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Seema Biswas conquers Canada

She bagged the best actress trophy at the Genie Award for her multi-layered performance in Water, reports Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2006 20:08 IST
WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee
WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee

The singular honour may have gone largely unnoticed, but the best actress Genie Award won by India’s Seema Biswas for her multi-layered performance in Deepa Mehta’s Water represents an achievement of huge import. The Genie Awards are Canada’s equivalent of the Oscars.

On March 13, at the 26th annual Genie Awards ceremony hosted by Water co-star Lisa Ray and actor and talk show host Terry David Mulligan, Biswas shook off competition from such accomplished Canadian actresses as Macha Grenon, Sylvie Moreau, Arsinee Khanjian and Gina Chiarelli to win the coveted statuette.

Consider the quality that Biswas was up against. Producer-actress Chiarelli has earned rave reviews for the role of a schizophrenic thirty-something woman grappling with increasingly erratic behaviour in Pete McCormack’s See Grace Fly.

Arsinee Khanjian, winner of the Genie award in 2002 for her performance in Atom Egoyan’s Ararat, was in contention this time around for playing an Arab woman who falls in love outside her conservative community in Ruba Nadda’s Sabah. The two actresses were widely regarded as frontrunners for the Genie.

The singular honour may have gone largely unnoticed, but the best actress Genie Award won by India’s Seema Biswas for her multi-layered performance in Deepa Mehta’s Water.

“Being among the best actress nominees was a big enough honour,” says the unassuming Biswas, arguably one of Assam’s most prominent film industry exports. “I wasn’t expecting to winthe Genie at all.” In Water, she plays Shakuntala, a devout and intelligent 30-year-old widow facing a crisis of faith as life pushes her to the edge of an act of defiance.

The 4000-odd members of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, a professional association set up in 1979, vote for the Genie Awards.

Biswas couldn’t, however, make the trip to Toronto to receive the award in person. She was in Chennai, shooting for a Tamil film, Thalaimagan, DMK MP and superstar Sarath Kumar’s home production. “I desperately wanted to attend the Genie awards ceremony but just could not adjust my dates,” says Biswas, who essays the role of a crooked cop in the action thriller produced by the Tamil star’s wife and actress, Radhika.

Water producer David Hamilton, who will be landing in Mumbai shortly to attend the Mumbai International Film Festival, will relay the Genie statuette to Biswas. Water will be the closing film of the festival, which kicks off on March 23.

Water had garnered nine Genie nominations and went on to win three – best actress, achievement in cinematography (Giles Nuttgens) and best original score (Mychael Danna). While the film was nominated for Best Motion Picture, its creator Deepa Mehta was in the running in two categories – directing and original screenplay.

Biswas is understandably happy that Water has connected so well with global audiences and critics despite its complex Indian period setting. “The response that Water received at the Toronto International Film Festival last year was unexpectedly overwhelming. It is really wonderful that people have understood the nuances of the characters and the story,” she says.

Was she ever worried about all the controversies that had dogged the making of Water? “When I read the script before accepting the role, I found nothing in it that was remotely controversial,” says Biswas. “I saw it as a human story, not as a political statement.”

Biswas talks about the first time she visited Brindavan many years ago and saw the widows there. “They would be paid two rupees per day for singing kirtans in the temple,” she recalls. “After a lapse of 12 years, I returned to Brindavan before the Water shoot and found that the widows were still paid two rupees per day. Nothing had changed.”

Biswas is, of course, no stranger to international recognition. Her global fame rests on her no-holds-barred interpretation of the character of female bandit Phoolan Devi in Shekhar Kapur’s acclaimed Bandit Queen. The Genie award that is now in her kitty has the potential of helping her get out of the Bandit Queen shadow and cast a bigger and longer lasting spell on international film producers and audiences.

Biswas has, in fact, already landed another major role in a Canadian film to be shot in India later this year. As she wraps up her work in Sooraj Barjatya’s Vivaah and awaits the launch of Vishram “D” Sawant’s new film, Risk, the actress who never fails to leave a mark on a film even in the smallest of roles is poised on the brink of far bigger things. She has the talent, the spunk and, above all, the track record to make the Genie go a long way.

First Published: Mar 23, 2006 19:29 IST