Jayanta Banerjee won a best actor award the first time he bagged a role in a Bengali play at school. The managing partner of ASK Pravi Capital, the Mumbai-based private equity firm, was a student of Class 10 at the time. He forgot all about it till, many years later, he started buying tickets to the annual benefit for cancer patients at St Andrews, Bandra, presented by Anandam, Mumbai’s oldest Bengali theatre group. It was a good cause. Pritha, wife of Banerjee’s old engineering college batchmate and currently MD of BNP Paribas, Manishi Raychaudhari, was part of the eclectic group of doctors, ex-pilots, businessmen and homemakers that made up Anandam’s cast and crew. Banerjee casually wrote to her once, “I would love to be a part of the group.” She introduced him to Lucky Mukherjee, Anandam’s businessman-director, who welcomed him warmly.
Rehearsals and a hectic work schedule weren’t the best of combinations but the post-2008 Lehman crisis forced business to go slow and Banerjee committed his weekends to Anandam’s production. Thakurer Aloey Noti Binodini (‘Noti Binodini through Tagore’s eyes’), based on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s teachings on the life of the actress Binodini, in which Banerjee played Ranga Babu, a zamindar who had a platonic relationship with the actress Binodini. The play debuted to packed houses in 2009. Originally conceived as a one-show one-city event, Thakurer Aloey… grew and travelled to Delhi, Pune and Kolkata, besides running to repeat shows in Bandra. It was an exhilarating experience.
Anandam is amateur but serious. “People were paying money to see us so we had to do a good job,” laughs Banerjee. The life lessons came for free. “I enjoyed the rehearsals,” Banerjee recalls with affection. “The build-up to the play was unbelievable. There is no competition and no one tries to outdo the other, quite unlike our work life.” The stage and the limelight had quite another effect. “No matter how well you have rehearsed, there are always some butterflies in your stomach,” he admits ruefully, adding that adrenaline takes over on stage, “So, not only are you very confident, you tend to remember all your lines and the moment of delivery is actually very exciting.”
Banerjee has been a regular at all Anandam shows since then and his 2011 appearance as Rabindranath Tagore is the closest to his heart. This play, called Thakur Barir Alo Andhare (‘Light and shade of Tagore’s mansion’), saw him essaying the role of Tagore’s brother till the finale, where he switched to play an older version of the great poet himself, fading into the twilight as the curtain dropped. Short and poignant, it never failed to move the crowd and that’s why, Banerjee says, “It’s my favourite role so far.” Acting is so interesting. “Everybody is a winner. We are not taken seriously in our business unless we make a certain amount of money or take the podium. But all actors, whether main and supporting, are equally important for a play to become successful.” Encore! β