In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again : and in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility towards human life; towards the utmost idea of goodness, of horror of error and of God.
–– Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Every individual possess a potential to contribute positively and create a niche in this society. But social circumstances, social disadvantages may compel an individual to deviate from this conventional social system. But if an individual has will power, social support he/she can rectify himself or herself and serve as a resourceful member of the society. This is in short the story of Nigel Akkara, now a businessman and actor in Kolkata, India. But as a teenager he suffered from a sense of disconnectedness from this society and opted a harmful, destructive lifestyle, thereby reaching the abyss of crime.
Conventionally speaking economic deprivation, social disadvantages, dysfunctional family, lack of education may compel an individual to deviate, pushing the individual into the dark world of crime. But Nigel never had a ‘totally deprived’ childhood or life. He belonged to an average middle-class, value based Roman Catholic family. His family originally hailed from Kerala in South India but had settled in Kolkata, West Bengal. He grew up in a modest social environment. His father died when he was seven/eight years old. After his father’s death his mother had the sole responsibility of supporting the family financially and made an honest endeavour to provide as much as she could with her single earning to both her sons. Akkara, a Roman Catholic, studied at the St. Xavier’s Collegiate School and College, an institution founded and run by the Society of Jesus, a Catholic Minority Religious Body from class two. As a child initially he was naughty but not aggressive. He excelled in sports such as football, played rugby at club level at scrumhalf position. Growing up, he used to gaze endlessly at the picture of a former army general Mr. Shankar Roy Chowdhury that he had put on his wall, aspiring to become an army officer.
In fact he pursued his dream to this extent that he once joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) under the Bengal Artillery Battalions at Fort William for two years. But with time he became extremely ill- tempered, aggressive and stubborn. He came under the influence of bad company from the ninth standard (i.e. approximately when he was fourteen years old) onwards and started deviating. He would interact with the ‘bad’ boys of Thakurpukur, Pailan and other adjacent areas (as in original, interviewed on 26th January 2015). As a teenager he would spend time drinking and smoking with his companions. For Nigel absence of mother at home for long hours, lack of guidance at school, longer and frequent exposure and association with ‘bad’ companions and their particular type of behavior and attitude created conditions favourable to the violation of law. Akkara’s initiation into the world of crime started at the age of fifteen. It happened at a barber’s shop, where he regularly went for a shave. That day he got into a fight, and at the end of the incident, a person lay dead. At sixteen, he formed his own gang. By seventeen, he was being chased by the police. He says, ‘I lived two lives, one during the day and the other during the night and did not allow the two to clash’. In the morning he led a normal life. When the so called normal people are returning home and winding down for the day, he geared up for his work and activities. As a gang leader, commanding delinquents, activities are mostly nocturnal in nature. This is a simple practicality that separates gangsters from the society. As a youngster he lost his ability to differentiate between the good and the bad. He got exposed and attracted to the richness, glitz and glamour of the Park Street area (St. Xavier’s Collegiate School and College, both are located at Park Street in Kolkata). Akkara enjoyed a life of fast cars, expensive hotels, and easy money. He says, ‘I was greedy for wealth and power. I used to watch rich students come to college and splurge on things I wanted to have. These instincts drove me to become a criminal’. I didn’t feel what I was doing was wrong. I never realized there was no short cut to achieve things in life’. He says, ‘then my monthly expenses were two lakhs, as I lived in the three-star hotels and roamed in expensive cars. Three things lead me into the world of crime: greed, the ambition to be superior and aggression. He was arrested in a state of unconsciousness on 30th December 2000 by Kolkata Police and was charged with crime ranging from murder, kidnapping and extortion. For eighty-seven days he was in police custody in different police stations under Kolkata Police and West Bengal Police. He says, ‘you cannot imagine the torture I went through in “interrogation”, that went on for 87 hours, in police custody, the most brutal treatment any human beings can be made to suffer. They pulled off my nails one-by-one, they broke my fingers and my legs till I could hardly walk. …recounting is not possible without reliving, and this reliving involves the mental stripping away of all the days between those days and this one. In this way, the sense of reliving is somehow deeper on a psychological level than the original experience itself. Not to say that it is more damaging, but that it requires a person to reach more deeply into themselves, to examine the feelings thoroughly and to reach a deeper understanding of the damaging elements of all original experience. He reminisces, ‘I was so violent, wild and out of control that I had to be shifted from the Alipore Central Correctional Home to a solitary cell at the Presidency Correctional Home where I spent three years from 2004-07 … . In prison Nigel was kept in solitary confinement in a six-by-eight feet cell. He was not allowed to mix with anyone or interact with other inmates. For security reason after every fifteen days his place in prison was changed. (Translation mine.) Human Rights Conventions across the world regard solitary confinement as illegal. A ruling by late Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in Sunil Batra Vs Delhi Adiministration states … we hold that