Actor Riya Sen is a popular star both in the Hindi film industry and in the Bengali cinema space. However, even after debuting at an early age of 16, Riya never felt like working in Bollywood. In her latest interview with news agency PTI, the actor said she had a problem with how she was projected as a sex symbol at the beginning of her career and she couldn’t live up to that title.
Riya got her breakthrough in the year 1998 with Falguni Pathak’s popular music video Yaad Piya Ki Aane Lagi. She started getting movie offers after then and Riya went on to star in many Bollywood films. However, the actor said she was typecast and was expected to look glamorous in every role. Riya said it was all about ‘looking sexy’ and the ‘clothes you wear, the makeup you do’ and she ‘didn’t fit into that’. “I wasn’t comfortable in the role I was playing. That’s why probably people thought I was a bad actress and I don’t blame them,” she said.
Riya added that it was ‘horrible and terrible’ to live with the tag of looking sexy when she was in school. The incessant pressure of appearing in a certain way went beyond on-screen as the actor was expected to look glamorous even when she wasn’t acting. She said, “Everyone wants to be glamorous, no doubt, but I was so young when I came here. I was doing all these roles, wearing a mini skirt, running around and acting ‘cute’. When I’d watch myself on screen I’d be like ‘eeks, I can’t believe that’s me’.”
Riya said she decided to steer clear away from making a career in the Hindi movies because it was uncomfortable for her to have her hair curled and sit with makeup for hours on the sets. However, she didn’t stop exploring her potential and she showed off her acting skills in Bengali cinema where she bloomed. After doing Style (2001), Jhankaar Beats (2003), Qayamat: City Under Threat (2003) in Bollywood, Riya moved on to do Bengali films including Rituparno Ghosh’s Noukadubi (2011), Srijit Mukherji’s Jaatishwar and Hero 420 in 2016. This was when the world saw the actor in her.
“In Bengali films, I played my version of glamorous, where I played wide-ranging characters. I tapped into my potential in Bengali films, which I don’t think directors in Bollywood were able to understand. I played what they wanted. Today, I know what I can bring to the table,” she elaborated.
Riya’s journey in Hindi cinema might not hold a lot of prominence but her caliber as an actor was well rewarded by Bengali cinema and later, by the web-space. The stereotyping of a female actor and limiting herself to skimpy clothes and objects of the male gaze in films is not new. Riya seemed to be just another victim.