Like every struggling actor, Benjamin Daimary was sending out emails to casting directors on March 22 hoping to get that one call that would work magic for his career. That's when the director of his acclaimed movie 'Jonaki Porua - Fireflies' Prakash Deka called with information that was no less than a magic spell.
Not having read the news, he was completely focused on his introduction video and profile that had to be sent out. "Prakash Da asked, 'Where are you, Benjo?' and I got alarmed. On further enquiry, he told me that I had just won the National Award!," recalls Benjamin while talking to Likho over the phone.
He is the first openly gay actor in India to win at the event, bagging a jury special mention at the 67th National Film Awards. What makes the award even more special in the context of the LGBT community is that he portrayed a transgender character in the movie. 'Jonaki Porua-Fireflies' is the debut vehicle of writer-director Prakash Deka as well as Benjamin.
When he heard it, the news seemed so surreal that he couldn't believe it and started blasting the director with questions. Still not convinced, he immediately googled the list of winners but couldn't find his mame. "That was more believable to me..! Just to cross check, I tuned into the live-streaming of award announcements where they called out my name and that of the movie in the special mention section," he added.
Benjamin attributes his success to the accepting nature of his state. "I have travelled to various parts of the country, acceptance of the LGBT community is of varying degrees. However, no place is as accepting as Assam," he shares. He says that even in seemingly progressive metropolitan cities like Mumbai, he has been called a 'chakka'. Such experiences make him feel blessed to be born in Assam.
Winning the National Award was a big achievement for him as Benjamin was not initially interested in acting as more than a hobby. He was more enamored with make-up and choreography. "My passion lay in the glamour industry - make-up, hair, lights, the camera was my thing," he explains.
It was by happenstance that he had his first brush with acting in the summer of 2014, during a boring summer vacation. "I was fourteen and there was an acting workshop that my sister had enrolled in. I had gone to drop her lunch box. I saw kids my age having fun and that is what lured me towards acting," he retells. He laughs that he was a disaster, he said the lines with no expression or animation.
However, he was bit by the acting bug and continued acting in the theatres and street plays as a hobby. Even then, he had never thought of facing the camera. At the time, his belief was that a movie actor must have a certain look: tall, fair and handsome.
Being more involved in the movies broke this imagery, especially when he went to audition for Fireflies in Guwahati in 2018. After three days of auditioning, he was selected for the role. Talking about the process, he says, "Prakash da was looking for an actor to play a transgender person's role. A friend of mine thought I'd be fit for the role and insisted that I go for the audition."
He was still skeptical. He believes that he could mimic people well but doubted that serious acting was his thing. He was of the opinion that his expressions were not animated enough for him to be a good actor. It was this supposed lack of skills, though, that helped him get accepted for the movie. "Prakash da explained that he wanted someone real, who could feel the character rather than animate it," he clarified.
Based in rural Assam, ‘Fireflies’ narrates the journey of Janu coming to terms with her identity as a transwoman and accepting herself as Jahnavi, beautifully depicting the internal and external struggles of a transgender person.
"Firefly is very close to my heart not only because it's my debut movie but also because it is a representation of my community. The movie traces the intricate internal tussle of coming in terms with one's identity, which is always the first step, much before the fight of coming out to the world," says Benjamin. He adds that the movie tries to tell the audiences that the internal struggle of the community is hard enough and they should not make it harder for those who are going through it.