solitary confinement, cellular segregation and marginally modified editions of the same process are inhuman and irrational. Imprisonment turns into captivity through rigorous control of space and time. With no access to justice, the prisoner is rendered voiceless in the Criminal Justice System. Once he attempted a jail break. He recalls, ‘I was caught, beaten with rifle butts, till I vomited blood and collapsed. They thought I was dead. The injuries were serious but miraculously I recovered’. He lost around twenty kilograms of weight due to custodial torture which in police parlance is referred as the third degree. Surprisingly, all jailors and guards during training were instructed to believe that unless they tortured prisoners they would not be able to discipline them, as the prisoners were criminals and beyond reform. The jailers and guards also strongly believe that prisoners are fed on public money free of cost and are a burden on society and that talking to them is of no use, so the only way to discipline them is through corporal punishment. India signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1997, but has yet to ratify it. Prisoners throughout India have witnessed the worst forms of physical and mental torture by the jail authorities. But high walls keep out realities that people do not want to see. Human rights violations in prisons go unnoticed and unaddressed because of this. It is only the official version that comes out. However for Nigel even after suffering third degree, he did not cry. The treatment made him more aggressive, non-violent and angry. During the first six years in prison, Nigel felt like a caged tiger-angry, violent and unrepentant.
The state of West Bengal has made an endeavor to reform prisons now known as correctional homes. Keeping in mind the philosophy of prison reform, the state of West Bengal repealed the old prison act and introduced the modern West Bengal Correctional Services Act, 1992, on and with effect from 14th April 2000. Such an act ushers a paradigm shift from the colonial legacy of punishment towards a new philosophy of correctional approach for moral reformation and education of the inmates in order to facilitate their reintegration with the mainstream society in the post-release period. As a unique administrative experiment Mr. B.D. Sharma IPS, with the help of noted dancer Alokananda Roy introduced the dance therapy. On 8th March 2007, after receiving an invitation from Mr. B.D. Sharma IPS, to visit the Presidency Correctional Home for the celebration of the International Women’s Day, she for the first time entered the secluded world of convicts. She was thrilled seeing the girls, who were all dressed up and pretty, performing songs and recitation for her. What caught her attention beyond the female wards were group of young men with vibrant energy, aimlessly moving around the premises with no hope or zest for life. And she wondered what if one of them were her son. So when Mr. Sharma approached her with the proposal to conduct culture therapy in the prison, she readily accepted. According to Scarry, another person’s encouragement can have a powerful effect on the prisoner in “this closed world where conversation is displaced by interrogation, where human speech […] disintegrates into human cries, where even those cries can […] become one more weapon (against loved one)”, reaching a prisoner “whose sole reality had become his own unthinkable isolation, his deep corporeal engulfment”. If a human voice of comfort and courage somehow reaches the prisoner, then this voice acknowledges the prisoner’s pain, articulates one of his non-bodily concerns while he is unable to, and thus projects a world outside “until the sufferer himself regains his own powers of self-extension”. According to Roy it is necessary to utilize their time and ‘raw’ energy. She channelized their raw energy through the rhythm of music and dance. She initially introduced inmates to the rhythm of Dandiya, Bhangra and folk dances such as Chow dance. For male inmates she introduced dance in the form of martial art/karate.
Initially Nigel was so skeptical that he adamantly refused to take part in the workshop. He said: one day the Superintendent called me and told, ‘we need some young people within the age group of 20 to 30, to learn dance. I told him, ‘you have gone off your head, you think that you are going to make goondas wear ghungroo, and make them dance. Dance is considered a feminine act inside the prison and people outside would say ‘ghagra choli (long skirt and blouse) pehenliya hai (as told to the author, interviewed on 9th May 2014). I went, I saw Ms. Roy, a lady nearby my mother’s age or more than her, teaching dance to inmates who were either rapist, murderer …. Initially I used to stand behind all of them and watch, I never used to dance. They one day I went up to her and told her, ‘see you are like my mother, you are as old as my mother, do me a favour, remove me from this dance’. She replied, ‘you don’t want to dance, there is no problem, you stand behind and watch’. I used to do that. I used to stand behind others and do some movements. Then suddenly I heard one day there would be a programme inside the correctional home. Around 300-400 people will be coming from outside. Now here was a problem – my name was there in the dance group in the list of participants. I just could not stand in the middle of the stage and make myself a laughing stalk… so I learnt the dance and performed in the production called ‘Brotherhood Beyond Boundaries’ staged within the walls of the prison. This show focuses on the unity of diverse cultures, religion and communities. It composes of various folk and traditional dances of India such as Chow dance, Baul songs of Bengal, Bhangra of Punjab, Dandiya of Gujarat, Kalaraipayattu and Kathkali of Kerala, folk dances of UP and other traditional dances from different corners of the country. I cannot express through words what I felt after the performance …. The deafening applause at the end of the show, the empty seats in the theatre after the last member of the audience has left, made me breakdown and cry for the first time in my memory. I think that marked the turning point in my life. I decided whatever happens I am not going to look back.
