There are some actors who symbolize Russia’s new generation, the new times. Rising star Chulpan Khamatova (her Tatar first name translates at “morning star”) has been one of those actors since the mid-1990s, when she burst into the limelight in Valery Todorovsky’s contemporary mafia saga, Country of the Deaf—a film that has already become a “cult classic” here.
When Khamatova arrived in Moscow from her native Kazan, she said she did not “even have time to realize,” she was in the Russian capital. “I was studying at the theater school and didn’t even realize I was in a different city. For two years I knew only one itinerary: dormitory-theater-dormitory. We had a huge work load: no weekends, no nothing ...” Only in her third year, she said, did she begin “feeling scents, odors and colors, noticing streets.”
Indeed, the young actor continues to maintain a hectic workload. Faced, as many actors, with tough economic realities, Khamatova works year-round: “because when the theater season is over, I am starring in films, as I need to earn some money. And when the cinema period is over, then the theater season begins.”
Khamatova’s theatrical career is centered on the prestigious Sovremennik theater. She made her debut there in the widely acclaimed play “Three Comrades,” based on the novel of the same name by German writer Erich Maria Remarque. Then followed a role as Irina, the youngest sister in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”—which, one critic said, she played with “an alarmed tenderness.”
So far, Khamatova, 25, has starred in three films: Dancer’s Time, Country of the Deaf and Moonlight Dad. Her successful portrayal of a naïve, romantic young woman in Country of the Deaf threatened to typecast her: “film directors could only see me in this rigid type of role,” Khamatova said soon after her debut role. “And this is how they are using me. No one wants to take risks. I am ready to be proven wrong, but they don’t give me the right either to make a mistake or to score a great victory. I have great roles, but I could be acting in an even riskier style. I want trust. ... I am ready to play anything, as long as it is something I haven’t played before.”
Thus, Khamatov jumped at the role of Mamlakat in Bakhtier Khudoynazarov’s Moonlight Dad. The somewhat austere, post-modernist film plays on a surrealistic mixture of old Soviet and new Russian myths, in which Mamlakat’s hapless father and brother search for the mythical and elusive would-be-father of her future child. While Mamlakat is surely a naïve young girl, the role did allow Khamatova to show her talent as a comic actor, to portray what one critic has called “intellectual idiosyncrasies.”
“I feel that my role as Mamlakat was a success on the whole,” Khamatova said. It helped her break the typecast mould that was slowly setting around her.
Khamatova does not give interviews often (she feels fans “are not supposed to know the truth” about actors, that “an artist must be first and foremost a riddle”), yet in an interview with Iskusstvo Kino (Art of Cinema), she revealed some elements of her artistic credo: “I don’t believe that one can become a good actor by following one single, specific system—Stanislavsky’s or say Mikhail Chekhov’s. Each actor has his own system. An actor is like a thief, he takes bits from everywhere: from Stanislavsky, from Chekhov, from one’s partner on stage. And thus the actor builds one’s own point of reference, which then undergoes monstrous changes with each new role ...”
To make her point stronger, Khamatova recalled an episode when, as a student, she saw a friend drawing a sketch and felt a “unique moment of creative freedom.” She realized that, for this artist, “it is his painting, his hand. He is free to do on the easel whatever he wants … I realized that I could play my roles this or that way, as I can and as I want to. Maybe it will be worse from someone else’s point of view, but it will be better for me ... I realized that my work belongs to me only, and from that point on I really began to enjoy my profession ...”
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