Some Lesser Known Facts About Seema Biswas
- Seema Biswas was born in a Bengali family in the Guwahati City of Assam and grew up in the Nalbari town of Assam.
- Her father, Jagdish Biswas was into the construction business and was very passionate about art and culture. Her mother, Meera Biswas was a history teacher and a pioneering figure of the female theatre artists of Assam.
- According to Seema, the earliest memories of her childhood are of growing with her siblings in a one-room rented house, which was frequented by the veterans like Bishnu Prasad Rabha (Musician), Bhupen Hazarika, and Phaneesh Sharma (musician).
- Seema describes her childhood self as a loner and sulky. Talking about it, Seema said-
As a child, I was overweight, avoided interacting with other kids, and became irritated very easily. I was a problem child in that I was very choosy about my clothes and refused to wear hand-me-downs. Besides, unless my mother cooked what I wanted to eat, I would sulk.”
- Amongst her siblings, Seema’s father favoured her the most. Reminiscing about her father, Seema says,
My father never scolded me. He encouraged me to join dance classes and even trimmed my hair himself. Each night, when he returned from work, my father would place all the coins in his pocket under my mattress. When I woke up in the morning, I would feel excited about my little treasure.”
- Seema’s mother has acted with her in the film “Water” (2005). In the film, her mother played the role of a widow named ‘Dhanu.’
- When Seema was a teenager, a local theatre contacted her mother, seeking her permission to cast Seema in a play. Her mother agreed, which led to the stage debut of Seema at the age of 15. Since then, she acted in numerous local plays.
- In the final year of her graduation, one of her teachers told her that instead of theatre she should focus on her studies as doing theatre was not going to earn her bread and butter. Seema felt hurt and stopped attending that teacher’s class. When the final exams arrived, her friend, Sunita provided her with the notes and persuaded her to give exams.
- Seema was formally introduced to the theatre, through a workshop, organized by an alumnus of NSD. Seema recollects,
He finished seven days work in one day and it was a continuous 14-hour schedule on that day.”
- After completing her honours, she gave exams for NSD and cleared it. Seema was about to leave for Delhi when her father decided that Seema would have to stay, to let her brother pursue engineering. Seeing her dreams getting shattered, Seema took her mother to her mentor’s house under the pretext to seek his blessings. Once Seema was there, she explained to him the whole scenario. He scolded her mother and told her mother that they should let Seema go to Delhi. According to Seema, she set off in a next train to Delhi from Assam on an unreserved ticket.
- At NSD, Seema realised that her diction in Hindi and English was dreadful. She sought help from one of her batchmates, and together they used to rehearse through the night, sometimes till 5 in the morning. In the process, Seema was chosen for a play, in which, she had long dialogues. After seeing her act, everyone was surprised to see the progress in her diction. According to Seema, it was the first major obstacle that she had passed as an actress. While studying at NSD, she used to go to Shakuntalam Theatre in Delhi to see foreign films.
- After seeing her struggling in Delhi, Seema’s parents decided that she had done enough theatres and should rather focus on returning to her hometown to become a lawyer. Instead of listening to her parents, Seema joined NSD Repertory Company and worked as a leading actress for seven years.
- After that, she started performing in many theatre plays and over some time, she earned comparisons with the actress Smita Patil.
- Working at the NSD Repertory Company, Seema used to get a stipend of Rs. 750. Being aware of the financial condition of her home, she told her parents that she would manage in Delhi with whatever she had. For years, she skipped dinner and lived on bread, eggs or apples.
- One day, when Seema was rehearsing for the play “Khubsurat Bahu,” Shekhar Kapur (director) came backstage and congratulated her for her performance and offered her the role of the dacoit-turned-politician, Phoolan Devi in her biopic, Bandit Queen (1994). Before approaching Seema, he had contacted his first cousin, Anuradha Kapur, a theatre director and professor of drama at NSD. Initially, Seema was hesitant to do the film due to its controversial scenes, but finally, gave it a thumbs up after thoughtful consideration of six months.
- She was mired in controversy for her nude scenes in the film “Bandit Queen.” According to Seema, she used to cry all night because of the controversy as many people used to curse her and had begun to hate her.
- After the completion of the shooting of “Bandit Queen,” Seema took an uncensored tape for her family to see. Seema closed all the doors and curtains, turned off the light of the room, and pretended to sleep on her mother’s lap, while the tape was playing. When the tape was over, nobody said a word. Her father broke the silence, looked at her, and said,
Only our Seema could do this role.”
She first saw Bandit Queen, which was a 4-hour uncut version, at (late editor) Renu Saluja’s home.
- According to Seema, the controversial scenes in the “Bandit Queen” were shot by her body double. During the shooting of those scenes, she accompanied her body double until the camera rolled and also did her makeup. Talking about it, Seema says,
I felt bad that while she was behind the scene I got the recognition. But she was very professional and the next morning I saw her getting her photographs clicked”
- Seema met Phoolan Devi for the first time in 1995, just after the premiere of the Bandit Queen. Talking about the experience, she said,
Shekhar called me to his room and said he had a surprise for me. On entering, I saw a woman in a sari and wrapped in a maroon shawl. I didn’t recognise her. Suddenly, she hugged me. I knew it was Phoolan. For me, that moment seemed endless. When she said, “You have introduced me to my reality once again.”
She became sad when Phoolan Devi was killed, and she found it so ironic that “Phoolan was alive in the jungle but was killed amid people in Delhi.”
- Even after Bandit Queen’s release, she hadn’t shifted to Mumbai, she shifted to Mumbai to learn sign language for “Khamoshi: The Musical” (1996).
- She has acted in many commercially successful Bollywood films such as Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), Company (2002), Deewangee (2002), Bhoot (2003), Water (2005), Vivah (2006), and Half Girlfriend (2017).
- After making her Marathi debut with the 1999 film “Bindhaast,” Seema appeared in two more Marathi films- Dhyasparva (2001) and Lalbaug Parel (2010).
- She made her Malayalam film debut with “Shantham” (2001), and later made brief appearances in the Malayalam films- Balyakalasakhi (2014) and Endless Summer (2014).
- After marking her debut in the Tamil Cinema with “Iyarkai” (2003), she appeared in the 2006 Tamil film “Thalaimagan.”
- The serial “Maha Kumbh: Ek Rahasaya, Ek Kahani” (2014-15) marked as the television debut of the actress. She was later seen in the television serials, Leila (2019) and Dadi Amma… Dadi Amma Maan Jaao! (2020).
- According to Seema, destiny never played fair with her. Recollecting such moments from the past, she says,
Whenever I have gained something in life, I have lost something else. On the day that I bought my own home in Mumbai, my father was killed in an accident. Then, at the height of the popularity of the play Going Solo, I suffered from a torn thigh ligament. I could barely move, but did 30 shows in this condition. Determination, I feel, is my only ally in life.
- In 2011, Seema became the first-ever female actor in India to portray the role of a transsexual in a film. The film was “Queens! Destiny of Dance” (2011). Reportedly, her character ‘Amma’ in the film was inspired by Manvendra Singh Gohil of the royal family of Rajpipla; hailed as India’s first openly gay prince.
- Seema has been honoured with the lifetime membership of International Film And Television Club of Asian Academy of Film & Television (AAFT) by the director Sandeep Marwah.
- In 2014, Seema was the jury member of the 45th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which was held in Goa from 20 to 30 November.
- Seema is also an active philanthropist. She contributed Rs. 5 lakhs to the Assam CM Relief Fund to help the victims of the Assam flood in 2019.