Lights, Camera, Action ! : An Exclusive Interview with Urmila Mahanta

Her very first film was a super hit in South India. Her first two films were shortlisted for prestigious Academy Awards. Yes, she is none other than our very own Tamil crime thriller Vazhakku Enn 18/9 fame Assamese actress Urmila Mahanta. Editor Pranjal Borah talks to this brilliant actress from Assam about her childhood, films and future projects.

First of all, a warm welcome from the team of Assam Online Portal.

Urmila Mahanta: Thank you so much!

Question: Pl tell us about your childhood and family.

Urmila Mahanta:
I was born at Sonapur, Guwahati, Assam.

My father Mr. Giridhar Mahanta is a retired Gazette Officer of Govt of Assam, my mother Mrs. Ramala Mahanta is a home maker. I am blessed with three siblings: two sisters and one brother. Both my sisters Ms.Jutika Mahanta and Ms.Munmi Mahanta are settled here in Mumbai and brother Mr. Munindra Mahanta is working in Assam. My sister in law Mrs Krishna Mahanta is a professional beautician.

With a family of three other siblings and caring parents, my childhood was indeed a memorable one.

I remember, While I was in sixth standard, I was happen to attend a drama workshop in my summer vacation along with my friends and my brother. Both of us had participated in the workshop to pass our summer holidays fruitfully. Although my brother left the workshop half-way, I continued with it till the end. That was my first introduction to ‘Pancham Veda’ Natyasastra.

My brothers and sisters make fun of it even to this day. I used to do children plays till the time I passed my board exams.

Question: Your education?

Urmila Mahanta: I pursued my formal education in Assam, I appeared for my boards from Sonapur Uccha Madhyamik Balika Vidyalaya and graduated from Dimoria College, Khetri.

Later flew to’ Film & Television Institute of India’ (F.T.I.I), which was a turning point of my life. After three rounds of auditions, I was selected to the institute and secured the National Second Rank during the Entrance Examinations.

“Vazhakku Enn 18/9” is known to be the turning point of your career. Please share your experience.

Urmila Mahanta:
Of course, as it’s my first ever film and it has made its way till OSCAR nomination (short-listed), it was in the list of top 3. But for me to get short-listed itself is a big achievement. I got to stand at par with Vidya Balan, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor in my very first film. People started recognizing me after Vazhakhu Enn.

I was nominated for Best Actress debut and Best Supporting Actress for “South Indian International Movie Awards”, Dubai. Along with actress like Nandita Das. Before that I was nominated for Best Actress, debut for Prestigious ‘Vijay TV awards’.

Vazhakku Enn 18/9 , won Two National awards, Two Filmfare awards (South), Best Foreign language film award in Paris, Two awards in Prestigious Vijay TV Awards, Best film in Norway Film Awards and Best film in Chennai Film festival.

Question: “Ballad of Rustom” was shortlisted for the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. How was your experience?

Urmila Mahanta: I was stunned with pleasure when I got to know ”Ballad of Rustom” was short listed for the Best picture category at the Academy awards.

This was my second movie, which was shortlisted for Oscars. It was a wonderful experience all together.

You are featured in two latest Assamese films: “Kothanodi” and “TRP aru..”. “TRP aru..” is also your debut film in Assamese. How excited are you?

Urmila Mahanta: 
After working in South, Bollywood & “Bengali film Industries, finally times has come to debut in my homeland. I am really very excited because i am debuting with my mentor Mr. Mridul Gupta’s “T.R.P. aru……”

I am equally excited for my second Assamese film “Bokul” by Reema Borah.I am very hopeful, this film will bring a fresh approach in Assamese film Industry.

In the month of October I will start shooting for “Kothanodi” .After that my next film “Antareen” will go on floor.

Question: Any memorable shooting moment?

Urmila Mahanta:
Shooting of my debut film “Vazhakku Enn 18/9”. The very first day and the very first shot of the film, Balaji Sir (director of the movie) called me and explained the shot. He was known for his perfection in the industry. I could sense that he was bit doubtful about me, as I am a non tamilian, who don’t even understand a single tamil word, so he might felt I would not be able to perform the shot. But for his surprise it was One take Ok, he was so amused & literally, complemented me with a flying kiss in front of the entire crew. That moment was really a memorable one!

