Sanghmitra Hitaishi: I was reminded often of my dark skin and how that would be an impediment in getting good roles – Exclusive – Times of India

Sanghmitra Hitaishi is slowly but gradually carving her niche in the entertainment industry. The actress is best known for her work in ‘Lajwanti’, ‘Bombay Begums’, ‘Out of Love’, ‘BA Pass 2’ and others. The actress also has National Award winning short films like ‘Custody’ and ‘Fly Bird’ and a Spanish feature film ‘El Desentierro’ to her credit. In a freewheeling chat with ETimes, Sanghmitra recalls not getting good roles due to her dark skin colour, being an outsider and more. Excerpts…
You come from a conservative political family in Uttar Pradesh, what awakened your artistic side?
At the age of 10, my mother sent me to Kalakshetra Foundation to study Bharatanatyam. It is a school of fine arts, an institution under the Theosophical society started by J Krishnamurthi, Rukmini Devi and Annie Besant. The entire atmosphere there was of singing, dancing, and performing. It all started there.

Were you a movie buff growing up?
As a child, I had difficulty fitting into groups. Films were my solace. And I mostly liked films that didn’t glorify greatness or revile evil. I liked films that showed complex human beings with complex stories that made us empathise with the unlikable characters. My family and schoolmates thought I was weird. I was just a very sensitive kid.

Tell us about your initial days in the industry.
The initial days were confusing. I was reminded often of my dark skin and how that would be an impediment in getting good roles. Initially I was typecast as the battered woman, the unlovable woman, just these disempowered characters, and it was because of my skin colour. I decided then that casting directors will not design my career by how they perceive me and started to push for characters that were empowered, that had agency. I didn’t want a 13-year-old girl sitting in a small town with dusky skin thinking that is all she would be good for or that she was unlovable. I didn’t want to continue pushing that unfair, regressive narrative.

Bollywood has been mired with a lot of controversy right from nepotism to groupism. How has your experience been as an outsider?
I am not going to mince words. It is very difficult for outsiders to get substantial space at the table, not just actors but also directors, production designers, costume designers. I deeply believe if we want to tell stories that connect with everyone then we need to create room and give accessibility to people outside of the bubble of the family. I mean just go by the statistics, some of the best films made in the last ten years have come from the outsiders because they are original and relatable.

You have been active in both India and Europe. What is that one thing or process you would love Bollywood to adopt from the European film industry?
European sets are more organised. There is little to no red tape. Don’t get me wrong, a film set in any part of the world is a chaotic, dynamic place where it feels like everything is falling apart, so if we are organised, there is more room for improvisation. But of course, I love being on Indian film sets because it’s my world, and the crew has shared roots and culture and often background. Although I also love meeting and working with people from different parts of the world, it is great working outside of India as well. I just love movie sets.

Among all the projects you have been a part of, which is that one project that is closest to your heart and why?
That would be my first film, ‘Lajwanti’, where I played the titular character. She is a naïve but determined girl, who comes out of her shell and discovers her own agency and chooses love. I don’t think I could play her again. I am not that naive anymore. After that I played this young mother in ‘Custody’ whose eight month old child is dying which was the most painful and heartbreaking character I have played. I don’t think I would enter into that mind space again. ‘Custody’ won the National Award so that was a reward for all that pain.

The OTT has not only leveled the playground but also revolutionised content, especially for women. How do you look at this change as an actor?
I am thrilled. The stories are getting more rooted. Some of our best actors that didn’t have work for years are now busier than ever. It’s a great time to be an actor. I am excited and ready.

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