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Tropa Majumdar

Performing with Passion

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

Actor, director, ad-maker, university teacher -- both on and off screen, Tropa Majumdar has taken on a variety of roles over relatively few years. But, she says, above everything, she is a performer -- acting is her passion as well as her first priority.

As Madhavi, she leaves the audience stunned. Handed over from one man to another simply to fulfil the pledge of one and prove the generosity of the other, the character of Madhavi from the Mahabharata depicts the unchanging fate of women from ancient times to now. The audience watch as Madhavi is forced to give in to the whims of man after man, initially with a familiar understanding and sadness, but ultimately with awe, at her endurance and strength of character.

As Tamanna of "Doll's House", she portrays another aspect of reality -- a modern woman who excels in her academic and professional career, but is personally flawed enough to become romantically involved with her friend's husband, resulting in their divorce. She realises her mistake and backs out, but too late.

As the director of the play "Mukti", she takes charge of the whole stage and succeeds in poignantly depicting mother-daughter relationships, human relationships, and, perhaps most strongly, human solitude.

These are the types of roles in which Tropa Majumdar is best known. Less known is her career, albeit short, as a university teacher and, for almost a decade, an ad-maker.

Even before she can remember, Tropa was lulled to sleep in the arms of her mother while she learnt her lines for her next part. Until Class 7, the daughter of renowned actors Ramendu and Ferdousi Majumdar would listen to the rehearsals going on in the next room and learn the lines being said far more quickly than she did the lessons in the schoolbooks in front of her.

Her parents wanted her to become a singer, says Tropa. "I was sent to Chhayanaut three times, a music teacher was employed, but, though I love listening to music, I just did not feel the devotion towards learning it which I did towards acting."

Tropa Majumdar

It was only after her HSC, however, that Tropa was finally allowed to enter into the world of acting. In 1991, she started working with the group Theatre on stage, while also depicting a younger version of her mother in the drama serial "Pathor Shomoy" on television. It was during her university days that she got her first major break with her brilliant performance in Jean Anouilh's "Antigone".

"This was a big achievement for me because the play has been staged in many countries and though the role is of a 16-year-old, it is usually played by actresses over 40 because it is such a mature and difficult part," says Tropa. "I'm lucky that my group considered me right for the part." After that, there was no looking back, and Tropa acted in various stage plays including "Meraj Phokirer Ma", "Spardha" and "Madhavi" as well as on television.

After graduating from Dhaka University (DU) in mass communication and journalism with First Class in both Honours and Masters and topping the class in the latter, Tropa joined as a lecturer of the department but quit after a year. "

That one year at DU was the best year of my life," she says. "I will never forget what I got from my students in that one year." But, says Tropa, she did not enjoy teaching as a profession as much and realised that she would have to work much harder than she was prepared to. "Plus, I would have to go abroad for higher studies, and I get homesick if I'm away from home for even a week, so teaching really wasn't for me."

Instead, she chose to focus on her work at the advertisement agency, Expressions, where she started as a visualiser and where she is currently the Creative Head. "I find advertising interesting and the best part is that you get to do something new every day, work on different things, different brands, play with human psychology."

The advertisement industry has improved greatly, believes Tropa, due to increased professionalism, and the involvement of educated people in advertising and also marketing, who know how important advertising is. "There are some internal problems in terms of ethics, standards, etc. We need transparent competition, rules and regulations must be standardised so that everyone is treated equally."

For Tropa Majumdar, however, nothing compares to the feeling when she is on stage. "When I go on stage, I feel like a king. There is no one stronger or more powerful than I am. Nothing compares to feeling 300, 400, 500 pairs of eyes on me, following my every move. It may not be anything massive, but after a good show, I feel like I've conquered the world. If I feel I have performed badly, however, my day is completely ruined." Her shows are her top priority in life, says Tropa. "Above everything, I am a performer. The world may turn upside down but nothing can come in the way of my show."

Direction, on the other hand, was a "scary" experience, she says. "It's really, really hard. As an actor, I can leave a lot of my responsibility on my director. In direction, you're the supreme authority, you have to visualise the whole thing, you have to create the situation. You have to know about acting, set, lights, music, costume, choreography, everything. Most importantly, you have to be extremely clear about what you want. For a director, there is no scope for confusion."

