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Bijou Thaangjam: Actor from Imphal making it big in Bollywood
Octave Foundation interviewed Bijou Thaangjam, a 30-year-old actor from Manipur, who has acted in the major Diwali movie release Shivaay. Bijou talks about the tough life as an actor, specifically as one from the Northeast, and about working with Ajay Devgn.
Q1. Tell us something about the films/acting projects you are currently working on.
I've just completed a film last month. So, at the moment, I am enjoying life, reading some scripts and quality times with my pet cat Buddy. I am on a break for few weeks till the next film goes on floor. The film is about Northeast India, and whenever I think about it, my adrenaline gets pumped. I am so looking forward for this project.
Q2. Did you train to be an actor?
Not from any of the so called 'acting institutes'. They are all wonderful and give the right training, but I am a spontaneous actor. I taught myself my job and the method is very different. My method happens after I wear my costume. Before that I prep myself enough to know the character well.
Q3. How was your career move/decision received back home?
My folks are very liberal and give enough freedom to the family to choose or follow what we are interested in. So, it was pretty cool for me to become an actor or in any other decisions I've made.
Q4. Has it been easy or tough, the life as an actor and creating a space in the film industry?
Being an actor is a tough game. It’s not easy being an actor. The first thing one has to do is to sacrifice one's comfort zone! Struggle becomes synonymous with life. Even for A-list actors life can be difficult. While they have what most others would treasure, life is still life, and it can be rough and living in the limelight makes it more difficult. And then, the other side of the spectrum - the actors that are struggling to make it, to create a space in the film industry. If they are lucky, they've had some speaking roles in film(s) and television. But even then, the jobs are hard to come by. Imagine seeing your dream come true of being cast in a speaking role in a big movie or show, only to wrap and then not work for years. The highest peaks and deepest valleys of emotion. Imagine going to audition after audition, only to fall short of getting cast each and every time. You do stage work for little to no money. You work in Indie films for free, or a couple thousands rupees at the most, and see that most of them go nowhere or are just terrible.
Mumbai is an expensive city, so your expenditures are likely to be high. You receive rejection after rejection after rejection. You are told, either directly or through results of auditions, that you aren't pretty enough, handsome enough, talented enough etc. That's the life of an actor. Despite all of these odds, I love my job, I love being an actor.
Q4. Are you likely to stay on in Bollywood?
I am a greedy actor. I don't want to be settled in one particular place. So, I am very much open for anything beyond Bollywood.
Q5. You were on MasterChef and went all the way up to top 50. Do you enjoy cooking? If yes, what about cooking do you like the most?
If I weren't an actor, I would have been a chef. I really enjoy cooking, experimenting with food. The colours, the textures, the sounds, the aromas, the flavours, anything about the kitchen and the food boost my energy. It’s like painting through a masterpiece.
Q6. Do you feel a disconnect between Northeast and the other cities in India that you have lived/worked in? If yes, what kind of a disconnect have you experienced/felt? If no, then can you recount instances where people were kind, empathetic, non-racial and fair with you.
Not anywhere but Mumbai. Sad but true, in our industry, there are very few talents from Northeast, even after 100 years of Indian cinema, we have just few actors known to us. But over the past 2-3 years there is a gradual increase of talent and of films based in the Northeast. The industry as well as the audiences are accepting us. This is a good sign. Earlier it was tough for the people of Northeast. Many doors would be slammed on the face saying "You don't look Indian enough". Even if we are called for look test, it would be for stereotypical characters of security guards, sales boy/girl, massage therapist, cook, helper etc. Such discrimination is often faced here. To crack into a mainstream role was quite tough, but I must say, things are changing slowly.
Q8. Apart from being an actor, what else do you like to do with your time?
I love to cook and when I am done cooking, I sketch or doodle.
Q9. How has the Shivaay experience been for you?
Being a part of a film like Shivaay is a life time experience. Firstly, I am a big fan of Ajay Devgn. Working with him is so surreal. Never thought in my wildest dream that I would have ever shared the same screen space with THE Ajay Devgn. A boy from Imphal, somewhere from the farthest corner of Northeast, travelled all the way to Mumbai and getting a role to act in one of the most awaited film Shivaay this year with Ajay Devgn is overwhelming.
Q10. What do you want to tell the young people of India, people your age or younger, if you could give them one message?
Everyone is unique in their own way. So why to blend in? Just use your potential, listen to your heart and chase your dream. Enjoy the struggle of chasing until you reach your destiny. Life is a climb, but the view is beautiful.
Pictures courtesy: Bijou Thaangjam