MUMBAI: The biggest surprise that the 65th National awards has thrown forward is to honour the 19-year-old Bengali actor Riddhi Sen for his performance as a transgender in Kaushik Ganguly's "Nagarkirtan".
No stranger to awards and recognition even at this young age, Riddhi seems overjoyed at being the youngest actor to win the National award in the Best Actor category.
"I don't know if I am really the youngest. But I must be the happiest.I made no effort to win it. The honour has come to me on its own and I therefore feel happy about it. I was shooting for a film when I was informed that I had won a National award. So I celebrated in the best way possible, by working.
"My mother always taught me that work hard is the only means to achieving one's ambitions. Acting is all I've known from my childhood," he said.
Riddhi who is born in a family of theatre and film actors started his career as a film actor when he was 11.
"I was doing theatre in my father (stage and film actor Kaushik Sen)'s theatre group(Swapanasandhani) from long before that. I've known no other than life(apart from acting)."
At age 15, Riddhi had been honoured with the Bengal government's prestigious award the Mahanayak Samman for his performance in Open Tee Bioscope.
Riddhi had rejected the honour on political grounds. Isn't he too young to be mixing his art with politics?
"I don't agree. Politics can never be separated from art in our country,no matter what an actor's age. Yes, I had said no to that honour firstly I didn't think I was worthy at that young age of an award named after the great Uttam Kumar. Secondly, there was a lot of things in West Bengal's politics that I didn't like.Also, it was not the National award that I was rejecting," he said.
Mamata Bannerjee must have been very upset?
"She still is, I think. But one has to be fearless in what one does. Otherwise I'd have never accepted the challenge of doing Nagarkirtan," said the young actor.
Speaking on landing the National award winning part in "Nagarkirtan", Riddhi says: "Not for moment did I consider rejecting the part just because it was unconventional. What is the point of being an actor if you don't dive into personalities that are unknown to you?"
Riddhi says he played the transgender in "Nagarkirtan" as a woman rather than an unfinished woman.
"I studied the mannerisms and graces of my mother , who is my greatest influence, and my girlfriend.I imbibed their personality and made sure I didn't mimic them.I never thought of the impact that the character would make or that I'd win a National award for it. One doesn't do a role after assessing its influence. One does it because it's there waiting to be brought alive," said the actor.
There was family friend, the late and much missed filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh who also went through a struggle similar to the character in "Nagarkirtan" and Riddhi says Ritu was an influence.
"Our family was very close to him. I did observe him. But like I said, I played my character as a woman, not as man struggling to be a woman. The film and the character are very relevant because of what is happening in the character," says Ridhi referring to the Article 377.
Any burning ambitions to be in Bollywood?
Laughs Ridhi, "I've done parts in Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani, Omung Kumar's Bhoomi and most importantly in Leena Yadav's Parched where I played Tannishta Chatterjee's wayward sexist son.These were not large parts in terms of the footage. But my mother has always taught me to look at the larger picture. Being in important significant films is more important to me than counting the number of scenes and shots I have."