Before Valmiki Pratibha started she (Ms. Roy) selected me as the main character and whatever the story – that story has been a part of my life […] from Gitabitan (a collection of songs written by Rabindranath Tagore); she read out and she explained the verses to us. The day she explained it was raining and I was not being able to hold myself, at that moment I really felt that there is nobody, all my friends left me, everyone left me (like the dacoit comrades had left their chief Ratnakar when he refused to sacrifice the little girl) so then I said I am coming in one minute and I went and got wet in the rain just to make sure that nobody understands I am crying. According to him for the show they used to regularly practice for 7 ½ hours. With the astute guidance of Ms. Alokananda Roy, Rabindranath Tagore’s musical drama ‘Valmiki Pratibha’, which traces the transformation of Ratnakar from a dreaded dacoit to the holy sage, Valmiki, the creator of Ramayana, was staged at the Rabindra Sadan. The story of Valmiki symbolizes the propensity for both good and evil in human psyche and the tremendous ability of the human will to crush the demonic element with penitence. The notorious bandit Ratnakar commanded a band of dreaded dacoits who had tormented the entire central India from the forest they lived in. The forest nymphs, the nearby villagers, the passerby and the creatures of the forest were in absolute fight and agony by the exploits of the bandit. Ratnakar was a devotee of the fierce Goddess Kali and believed in physical power. So he would sacrifice a life to the Goddess to appease her for the blessings of absolute power. Saraswati, the Goddess of true knowledge, wisdom and creativity was pained by his arrogance and ignorance. Thereby, to teach Ratnakar a lesson she takes the form of a little girl and pretends to be lost in the forest. Subsequently, the dacoits prey on the little girl and take her hostage, to be sacrificed by Ratnakar. The helplessness and innocent plea of the little girl moves the stone cold heart of Ratnakar. Overcome by emotions, he sets the girl free from this captivity and aborts his sacrifice of human life. Having committed an act of kindness, a virtue unknown to him, he starts to dwell in this new found feeling. Eventually he loses interest in hunting forest animals and merciless killings, quits his profession of dacoit and subsequently is deserted by his gang of dacoits. Drifting aimless through the woods he comes across tribal bird-hunters, who were about to hunt down a pair of birds perched on a branch. He tries to persuade them not to kill the pair of innocent birds in love, but fails. The birds are hunted down, in a fit of desperate anguish he curses the bird-hunters in Sanskrit, the language of the Gods, unknown to him till then. He shocks himself with this strange utterance and wonders how he could have spoken in an abusive language! Perplexed he hears, the enchanting strains of a musical string instrument Veena. Following the music, he encounters a heavenly light and a woman in white playing the Veena, in all its ethereal splendor. He experiences eternal peace and enlightenment and the apparition vanishes in a while. He is left belonging to experience further and is intrigued. Lakshmi, the Goddess wealth and prosperity tries to tempt him with abundance and asks him to stop his quest for the ethereal apparition. But he refuses the rich abundance, longing only for the peace that his heart had felt in ages. While he is left alone with the repentence of his deeds and yearnings for true contentment, Saraswati reappears and reveals her true self and her mission to Ratnakar. The eternal Goddess pleased with his absolute surrender blesses him with the knowledge and power to create music and literature. He transforms into sage Valmiki, the legendary author of the epic Ramayana. This, in a nutshell is what ‘correction’ in the correctional homes is all about. Valmiki Pratibha is a unique endeavour not merely for its symbolism as the prisoner’s journey but it is a symbol of culture therapy itself, a movement that has been embraced by the prison inmates as a means of salvation. It emphasizes on the complete liberation of soul which gets translated into the symbolic liberation of mind and body. Ms. Roy furthered it by incorporating various new elements such as the Chow dance of Bengal, experimentation with music and unpolished colloquial rustic vocals and most surprisingly offenders convicted for various crimes, as the mainstay performers. For the first time perhaps in the history of prison in the world, correctional staffs were performing with the prisoners in the same play. The first public performance outside the prison was held on 15th November 2008 at the Science City Auditorium, Kolkata. It was followed by performance on 15th December 2008 at the Rabindra Sadan. Ms. Roy herself took part as Goddess Saraswati in the dance drama. The dedication of the performers alongside their potential in making the props, sewing the costumes and managing the entire process of staging the dance drama surprised the audience and the administration. Later the inmates travelled to Tagore’s Vishwabharati University at Shantineketan to perform at the Spring festival – Basanta Utsav in 2009.
