THIS WOMEN'S DAY, Subhashree Ganguly will make her OTT debut with Indubala Bhaater Hotel, based on author Kallol Lahiri's book of the same name. Ganguly essays the role of Indubala, a woman who travels to Kolkata from a village in Bangladesh post marriage and spends her entire life there as the owner of a hotel. In this evocative tale of displacement, one will see Ganguly, 32, transform from a 20-year-old Indubala to a septuagenarian. For Ganguly, it is the most “meaningful and substantial” role she has essayed so far after Parineeta (2019).
Not that accolades did not come her way early on in her 17-year-long career. But they were largely for her looks and her ability to dance and shine on screen. “At the time, we never really gave much thought about women empowerment and those big words with deeper meanings,” she says. “It was more important to establish a foothold in the industry and that is what I was working towards. Also, I was never given a chance to showcase my acting abilities because that did not sell.”
That chance to showcase her acting prowess came through her husband, Raj Chakrabarty, who cast her in Parineeta, a love story with a twist. “That was when everybody went gaga over my acting abilities,” she says. “It was such a huge turning point in my life. It was a blockbuster and I think it also proved how Bengalis as an audience [became] more accepting of watching a woman for two hours straight on the silver screen.”
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That shift in mindset, and not just with the audience, is what gave her the confidence to push the envelope. “The industry has become more accommodating, open and one with the times,” says Ganguly. “The audiences are lapping up women-centric films. That, I think has made all the difference. Since Parineeta, I am getting characters that are layered, meaty and thoughtful.”
Last year, Ganguly was seen in Parambrata Chattopadhyay's Boudi Canteen, where her character loves to cook and enters into a partnership with the owner of a food delivery service (Soham Chakraborty). “Boudi Canteen, again, I think, was a very tangential take from the existing discourse on feminism in India,” she says. “Here, the aim was to emphasise on the freedom of choice available to a woman to pursue whatever she is interested in, and not let the weight of her degrees pull her down. So even if you are a PhD holder, you should have the agency to simply sit at home and enjoy cooking. I think the message was to stop judging a woman for the choices she makes and simply let her be.”
Ganguly, mother to a two and a half year old, has heard her share of sexist comments, like female actors having a shelf life, especially those who had embraced motherhood. Moreover, the bias began on set itself, she says. She cites the lack of feedback for female actors following the enactment of a scene. “However, on the sets of Indubala Bhaater Hotel, things had changed,” she says. “I was appreciated, acknowledged and given all the importance I think I deserved may be because the storyline is so central to a woman's role.”
But there is a long way to go. “We have become liberal enough to move on from the objectification of women on screen, but we continue to remain conservative when it comes to watching love between a husband and wife in real life,” says Ganguly, who was trolled for posting a picture of her kissing her husband on his birthday. She, however, did not delete the picture.
And, then there is still the disparity in pay. “We are fighting and will continue to fight,” she says, “for not just the money, but respect.”