Her directorial debut "Mukti" got better audience response than expected, but Tropa feels that from a directorial point of view, she could have done a lot more with the play. She has no immediate plans to direct again but will have to do it if it is required by the group. Members of a theatre group have to do whatever is needed and this is how they are oriented. "There were shows when I did nothing except sit in the wings with the script in my hand and even this I enjoyed. In a stage production, every person is equally important and works with equal responsibility and commitment," says Tropa.

Tropa Majumdar has mixed feelings about being the daughter of celebrity parents. "I'm very lucky," she says. "It's very difficult, even now, for a girl in our country to do group theatre. Rehearsals take place in the evening, most girls have problems at home. Not only did I not have problems but I had a very strong support system. It was understood that I would have to be on time for rehearsals, work for as long as was needed; I had support in terms of acting, direction, production. My mother is more aware of these things than I am."

(Left) In a scene from "Madhavi". (Right) A scene from "Mukti",
directed by Tropa Majumdar.

But, says Tropa, being a celebrity offspring had its downside as well. "I believe I could have accomplished a lot more which I wasn't able to because I was their daughter. For example, during international workshops or local productions, sometimes I would know that I was the best choice, but I would not be selected because my parents were very conscious of the fact that I was their daughter and that I shouldn't get any extra advantages because of it."

For Tropa, who works all day at the advertising firm and acts on evenings and weekends only, the script as well as the schedule is important when acting on television. "I've never really been drawn to television," she says. "I feel that the dramas of the past were much better, and though there are also good dramas today, I've not been fortunate enough to act in very many of them." The biggest problem with dramas today is the dearth of good scripts, believes Tropa. "Writing is not something you can train someone to do. It's a difficult job and perhaps youngsters these days are not as eager to take it up." But there are so many channels giving rise to so much competition that things are bound to improve, believes the actor-director.

Tropa Majumdar loves acting in roles which are nothing like her. In the stage production "Spardha", for example, she played the character of a girl who talks non-stop. In a television drama called "Nimontron" based on the Liberation War, she played the role of an 80-year-old woman. In daily soap "Doll's House" she plays the role of an extremely flirtatious woman who falls for every man she sets eyes on. "I am nothing like these characters and I love playing them. What's the point of acting like myself?" She would also really like to act in film, says Tropa. "If I get a script and story I really like, I would love to do it."

In an industry where it is commonly alleged that women are taken advantage of and treated unfairly, Tropa says she personally has never felt that she was treated differently because she was a woman either in her acting or ad-making profession. Neither does she think that male and female perspectives differ in terms of presentation. As long as beauty is not used provocatively, there's nothing wrong with depicting it. To prevent this, women themselves have to be more conscious, believes Tropa. "No one is forced to be objectified, they have to decide how far they will go and they should be careful about being led on by greed."

Along with her stage shows, Tropa Majumdar is currently acting in the daily soap "Doll's House" and shooting for "Brishtir Jonno" to be telecast on ntv. She has no plans for the future, she says. "I don't even plan for tomorrow. This is terrible, because I miss out on doing a lot of good things I could have had I planned ahead, but this is just how I am."

Stage, television, ad-making, in the midst of it all, how much time does she have for herself? "None," says Tropa. "What I do try my best to make time for, however, is my two and a half year old daughter, Atreyee. I make it a point to spend as much time as I can with her, but even this I believe is not enough. Despite everything I'm always busy doing, I believe my first identity now is that of a mother."

Perhaps the only thing that can come close to this bond is Tropa's passion for performing on stage. But in our hectic, materialistic lives today, is theatre a dying art?

Theatre has always had a niche market, says Tropa, appealing to a small group of people. "In our country, the current situation is bad due to a number of factors. People cannot easily afford the time or money to watch theatre. Also, while some productions are excellent, many are mediocre and people aren't assured of a good show, and if they watch one bad production they might not go to another one. And, of course, there's satellite television."

But Tropa believes that after everything, nothing beats the magic of a live performance. "This is why in places like New York even where there is no shortage of entertainment options, people line up to watch Broadway shows. Nothing else has the same effect, nothing compares to watching people live on stage, and for this reason, theatre will not die."

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