When the opportunity came for performing outside the then Inspector-General of Correctional Services, Shri B.D. Sharma IPS refused to give Nigel permission for performance outside the prison. Nigel till then was famous for his criminal background, nefarious activities and had once tried to escape from prison also. Nigel had to sign a petition and his mentor agreed to take him outside under her ‘personal surveillance’. For his first show he travelled in a prison van where women inmate participants were accommodated along with Ms. Alokananda Roy. Since he was classified as a ‘high risk’ prisoner four guards were deployed to guard him. For him performing the role of Ratnakar / Valmiki in Valmiki Pratibha was not just a performance but a devotion. After enacting the role he would experience a sense of void. All the inmates were happy, they felt victorious as if they had won a war. According to Nigel, ‘the whole experience has helped me towards self-realization. The rhythm of dance put a smile on my face after a long time. It gave us the confidence to believe in ourselves to realize the happiness of living in the present and enabled us to love ourselves and everyone around us. Perhaps this ‘inner realization’ helped him to mend his behavior towards his mother as well as towards others.
The next production is Mokshagati. Mokshagati is an unique experimental presentation of a film that is projected as a parallel, on the backdrop to a stage performance on the foreground. The story is inspired by the transformation of Emperor Asoka, from a merciless conqueror to an ambassador of peace and benefactor of humanity. The story of a merciless warrior king is narrated by Bharati Amma who is mother to all Indians. The king’s mindless wars to satiate his greed for conquests , cost countless lives. Bharati Amma’s repeated pleas to win hearts rather than win battles, meets unacceptance by the adamant and insensitive king. On one such conquest he wages war on the peace loving son of Bharati Amma, Kalinga. Unaware of the king’s advances, Kalinga and his small hamlet is lost in the confines of nature and music, creating a screen picture of an undiluted tribal life. None the less they being fierce tribal fighters, put up a bold resistance to the sudden attack. However they succumb to the massive impact of power and manslaughter. Bharati Amma is aggrieved by the loss of her other son and condemns the king’s conquest. Seeing the plight of his mother, the king for the first time notices the colossal destruction and losses suffered due to war. He realizes his mistake that cannot be undone. Overcome with guilt and shame his heart longs for redemption. He releases the prisoner of war, allows all religion and communal co-existence, reconstructs the destroyed. But in vain his heart does not feel at peace and he turns to self-confinement. Seeing the agony of guilt and repentance, Bharati Amma in her incarnation as Mokshada leads him to salvation. She brings the dead Kalinga back to life and asks him to forgive the king as well as release himself from the hurt. Kalinga complies to Mokshada’s request and appears to the king in confinement, to forgive and offer the saffron robe of peace. The moment of forgiveness by the wronged erased the guilt and ego of the king, surrendering him to Mokshada and embracing renunciation. The mindless turbulence of power humbles into the rhythm of life and peace. It was performed on an open stage on 24th March 2013 at the Rabindra Sadan in Kolkata. Nigel performed the role of Emperor Asoka.
The dance dramas convey a message to the inmates as well as to the society that an individual obsessed with physical power and authority can commit a mistake. But with the proper guidance from mentor/s self-realization takes place. Self-realization of mistakes can compel an individual to ‘rectify’ and mend the ways. The music and dance therapy has brought about unimaginable psychological and physiological upliftment of prisoners. A sense of self-respect and confidence is growing among the prisoners. It has led to a change in their mind-set. Reform implies liberation of mind and soul and craving towards eternal peace and happiness devoid of obsession for material cravings. Culture therapy helped to build trust and promote family values among them . For mainstream society, it is a way of sensitizing them about the potential these inmates have even within captivity.
In 2009 the High Court at Calcutta, Kolkata, due to lack of any evidence against him, released him. For few months he worked in a non-governmental organization called Touch World as an Administrative Officer. Though he tried to seek jobs, but because of his murky past none of the potential employees were willing to give him a job. Thereafter he borrowed around 4.5 lakhs of rupees from his brother and set up his own private security business called the Kolkata Facilities Management.
