“Serene, simple and slow-paced." That's how Joyeeta Dutta describes growing up in her hometown, Guwahati. Seemingly, it's quite the opposite of where she's ended up now—the movies. But Joyeeta is clearly enjoying the heady ride. Having grown up in the lap of the mighty Brahmaputra, she speaks eloquently of an idyllic childhood spent gardening, fishing and schooling amidst the picturesque tea gardens of Assam. From the Assam Valley School, she went on to graduate from the Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi. Next, a stint with McKinsey—one of the most sought after consulting firms—only served to make her realise that her true calling was acting. Just as she paints a picture with her words, Joyeeta is now taking us places with her acting—whether it's the chaotic world of North Indian weddings in the stage adaptation of Monsoon Wedding or the old world charm of Lucknow in her latest outing as Tasneem in Mira Nair's television adaptation of A Suitable Boy. In a languid conversation with Lune, she talks about where she comes from and where she’s headed, fittingly wearing jewels from our capsule collections.
Text: Shweta Vepa Vyas | Photography: Gorkey Patwal
Shop the look // Earrings, Crater medium and Crater small hoops from the Crater collection; Necklaces, Small and Big Vase of plenty necklaces from the Homecoming talisman capsule; 14'' and 18'' Viper flat chains; Wrist, Crater chunky bangles from the Crater collection
Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood years in Assam.
I was born in Guwahati—a serene, simple and slow-paced town at that time. I grew up a curious disciple of my grandfather—spending time gardening, listening to classical music, experimenting with photography and enjoying sports. I would go on fishing trips to the mighty Brahmaputra river with my father, play dress-up with traditional Assamese garments at my grandmother’s boutique and go on road trips in the northeast and even Bhutan with my family during holidays.
Most of my growing up happened when I moved to The Assam Valley School, a residential school located amidst the immaculately manicured tea gardens of Assam. Admittedly, the larger part of my education took place outside the classroom, the cornerstone of life in a boarding school. Looking back, I see myself constantly running from one activity to another—from fervently debating and acting on stage to bruising myself during squash and hockey sessions and so on. We grew up in a diverse environment with students from all across the North East. Growing up with friends made us innately mischievous in many ways; my family was rather surprised when I became the Head Girl of my school and graduated at the top of my class in the 12th board examinations, thereby bagging the All India Rank 4 in the ISC merit list!
From Assam, you went on to study Political Science at Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College. How was the experience of moving away from home?
My journey from the margins of India to the massive metropolis of the national capital has been an experience of contrasts. In college, I grew interested in questioning ideas of identity and development. LSR helped me understand these dilemmas and I grew confident of my academic inclinations towards the study of power, institutions and development. My quest for intellectual challenges and a multi-disciplinary education led me to pursue a Post-Graduate Diploma in Conflict Transformation and Peace Building while simultaneously completing my final year at college.
A job at McKinsey is considered a dream by business school graduates. What prompted you to give it up?
I knew I was taking a risk and diving deep into uncertainty—but I was also aware that had I not taken the plunge then, I probably never would later. What gave me confidence was the opportunity to work with one of my favourite directors, Mira Nair in a musical. I grew up admiring her and this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Shop the look // Earrings, Homecoming mini key charm hoop earrings from the Homecoming talisman capsule; Nose, Mini crescent moon nose pin ( coming soon ); Necklaces, Charmed solid nebula necklace from the Rooted:Routed collection; Spine and Wave pendant necklaces from The Baroque pearls collection
Did you always harbour acting ambitions?
It all started with a dream—to have an opportunity to do what I love. Coming from a small town, I didn’t have any real examples of people successfully navigating themselves in this field, until one day I was introduced to actor Adil Hussain. The opportunity to meet an actor from Assam who has made his mark in the movies was awe-inspiring and I started training in acting under his expertise. It was then that I stepped into a completely new world, shifting gears from corporate to creativity. I was extremely privileged to train under noted theatre director, N. K Sharma as well.
How did the role in the Monsoon Wedding musical come through?
It was a fascinating turn of events—one day Dilip Shankar, the casting director asked me if I could sing. Being a typical boarding school girl who had dabbled in everything, I confidently said yes. Little did I know at the time that he’d ask me to audition for a musical that had actors from Broadway and was to be directed by an Academy Award nominee. During my second round of auditions, Mira warmly chatted with me and put me at ease. After the audition, she told me I must leave McKinsey and follow my heart and the art. A few days later, I received a call informing me that I got the part.
How was your first acting experience? And how was it working with Mira Nair?
My first acting experience was second to none. Monsoon Wedding is one of my all-time favourite movies and the expertise and energy involved in this project was unparalleled. We trained for over a month in music, movement and dance under maestros from the West End and Broadway. I was awestuck by the highest standards in every department, be it creative or technical. The most special part of this project was all the beautiful, kind and talented people from whom I learnt so much.
Mira is simply so passionate about her art and vision and has this beautiful energy that brings out the best in everyone. She is also exceptionally funny and has a keen eye for detail. With her, you know you have to deliver nothing but the best and she puts you at ease to do so.
Shop the look // Earrings, Big and small gold silver wire hoops from The piercing capsule; Bracelet, Indus dark green tourmaline bracelet from The bracelets section
Another defining moment in your career was bagging the role of Tasneem in the television adaptation of A Suitable Boy. What were your learnings working with Tabu and the team?
I was thrilled when I found out that I’d been chosen to play the role of Tasneem, sister of the courtesan Saeeda Bai, played by Tabu. This was a dream come true in all senses: acting alongside one of my favourite actresses, playing a character from one of my treasured books in an adaptation by a director I admire.
Portraying Tasneem, an 18-year-old Muslim girl has been a privilege as it is a character from the margins, whose voice we rarely hear in popular narratives. Moreover, it was a challenging role that required training in Kathak and Urdu and I am indebted to my mentors for their guidance. It was a delightful and demanding experience to be a part of a period project depicting life in India in the 1950’s—when India was testing new waters as a newly independent country. Tasneem too navigates her life as she comes of age in a courtesan household. One can say that Tasneem plays the part of an unsuitable girl in the world of A Suitable Boy.
It is no surprise that Tabu is one of the finest actors in our country. The possibilities of learning from her are limitless—her discipline, her truthfulness and her unwavering ability to make any simple act a lasting moment which leaves the audience spellbound is beyond comparison. Uncountable hours of effort went into the making of this saga, which we as the audience binge over in a jiffy. This experience opened my eyes to the mammoth scale of effort which is put into filming and how one needs to be the best in the game to truly contribute to the end result of being immortalised on a reel.
What’s next on the anvil?
To continue chasing my dream—I want to work with great directors and play challenging characters alongside exceptional actors!
On a parting note, can you share your lockdown experience? How have you been keeping busy?
The lockdown has been a saturation of various emotions and the sense of helplessness and uncertainty has been difficult to deal with. I have attempted to stay busy with some movement—yoga or a run has been helpful. I’ve also read, watched films and experimented with painting and cooking. My biggest takeaway has been the importance of preserving one’s mental health and positivity. I realise these times are unlike any other and it’s important to push for kindness and positivity now, more than ever.