While actors seem to vacation or take some time off to get out of character during the post–production of a film, Guwahati-based Lima Das is back to reality at the switch of the dental compressor.
Das is not just an actor in films like Aamis and Arranged, but also a dentist, teacher and an award-winning Odissi and Sattriya dancer.
The first time she needed this switch back to reality was in 2019, after the release of Aamis, an Assamese film directed by Bhaskar Hazarika. In the film, Das played the role of a paediatrician named Nirmali, who along with Sumon (Arghadeep Baruah), a PhD scholar, explored the food habits of North East India. Later, she was also part of a 22-minute film, Arranged, directed by Samujjal Kashyap.
Aamis had premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2019 where it was nominated in five categories including Best International Film. Das won the best actor (female) at the third edition of the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival (2019) and the Sailadhar Baruah Memorial Film Awards (2019).
It is unusual for a debut actor to receive this much appreciation. It is rarer to be the crowd’s favourite performer nominated for the 67th National Film Awards in 2020. Das says she is humbled by all the love and attention.
“I have waited for many years to find a script that I like. But now that I have started and people have accepted me as an actor, many new offers have come my way,” she says.
Not many dentists get asked for a selfie but Das is regularly flooded with requests from patients who visit the Regional Dental College Hospital and Research Centre in Guwahati.
In an interview with Silverscreen India, Das speaks about this new-found fame, life after Aamis, multiple job profiles and her plan for the future.
You are an actor, dancer, doctor, and teacher, that’s lots of role for a day. How do you manage it all?
My mind has different drawers, I open a drawer and shut the other one. I was always a dancer, right from the age of eight. I was trained in Odissi for 25 years. In 2000, I started training in Sattriya [a classical dance of Assam]. Meanwhile, I studied, graduated, pursued my masters, and got a job too.
Soon after, my son was born. I thought this is what I wanted- a family and a stable job. Recently though, I wanted to get back to dancing. My return to the field in 2012 was like a homecoming. I toured the country and participated in many dance festivals. After this phase, films came into the picture and dance took a backseat. I must say that acting was never part of the plan. I just always wanted to be part of a dance documentary and nothing more.
How did you enter the world of acting?
I met Bhaskar [Hazarika], who was a family friend, at my cousin’s place and introduced myself. I asked him whether he was interested in making a documentary on dance. [The conversation ended well but] nothing happened [for a while]. Suddenly after a year, I got a call from him for the script reading of Aamis. He had seen my pictures on social media and found me a fit for the character. He wanted a new face for both the leads as it was a love story. He said that the audience wanted new faces in a love story as it came with less baggage.
Aamis was such a well-written script. For me, the risk in case of failure was far lesser compared to Bhaskar. So, I took the part.
Your mother is a singer and your father, a doctor. It looks like their choices have clearly influenced your career path.
My mother is a singer and a Chemistry professor at Cotton College in Guwahati. I grew up watching her juggle between work and art. At the end of the day, I realised that she had a stable income and could fund her own art. She would take her classes till 4 pm. On her way back, she would go to the radio station and record. She would also return home and attend to our studies. For me, the schedule I have is doable because I have seen her do it.
Did getting cast in films change your daily routine?
Yes and no. Life has changed. When I step out to get grocery now or see patients at the clinic where I work, people come and ask me if I am the same Nirmali from Aamis. I feel humbled.
In between [work], I have to take leaves in order to shoot. For Aamis, I had to take 33-34 days off. Before, that I had never taken a leave.
At the core though, I still am a doctor and teach in the same college from morning till late afternoon. After that, I practice dance and return home and be a mother to my 14-year-old child.
How was the experience of acting in a short film like Arranged?
I read the script by Harsh Siddhanta and saw myself in the character. We used to do all our rehearsals online. We met for two days and some of the changes were made on-set. None of us had a lot of work during the pandemic and we wanted to work and create something.
In today’s times, who do you want to work with in the industry and what are the kinds of characters that entice you as an actor?
In Assam, I would like to work with Jahnu Barua. I like to portray characters that are my age and not 20-years-olds. Strong female characters attract me a lot. I need to be able to see myself in the role.
According to you, have Assamese films always been part of a vibrant industry with enough local viewership or have Hindi films taken up that space?
Every film industry in India goes through phases. In case of the Assamese industry, there was a time when we had a really good cinema. It was followed by Bollywood influence. Now, young bright filmmakers from Assam have very good stories to tell. I feel it is a good time for Assamese cinema, especially in the independent space. Film-making is expensive but now with technology, you can make a film with an iPhone. This has inspired more youngsters. These end up being the films which get chosen for many international festivals.
Who is your biggest fan in the family?
My son. Right from the time I used to dance, he would say, ‘Mummy, you are the best.’ I keep waiting for his opinion regarding all of my performances. He is very encouraging.
It’s been two years since you debuted in a feature film, what’s next in line for you?
I am making a guest appearance in Emuthi Puthi, written by Bhaskar Hazarika and directed by Kulanandini Mohata. I have finished shooting for another short film of 10-minutes, which is part of a horror anthology and is a culmination of stories from across India. It will probably be released by next year. I was offered one film from the Malayalam film industry. However, because of the pandemic, I had to say no. I have lost a few projects because of Covid.
In the beginning, you talked about your wanting to be part of a dance documentary. So, should we look forward to it anytime soon?
I hope I can convince some director to do a film on dance. Definitely, when I am older. Dance has given me everything which I needed in life- spiritual, physical, mental. I think I owe a movie to dance.