In 2011 he got an opportunity to play a lead role opposite renowned Tollywood actress Rituparna Sengupta in a film about prisoner’s reformation called Mukhtodhara. There has been no dearth of mainstream Hindi cinema delving with the concept of prison and prisoners. Rajaram Vankundre Shantaram’s evocative take on prison reforms in ‘Do Aankhen Bara Hath’ is still indelible from the public memory. His message that everybody deserves a second chance did ring a bell, as the bureaucracy was following the colonial system at that time. One of the early filmmakers to realize the efficacy of the film medium, Shantaram used cinema as an instrument of social change and used it successfully to advocate humanism on the one hand and expose bigotry and injustices on the others in films such as ‘Duniya Na Mane’, ‘Aadmi’ and ‘Dahej’. Inspired by a real story, ‘Do Aankhen Bara Hath’ is the tale of an idealist jailor Adinath (played by Shantaram), who wants to reform the dreaded prisoners into socially productive beings not in the confines of the prison but in the real world. His idealism is not utopian. He is watchful enough to grapple with a prisoner wanting to kill him but reaches for a bell and not a stick as a means to subdue his assailant. As a part of the noble experiment, he picks six inmates who have been convicted for some grave murders. Despite his senior superintendent’s serious apprehension, he takes them to a barren area and expects them to make it fertile. It took him time to set the ball rolling, as the prisoners have become unused to freedom. Slowly but surely, he instills in them the traits of humanity that were fast disappearing in the dehumanizing environment of the prison, where they were reduced to just a number. In fact, on the first night they can’t sleep because they have become used to being shackled in heavy chains. The jailor joins them in their labour, cooks for them and becomes one among them. As the gradual awakening of the soul happens, the story become believable and lively. At times the inmates are unable to live up to his faith and he feels his experiment is not going to be a success, but the truth of Adinath’s eyes always coerces his men to return. A comparison is made to the all pervasive presence of God. The scene where the aged, half-blind mother of one of the prisoners come to meet him with his sons is poignant in the abjectness of her poverty. Yet, when the mother gives the jailor a simple sweet as her token of appreciation, the resilience of the human spirit creates a lump in the throat. However, when Adinath introduces them to worldly business, he realizes that it is the world that makes criminals. As they go out to sell their produce in the neighbourhood market, the local vegetable brokers feel threatened. He uses wily ways to win over the jailor’s men. And when nothing works, he decides to destroy the crop but cannot stop the fire of humanism from spreading. Despite being a message-based film it never lapses into polemics and remains cinematically alive. Composer Vasant Desai joined hands with lyricist Bharat Vyas to create the immortal ‘Aye Malik Tere Bande Hum’ with its eternal message of love and compassion. The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.
The film Mukhtodhara was based partially on Nigel’s life and his interaction with Alokananda Roy, as a part of culture therapy program. Before the camera started rolling Nigel attended forty days long workshop to hone his acting skills. He was trained by the directors Shiboprasad Mukhopadhyay and Nandita Roy. The film Mukhtodhara depicted a social interaction between cinema and reality. The film started with the narration of the gory deeds of Yusuf Mohammad Khan. Narrations are a unique way of telling the story and carrying it forward. Through narration the plot is presented and this form equally informs the viewer about the overall meanings in the text. There is a dramatized recreation of the dance drama Valmiki Pratibha in the film. This inter textuality (use of another text within the main text) is a prominent feature of postmodernism and is also the high point of the film and leads to the climax of the film. The synoptic story of Mukhtodhara is as follows – Niharika Chatterjee is the wife of public prosecutor Arindam Chaterjee. Arindam is a dominating male chauvinist husband. He tries to dominate Niharika. Thus, Niharika is unhappy with her marital life. They both have little daughter who is deaf and dumb. Niharika organizes a party for girls who are physically challenged like her own daughter. There she meets the new Inspector General of Correctional Services, Mr. Brij Narayan Dutta. The latter informs Niharika his plans and ideas of reforming convicts of the correctional home. Being aware of Niharika’s talents and skills, he requests Niharika to help him organize an event with the prisoners. Niharika agrees to the proposal with a condition that her husband needs to be kept in the dark. One day while they were having a rehearsal, Niharika wished to stage Rabindranath Tagore’s Valmiki Pratibha involving the inmates of the correctional home. Niharika informs B.N. Dutta about it. B.N. Dutta likes the idea and approves the proposal. In the cellular jail, B.N. Dutta wants Yusuf Mohammad Khan ( the role played by Nigel), a criminal accused of murder, kidnapping etc. to participate in the play. He succeeds in convincing Yusuf Mohammad Khan. It is he who later becomes Niharika’s main protagonist in the stage play. Yusuf gradually changes as Niharika keep training them. They plan to escape from the jail on the day of the play. But the feeling of guilt encompasses Yusuf Mohammad Khan and though they get out of jail through a tunnel, they return and complete the play. The finer nuances of facial gestures captured in close-ups, mid-close-ups and mid-long shots added depth and authenticity to the character Yusuf he portrayed on-screen. Nigel was helped by his co-actors. He narrates, ‘Rituparna was helpful. Although she attended the workshop for just four or five days, she taught me how to look at the camera in order to make the most of it’.
