A star in oblivion

Sree Sen | Updated on June 29, 2018

Dulal Sarkar masterfully showcases the inner and external conflicts that a dwarf faces, including falling in love, in the Bengali film Chotoder Chobi   -  SREE SEN

Dulal Sarkar earned overnight fame with his award-winning role in a Bengali film about the struggles of dwarfs in India. Barely months later, he finds himself on the margins again

A little over three years ago, the world held endless possibility and hope for Dulal Sarkar. He had just won the best actor award at the 2014 International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa. For a dwarf from Bengal working in regional two-bit roles, it was a success story beyond his own comprehension. Overnight he became a national sensation. But, unlike Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame, his was a short-lived media frenzy and Sarkar soon disappeared from the screens as well as memories.

The one-room house he shares with his mother and a brother in the narrow lanes of Shibpur, a locality in Howrah, is crowded and poorly lit. He says he is struggling to pay the monthly rent of ₹1,500 as there’s no work for him.

One of five siblings, Sarkar had a tough life from the beginning. At school, he was frequently teased and bullied. He was reminded every day that he was different, and that his prospects in life were limited. When he finally dropped out in Std VIII, to support his family financially, he realised that jobs for a dwarf were hard to come by.

By a stroke of sheer luck, he found his way into the television industry after a film technician he met at a tram depot told him about a big-banner project that was looking for dwarfs. Although Sarkar’s family was worried about his safety, he took the help of his friends and landed up at the sets. What followed was a series ofstereotypical dwarf roles — slapstick comedy, small parts in other shows, and so on. The pay was nothing great, but enough to put food on the table, and it was certainly better than the gigs dwarfs mostly end up with in the circus or local dance troupes, where they are usually underpaid and face health risks and even abuse.

That was in the mid-’90s, and the TV roles paved way for cameos and bit roles in Tollywood, as the Bengali movie industry is called. “They weren’t any substantial roles, sometimes without any dialogues at all, but they took care of my daily expenses. Today, there’s absolutely zero work and I am struggling to earn enough for three meals a day,” says the 43-year-old actor.

His eyes light up as he reminisces about the IFFI award: “I went to Goa to receive the prize, you know. We met dignitaries and the chief minister, there were also news reporters. It was the very first time I had been outside my hometown.” He bagged the award for his lead performance in Chotoder Chobi, a short film about dwarfs, directed by the acclaimed Kaushik Ganguly. The story revolves around the lives of dwarves in a circus, the social apathy and exploitation they face on a daily basis. Sarkar masterfully showcases the inner and external conflicts that a dwarf in India faces, including falling in love. “Kaushik-da still keeps in touch with me — he is my mentor, guide and friend. But there’s only so much he can do for me as well,” says Sarkar.

The adulation that followed the award soon petered out, leaving him in the doldrums. “Politicians and local netas came to my home to congratulate me. I was invited to events — everyone knew me, wanted to take a photograph with me. But it lasted for only a couple of months, and today, those same people look through me.”

This rapid turn in fortunes has left Sarkar more than a little bewildered. “I didn’t expect it to last long. But I didn’t expect to go hungry or live without a roof either... I didn’t think the promises would disappear into thin air.”

His hopes lie with some form of governmental support, on the lines extended to sportspersons, such as a government job or sponsorship.

“With artistes it is a very different scene, and for me — a dwarf — it is a lot harder. Today, my only hope is didi (chief minister Mamata Banerjee), who has saved many of us from such hopelessness and penury, giving jobs to many individuals. I am ready to work in any capacity, in any industry — all I need is one opportunity,” Sarkar pleads.

“She had met me in 2014 to congratulate. Do you think she will hear my plea?” he asks, as we bid goodbye on the street, “You think your article about me will make any difference?”

Sree Sen is a Kolkata-based freelance journalist

Published on June 29, 2018

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