Pulling down her sunglasses to cast a shadow over welled up eyes, Monjuroni Dewan, a struggling actor from Mizoram walked past the rusted gate at Maidan in Kolkata, as the camera zoomed out and she strolled past the frame. After the final cut, Dewan said: “This short film felt like it was based on my life story.”
Dewan was shooting for a short film called Time edited by Film Creed, a group of cinema students from Kolkata making issue-based short films. It portrayed the inherent discriminatory biases in society against people from the North-eastern states.
In one of the scenes from the short film, Dewan’s character was seen interacting with a group of people. Her character’s mood changed from being jolly to sad. The character, she says, was offended during the interaction but continued to smile. Dewan said that she found herself intently relating to the scene. “There have been times when people laughed at my accent or the way I walk. It used to affect me. Now though, I am used to it.”
Hailing from Kamalanagar, a village located 287 kilometres away from Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, she feels her that her North-eastern identity has restricted her scope in mainstream cinema. Despite this, she has gone on to become a model and a voice-over artist. She continues to strive, hoping to find herself as the face of big movie banners.
Move to Mumbai
Recalling her trip to Mumbai in July 2019, Dewan told Silverscreen India that during one of her first interactions, a casting director told her that there were no North-eastern character roles available.
In the meantime, she had attempted getting roles in Indian TV serials too. However, casting houses told her that her “looks” did not feature in mainstream television. “I was appalled but not surprised by the racism,” she says.
When she decided to take a chance and move to Mumbai to establish herself as an actress in 2019, casting agencies asked her to make portfolios for Rs 40,000 and an artist card for Rs 20,000 despite her already possessing a portfolio.
Unable to pay for the portfolio, Dewan decided to make another one herself by collecting pictures from her photoshoots. However, this was rejected by the agency.
If monetary support was a problem, so was the family’s consent on her pursuing acting. “My family, friends and relatives back home worried about my safety. They know only a few actors from this part of the country who made it big” said Dewan, adding: “After the release of Axone (a 2020 comedy-drama directed by Nicholas Kharkongor), they showed a little interest but were scared of the racism that I may have to go through.”
Despite the struggle, Dewan is determined to get comfortable with the camera and act on screen.
Being a voice-over artist and a model has helped her get comfortable with camera and dialogue delivery, she says. “I used to write script and record for Jio Bangla (a radio station) in Kolkata and collaborate with a few urban wear brands.”
Dewan has never been to an acting school but keenly watches other actors to learn their technique. She likes to observe people.
“When I was in Mumbai, I used to travel on local trains for hours between Navi Mumbai to Andheri. In a single compartment, I met so many different kinds of people. I interacted with them, learnt about their lives and the various facial expressions they made. I’ve realised that in order to play a character well, I must live like that character,” she says.
She says that she loves the comedy genre and thinks she would excel in the area as she’s a natural at making people laugh.
Due to the spread of Covid-19, Dewan has moved back to her hometown. She is not likely to move back to Mumbai just yet, she says.
“I am thinking of trying my luck in the world of OTT platforms. If I get a good break, then I will head to Mumbai,” she says.