Criminals, underworld dons are inaccessible to media. Nobody is aware of the ups and downs of their personal and professional life, their struggles and insecurities. Such dreaded criminals are enigma for the members of the civil society. But in this movie the audience found a former mobster performing the lead role. During the premier party at the Priya Entertainment, Nigel entered with a handcuff, a publicity drive to create extra meaning so that we, the audience, get an image of a gangster associated with lawlessness, a person who kills and whom our culture identifies as a ‘bad’ guy. Definitely Nigel was the ultimate selling point of the movie. The film was successful at the box office. Nigel earned stardom overnight.
In Bollywood there have been instances of celebrity getting arrested on criminal charges. In 1998 Salman Khan violated the Wild Life Protection Act of 1972 by killing two blackbucks and endangered chinkaras. In 2002 Salman Khan’s drunk driving incident killed one and injured four other sleeping on the footpath outside a Bandra shop. Noted Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai’s parents had to complain to cops about Salman Khan because he was abusing their daughter. In 2007, on his way to court, at Jodhpur, Salman Khan was caught not only speeding but also displaying red strips (only ministers are allowed to use it) on his vehicle. He was fined one thousand rupees. In 2009, the income tax department filed a case against Salman Khan at High Court at Bombay, Mumbai, due to the fact that he was caught in tax evasion. He reported that income was Rs.9.32 crore but the real calculation by the officials yielded to rupees thirteen crores. Sanjay Dutt, the son of legendary actor Nargis and Sunil Dutt, as well as a famous actor by himself, was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act in April 1993, due to illegal possession of a Ak -56 and other fire arms. After spending 18 months in jail he was granted bail in April 1995. In July 2007, he was sentenced six year’s rigorous imprisonment, including his previous term of 18 months. The Supreme Court of India, in a judgment on 21st March 2013, convicted Dutt of illegal possession of arms relating to the 1993 Mumbai blast and sentenced him to five years of imprisonment which got over in February 2016. Saif Ali Khan is one of the co-accused along with Salman Khan in the black back poaching case. In 2012 he was charged with assault when a South African entrepreneur lodged a complaint against him. He complained that Saif broke his nose during a fight. The entire nation was appalled when Shiney Ahuja was accused of raping his domestic help in 2009. In 2000 Fardeen Khan was arrested in Mumabai for purchasing drugs from a pedller Naseer Abdul Kareem Khan. The police caught Naseer and Fardeen with nine grams of cocaine. Bollywood director Madhur Bhandarkar, was accused of raping starlet Preeti Jain, sixteen times on the pretext of promising her a film. But all the charges were squashed and after nine years of struggle, Bhandarkar breathed a sigh of relief as the court set him free. Mastan Haider Mirza popularly known as Haji Mastan was initially a mobster engaged in smuggling business. Later on he became the first celebrity gangster of the city of Bombay, expanding his clout in the Bollywood film industry by giving money to directors and studios for film production. As Mastan’s influence in Bollywood grew, he began to produce films. It is a known fact that there is a seedy link between Bollywood and the underworld in Mumbai. But Nigel’s case was exceptional as he became a ‘celebrity’ after he was freed from all the criminal charges by the High Court at Calcutta, Kolkata. In our countries sports and movie stars even with tainted past or present are regarded as demigod. A man who faced intense stigmatization during the post-release phase of his life, was now readily accepted by the society. The movie gave him a social recognition and most importantly he was re-accepted, thereby could re-integrate with the society.
