly. It can be seen when he reflects, poses, talks, delivers according to the character, while he retains the apt decorum in all of these and understands that theatre requires the actor to be an ‘actor’ and not a tinge of overdoing works in the same. Thus, while some critics feel that the second-half of his performance in Kanyadaan is thoroughly predictable, I feel that predictability is perfectly in accordance with the character of Arun who is meant to be predictable after a certain point in the play. By letting the predictability of Arun come to the fore when he changes his demeanor from good to bad, Joy Sengupta proves that alterations and improvisations cannot go beyond the implications of a text and the actor needs to confine himself( to a certain extent) to the way a particular character is drawn in the play. It is thus that his lets the brilliance of his versatile acting shine during the first half and the second half goes without any sort of pretense or hypocrisy; that’s what was meant!

Let me include Joy’s brilliant portrayal in Mahesh Dattani’s Dance like a Man. What he does in the play is the characteristic of knowledgeable actors. We see a mature actor who has well-construed the meaning of a “needful” acting that is consciously distanced from exorbitant or uncontrolled immersion into the role which makes the actor appear futile in his constant trials to essay a character. The expressions, gestures – (facial or body language) appear fully controlled and yet so emancipated in their own right. It is clear when we watch the play that the actor is aware that theatre director directs him and he has to stand true to the expectations but he is also aware that acting in theatre is a skill that disregards directorial manipulation while following a director’s instructions. We see the actor not just acting but emoting the feelings in the play that requires portraying the frustration in the man who is forbidden to pursue his passion of ‘Dancing’. With the presence that’s undoubtedly brilliant on the stage (as is acknowledged several time by the media) the actor Joy Sengupta understands that his role for this play (that speaks of a male dancer's difficulty to prove the sense in his choice of establishing himself as an Indian classical dancer; a profession which in the traditional Indian outlook is regarded as a feminine pursuit) is to be ‘enacted’ and not just ‘acted’ and appears convincing as a ‘male classical dancer’ constantly haunted by the idea of proving the worth of his profession. It’s not just a role that he is set to portray but rather through his theatrical enactment in Dance Like a Man, Joy attests that a character requires an actor's submission of his ‘I’ or sense of worldly consciousness to escalate towards the state of heightened union with ‘self’ wherein arises the enlightenment that transforms not only oneself but also the onlookers.

I feel Joy Sengupta is an actor who enables us to suspend the requisite of watching the character he portrays through costume/make-up. He is one of those fine actors who fulfill the requirement of engaging the audience in a worthwhile performance on the stage. I feel, more than films, Joy sengupta justifies himself as a stage artist and sets forth the paradigm of a crucial theater actor whose dignified, effectively controlled and yet intelligently emancipated stage presence testify that maneuvers don’t work when one acts. What works is an intrinsic flair for acting which makes an astute actor who knows how to enter in the theatrical world of make-belief without estranging oneself from the reality. Joy Sengupta’s acting is well-balanced and combines the realistic and the exaggerated modes of acting in proper proportions which makes his performance unique. I have not seen a more regulated portrayal of character which also includes impromptu stage improvisations so unselfconsciously that Joy Sengupta –the man blends almost inseparably with the character that he plays. Yet, his acting provides glimpses of his most humble personality which intermittently reveals itself through his rendition of dialogue, his way of enactment and his overall presence which becomes conspicuous as you see him on the stage respecting the demands of the ‘acting’ profession.


Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata the Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi, 2003.

Mee, Erin. The Theater of Roots. Seagull Books, 2008.

Actor Joy Sengupta interviewed for the write-up(mail)

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