Waiting to Exhale

With the world premiere of Vara: A Blessing at the Busan International Film Festival,theatre actor Devesh Ranjan hopes this will be his big break

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published:October 6, 2013 4:41 am

Devesh Ranjan understands a thing or two about struggle. After being rejected from “big-ticket Bollywood projects” and being offered side roles in television,Ranjan had almost given up all hopes of acting. But a casting call last year,for an international project,reversed his fortunes.

Ranjan plays the male lead in Bhutanese director Khyentse Norbu’s third feature film Vara: A Blessing,which was the opening film at the 18th Busan International Film Festival this year. “I was in my village in Jarada,Odisha,when I got a call from Dilip Shankar (the casting director of Life of Pi). It was about a movie on Indian classical dance and its director was looking for a male lead. So I made a short video about myself from the village and sent it,”says Ranjan,over the phone from his hotel room in Busan,where he is currently attending the world premiere.

The Busan festival,which opened on October 3,is the largest film festival in Asia. “I am elated that I am a part of such a production,which will get me some international exposure,” says the 30-something Ranjan,who is making his debut in cinema. Before this,he dabbled in Delhi’s theatre scene for five years,working with theatre directors such as VV Karan,MK Sharma,Dilip Shankar,and the late Alok Chatterjee.

The 96-minute film is based on an adaptation of award-winning poet and writer Sunil Gangopadhyay’s short story Rakta Aar Kanna (Blood and Tears). It is a story of a low caste Hindu boy who wants to change his fortunes by becoming a sculptor. The film’s script introduces Bharatanatyam dance,spirituality and a subtle love story between the male and female leads. “There was no dance in the short story. He (Norbu) adapted that bit. He is passionate about the dance and since it is a spiritual art form,it resonates with him,”says Nannette Elms,the producer,speaking on behalf of the director,who in addition to being a filmmaker is a Buddhist monk from Bhutan. Currently,Norbu is in meditation in Bhutan’s mountains.

Ranjan essays the lead character Shyam,opposite actor Shahana Goswami who plays Lila. He plays the flute and is fond of sculpting and asks Lila to be his muse. Lila is a devadasi Bharatanatyam dancer and considers Shyam to be the embodiment of Krishna. Slowly mutual admiration blossoms into love. Goswami,an Odissi dancer herself trained for three months with a disciple of danseuse Geeta Chandran. “The role was a powerful one and enacting it has been a spiritual journey. Shyam is a dreamy artist,and I have seen that side of life while growing up in my village in Odisha. In real life too,I paint and play the flute,but I don’t sculpt,”says Ranjan,who took a month to learn sculpting from a trainer in his village. He also spent time with people from his village to understand their mannerisms.

Ranjan came to Delhi after completing his B.Com. studies from Vyasanagar College,Odisha,to pursue a Company Secretary course. “I organised plays in my village. But my family believed I should pursue academics,” he says. Soon he was drawn towards theatre,but failed to get admission into the National School of Drama. After this,he pursued a year’s diploma in acting from the Mandi School of Theatre in Himachal Pradesh. After moving to Mumbai,Ranjan was offered small roles in television,and commercials,so he pursued modelling instead. “It was difficult getting a break in Bollywood. I was constantly rejected and got only side roles. At times,I did not like the scripts for the films or I was refused because of my dark skin. But somehow I kept my acting hopes alive,”says Ranjan,who has his fingers crossed for the success of Vara….

The film,which was shot in parts of Sri Lanka over a seven-week schedule last year,was made within a budget of US $ 2.5 million (approximately Rs 15 crore). It will have two more screenings at Busan (October 7 and 12) and then travels to the London Film Festival.

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