While shooting for the film, Nigel was representing the innumerable inmates living inside the correctional home. He had the responsibility of not hurting their sentiments. However the success of the movie; time and again Nigel getting highlighted by the print and electronic media; while the rest of the inmates perhaps not receiving their due recognition for Valmiki Pratibha as well as for the movie Mukhtodhara; few controversial plots of the movie hurt the sentiments of the inmates as well as the correctional staffs. Thus an unbridgeable rift between him and the rest has been created. In an interview he vented his grievances –
It has shown the staging of Valmiki Pratibha and the use of culture therapy in correctional homes, but that’s only 30% of the film. The rest is a work of fiction. There’s a scene where prison inmates attempt to take money from Niharika’s bag. That’s unthinkable. No one can ever imagine stealing money from madam’s (Alokananda Roy who inspired Rituparna’s Character) wallet! What saddened me was that this independence day, there was a dance program by prisoners, where madam’s assistant wanted to hand over the belongings to an inmate. But he refused, citing that scene from the film. He said the bag might not be safe with him. This news has been extremely disturbing. Even the jail wardens are unhappy with the way they have been portrayed in the film. All that unionbazi, is far from true. Also if one person has ever opposed the staging of Valmiki Pratibha, there have been twenty supporting it. The problem with the film is that it’s been riding high on the ‘reality’ angle. But how can I convince people that not all of it is real. Not all are happy with the way they have been portrayed in the film. The real- reel combination hasn’t worked all that well. For some the process of transformation in correctional home might have a saleable aspect, but for many others, it means a world. Sadly the film hasn’t been able to strike a chord with everyone. … Certain things could have been done better. Four to six months I’ll stay away from doing another film. Never again will I do a film that’s based on real subject or has real life characters.
A subtle balance has to be maintained between the person –an individual and the persona including the character. The persona is the public domain and the person –private individual within his/her home and family. The balance between the person and the persona is significant in creating a sense of authenticity about a star which, in turn, is almost a mandatory precondition in gaining the love and admiration as well as adulation of a larger audience. In the movie Mukhtodhara perhaps the balance between person and the character he portayed got blurred. He was naïve and emotional as an actor when he first stepped into the world of entertainment. While speaking about the difference in performance in cinema and stage he categorically pointed out that in theatre – acting on stage, an actor has a liberty. There is no angle, camera, all you have to feel is that the stage is mine and connect with the audience. In cinema for a scene one needs to perform several times and then after the final take there is no scope for further improvisation. On stage with every performance there is scope for improvement. In cinema there are concepts such as underlens … one can change the angle of the face … only up to a certain extent’.
In between 2012 to 2014 he had worked in Malayalam film, Oriya and Bengali films such as Annyo Naa and Mangrove. However opportunities knocked at his doorsteps. He signed the production house Venkatesh films for the film Yoddha, opposite Tollywood superstar Dev in the year 2014. As a preparation for this film he had to reduce near about 18 kilograms of weight within forty five days. He had to learn horse ridding within twenty days. On day seventeenth he did not know to ride a horse the horse was dragging him. During shooting he fell down twice from the horse and got hurt. Nigel plays the part of Ronobir, the chief of Bengal King’s army. Ronobir falls in love with the king’s daughter, but has a rival in Dev, who plays the role of Rudra, a member of a force warrior clan. Ronobir ultimately kills the princess and is killed by Rudra. The film then traverses, a few centuries to present day Kolkata where Rudra is reborn as Abir and Ronobir as Raghav and once again, they vie for the same girl’s attention. This time too, Raghav dies. But Rudra is united with the girl. Though the film failed at the box office but for performing the villian’s role Nigel was appreciated by the audience.
The director of the film Raj Chakraborty spoke highly of his conviction and his will to excel. He says, ‘he lost 14 kilos in a matter of couple of months. He worked out for hours every day. Since this is a period film, he has learnt horse riding and sword fighting. He even had a tutor to perfect his Bengali diction. When we were shooting outdoors at 45 degree centigrade and he never sought the comfort of an air-conditioned van. Instead, he wanted to observe and learn every aspect of the shooting. He always reached the set before everyone else at 4 a.m. and never ever missed his evening workout. He has everything that it takes to make a good actor and a star’.
Nigel termed his role in Yoddha as the ‘second lead’. He says, ‘there is nothing wrong with playing any role in a film. What’s important is to give one’s best for a role. I’ve trained myself very hard for this role and love my character in ‘Yoddha’. I fit into this role much better than I would have in that of Rudra (played by Dev). In Yoddha my full concentration was on the role that I played. My endeavor is to give a good product to society. In fact this role will give me much more mileage. My focus now is how I will progress professionally in films. I want to work with good directors and actors. I want to play powerful roles in movies that will challenge me and bring out the best in me’. He wants to experiment different roles … negative characters have different shades, hence it is challenging to portray negative roles. He wants to be a good actor and not typically stereotyped hero.
Srijit Mukherjee’s much advertised and marketed magnum opus ‘Rajkahini’ depicted how under dregs of the society and gender intersects to negotiate patriarchal structures and values. Nigel plays the role of Salim Mirza, suspended from the British Police, finding place as a security guard of the brothel, becoming a savior of eleven women living inside the brothel. Although he died fighting for and with these ‘fallen’ women, unlike other male characters Salim Mirza’s character was not much hyped or highlighted. Though he was not placed centrally in the script, his screen presence was limited in time and space, yet he used his brooding eyes and baritone voice quite well and within that limited cinematographic time and space his effort to make a mark is commendable.