Question: Did acting happen to you by chance or has it always been your childhood dream? How supportive was your parents?

Urmila Mahanta:
No, it was rather a childhood hobby for me. I started acting when I was kid. I have done various stage shows while studying in school. After getting into FTII (Film & Television Institute of India) I have decided to become a Professional Actress. But I feel, this interest within me was inborn, I used to depict various characters in front of mirror and family members in early age of my life. I enjoyed doing so I continued. But for sure it was the base of my Acting Career; it introduces me to the world of Art & Culture.

Yeah my parents in fact my entire family is very much supportive since the very first day! I am thankful to them.

Question: You’ve been featured in television serials as well as short films. How was your experience with these two forms?

Urmila Mahanta:
Yes, I acted in both TV shows and films (Short films too). Being different mediums, there is a huge difference of approach. Film has stronger and long lasting visibility and impact, but I believe both are equally challenging.

I worked only in episodic popular series like ‘Crime Petrol’ for Sony TV & ‘Savdhan India’ for Life OK ,’CID’ for Sony TV . In this episodic, I never got much time to study the characters I had played. In serials time is a constraint, they are bound to finish it within their pre-decided schedules.

Film making is a long process; we get time to learn about the character, plot and background. So, to play the character we require lot of self research and preparation. Particularly in my case, working in a film was more challenging, because of the language and cultural differences. I debuted in South Film and as obvious I couldn’t understand a single word for communications, and still required to match my directors Vision. I had to give extra hard work with high level of concentration and patients to act.

I acted in various short films like, “Let Me Twist”, directed by Sourav Shukla, as the main lead & it was screened in USA. Similarly “Sengkuruthi”(Tamil)  was screened in Kerala film festival. “Their story” won several  awards in foreign countries  & last but not the least” Aaliyaa” got best short film award, Best DOP award & Best Critic award in MIFF(Mumbai  International Film Festival 2012 )& Ladakh film festival (2012) as well.

Apart from these, I acted in  “Makkhi”by Umesh Kulkarni, Lipstick”,”Fishing surmai”& “ Thaw”.Like films, short films has the same process of making . Apart from the length.

Question: What is your future vision of Assamese cinema?

Urmila Mahanta:
As you know, I am settled in Mumbai, working in various Industries I really don’t feel I am the right person to comment on this. I just completed my first two Assamese films, and from that experience I could see a positive change in the approach, people are becoming more professional, new generation and new thoughts are emerging.

I can see a ray of hope, not only Assamese but also North Eastern film is emerging and the aspiring actors will get the opportunity to showcase their talent. Now Bollywood is also taking the North-east seriously, various award functions are including north east and even Assamese award ceremonies are occurring outside Assam which is taking our cinema towards the global platform. It will surely take our industry to the next level.

Question: Upcoming projects?

Urmila Mahanta:
I have just debuted in the Bengali Film Industry with the Blockbuster “Chirodinei Tumi je Amar 2 “from the renowned production house of Eastern India, Shree Venkatesh Films pvt.Ltd.


All set to debut in Bollywood with Mr. Ketan Mehta’s “Majhi, the Mountain Man” where I shared the screen space with intelligent actors like Nawazzuddin Siddqie and Prashant Narayanan. We did the shoot in the original location in Bihar.

My another project “Gram Padeshanpur”( working title) where I played the lead and worked with actors like Shakti Kapoor, Ashrani, Manoj Joshi. Pitobash etc and finished 3 schedules and the last schedule is awaited.

My another Hindi Feature film, (Name is not yet registered) as lead is expected to release by this year.

Just completed “Maggie”, “Nescafe”,& ”JSSK’  TVC .Currently busy with my Malayalam film’s dubbing  .

Question: Thank you for giving us your valuable time. Best wishes for your future projects.

Urmila Mahanta:
Entirely my pleasure. Thank you so much for you best wishes.

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