Saturupa Sanyal’s Onyo Opala is a woman centric tale of a young woman who accepted alternative sexuality in her marriage as well as in her son. The movie focuses on a widow, who had been wronged through her married life shown by flashbacks within the framework of Opala’s nostalgia. Her marriage remains unconsummated because her husband Shyam (played by Bhaskar Chaterjee) is obsessed with his gurudev Ananta, played by Nigel. The husband openly declared his love and devotion for Ananta. The lust in the eyes of Ananta, has been very well portrayed by Nigel in the posters as well as in the film. The double-faced cunning attitude of Godman shown through and in Ananta is quite appreciable. Opala’s sudden and brutal rape by Ananta gets an alternative perspective when she finds that her pregnancy has changed her position in the family as she is now accepted by her in-laws. At the sunset of his life the old, fragile Ananta seeks shelter from Opala. Opala does not accuse Ananta openly but does not forgive him either for taking advantage of his relationship with her husband to rape her. The dying Ananta ask Opala, ‘who are you fighting against? Are you sure it is not a fight with yourself?’ Nigel’s entry as an old man was just few minutes before the intermission. The movie mostly focused on the matriarch of the family portrayed by Roopa Ganguly. As compared to Roopa Ganguly, Nigel’s screen presence was short but was meaningful and helped to carry the movie forward. As an old, bent, sick man grasping for breath he performed his role with perfection though he was not very convincing as young Ananta.
In 2015 he got an opportunity to foray into the mainstream Bollywood cinema. The directors liked his looks in films such as Mukhtodhara and Rajkahini. He got selected through an audition. In the movie titled ‘Love Jihad’ (under-production) he plays the role of a terrorist. While comparing the methodology of filming in Bollywood with Tollywood, he felt in Bollywood people are different and professional. According to Nigel, ‘if they find you have thoughts/ideas better, they will incorporate your thoughts in filmmaking’.(Translation mine). According to Nigel he is still a student and is learning a lot everyday from each films.
He has acted in few short films such as City Light, Baazi, Pachar directed by Prajna Dutta, an aluminums of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata. City Light is a music video. It is a story of unrequited love set in an imaginary past. Baazi is a grim story of betrayal set against the backdrop of Kolkata underworld and politics. The film Pachaar deals with human trafficking and Nigel as D’Souza enacts the role of an upright police officer fighting for social justice.
Presently he has numerous films in pipeline such as Moner Virus, Payee Payee Bondhu, Operation Morning Bird, Hip Hip Hurray, Ekti Golpo Na. For Payee Payee Bondhu, the shooting took place in the harsh weather condition in the Himalayan region, which by itself is a challenge. Talking about Surojit’s Pachat’s Operation Morning Bird he says, ‘the film is about an untold love story and my character carries a lot of weight’. In Hip Hip Hurray, Nigel essays the role of a dance guru, for which he has undergone vigorous dance training for six to seven hours a day for the past two months. According to him, ‘this is a dance movie and I am practicing day in and day out as I have to prove myself as a dance guru. The dance is mainly stunt oriented, so it’s not that easy. I learnt horse riding for Yoddha and now I am learning to dance. It is very exciting. The dancers are selected from all over the state for this film are super-talented and giving me a tough competition. The film also carries a social message. The film Ekti Golpo Na is about how youngsters come to this city with a lot of dreams and how, through a lot of ups and downs, some of these visions are realized while others fall apart. It tells the story of Anirban to be played by Nigel, who is a software engineer. He is loner by nature. He meets Raka to be played by Sayani Dutta, who is a budding singer, and gets infatuated. But when he comes to know that Raka is involved in a live-in relationship with an IT professional, he turns vengeful. At that point a murder takes place and the story takes a turn.
Nigel is a very dedicated and hardworking actor. But it is too early to judge him as an actor. He has a strong screen presence but to achieve greater heights in acting he has to work on delivery of dialogues. His murky past coupled with macho attributes attract the audience than character portrayal. Though physical ‘looks’ of a person is extremely important in the film industry but along with that histrionic abilities make a person an ‘actor’ –a performer.. There is a need of honing of his acting skills so that he can become more confident as an actor. He can do a crash course in acting from Mumbai. Also he can participate more often in theatres (plays in English, Bangla, Hindi) which will help him to grasp variety of expressions according to the situation and script of such plays. Hopefully he gets an opportunity to enact different roles so that his versatility as an actor gets expressed. His life’s journey from the dark, murky, underworld to the arc lights of the entertainment industry is amazing, in fact can be a very good script of a movie (perhaps a sequel to Mukhtodhara) by itself.