“I think the obstacles in the film industry never stop. Every step is challenging, which makes every step more exciting and breaks the monotony. That is what I love about films.” – Tannishtha Chatterjee
Tannishtha Chatterjee is a globally renowned Indian film actress best known in the west for her performance in the British film Brick Lane (2007), the film adaptation of Monica Ali‘s best-selling novel of the same name, for which she was nominated best actress at the British Independent Film Awards. Her other notable roles have been in Academy Award-winning Florian Gallenberger‘s film Shadows of Time, Road, Movie with Abhay Deol, UNindian with Brett Lee, Dekh Indian Circus, for which she won the National Film award and Marathi film Doctor Rakhmabai, among many others.
Q.You are an alumni of National School of Drama (India), started you acting career in 2003, have acted in more than 30 films and has seen you earn accolades for your performances across multiple platforms and countries. Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
Yes, it all started from the National School of Drama (NSD). I was studying in Delhi University and absolutely had no plans of coming into films. I never thought that I would become an actor or come into films, it really happened by accident. I did a workshop of NSD, and I enjoyed it very much. The people who were tutoring in the workshop encouraged me to apply and that the world of performance is what I belong to. I thought to myself, let me give it a shot, and then of course there was no looking back. Right after NSD I got a film named Swaraj which won a national award and then I got Shadows of Time and Brick Lane, and I moved to London for five years after I did Brick Lane. I did many stage shows there, I did a number of films, and then one by one, there were many interesting projects that came by. The last few years I did some of the most significant women-centric films like Parched, Angry Indian Goddesses, Doctor Rakhmabai, Brick Lane and Island City. Throughout my journey, my films have features pivotal female roles and the central characters are women. Now I am making my first film as a director and it has been a very interesting journey with different things, travelling in different continents, meeting different kinds of people, attending various kinds of festivals, working with different directors from different countries. I have worked a lot with Australians and then with Americans and of course, in India. Also I’ve worked and done some Marathi (regional Indian language) films and Hindi. So yes, it has been a very interesting journey till now.
Q.You have turned film maker with Rome Rome Mein. Can You tell about more about the film and you taking the director’s seat?
This is one of those things, which just happened. Nawaz and I did a film called ‘Monsoon Shootout’ together and we were discussing which kind of stories we like and then I told him about this particular story which I had in mind. He got very excited and said that lets do this together! And at that point of time I never really thought I wanted to direct. I thought let me write and let’s see what happens, but by the time, he was the one who suggested me to direct and that is how it happened. In this month, I am going to finish the film, do the festivals from next month and then release the film. It has been a kind of different experience from acting because in acting, you do only, you are concerned about, so here it says you are the mean and when you’re writing, the whole vision is yours. For Rome Rome Mein, I would see my entire unit and all my Italian people and all the other Indian actors and my assistants, the people whom I have worked with, the people with whom, I have really long relationship. So, they all got together and did things and it was a huge responsibility to take everybody together and make them proud of something. So, I don’t know, I mean the responsibility of being a director is far more than an actor ! When you’re an actor it is like you shoot for a month and then do another project, but when you are writing it stays with you for a very long time.
Q. What obstacles/challenges did you face when you first started out, how did you overcome them ?What kept You inspired?
I think the obstacles in film industry never stop. There are different sets of obstacles when it was in the beginning, and there’s different sets of obstacles now. It’s always tough because you have to constantly create things. Every step is challenging, which makes every step more exciting and breaks the monotony. That is what I love about films.
Q.Along with being an actor, you are also a trained classical vocalist. You have also performed at the Royal Opera House in London. What are the some of the aspects that you enjoy about both fields?
Music is very close to me. It is a very spiritual process and the acting is also a spiritual process. I think any kind of art, anyone is pursuing, is a spiritual process and if you are going to the depth of it, it actually makes you a better person. So being a musician and being an actor, makes you a better person and made me go empathetic to the world. It has made me understandably better!
Q.You are also termed as ‘Festival Queen’, as you can boast of maximum number of films screened, competed and earned you the critics’ praise in International Film circuit. Also, You had been part of film festivals’ jury. How it feels when You look back? How the film scenario has changed globally. How the Indian films and talent from India perceived globally? How the scenario is evolving for Indian content and talent?
I think the talent like since last 5 years has really been a break through because 4-5 years back, there was hardly a film- ‘A’ certified, but the last few years every movie is A certified, weather it is Berlin, Toronto, Cannes, Busan, all these are the big festivals and now, they always have ‘A’ certified films and that is a huge change. I think Indian film series are now being able to tell stories at the global level. I think the OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee5, Hotstar and all the new platforms that have come up are making things to tell stories and today I can sit in India and watch a Spanish movie so that’s a huge change !!
Q.How do You perceive creativity ? How the evolving exhibition platforms enhancing the spirit of independent cinema/content? What more need to evolve or should be concentrated on, in coming years ?
I think the platform are going to be really important! There will be more stories, open talks, more talented ideas, new people, more cultural exchanges. It is like, the internet is bringing the world closer and is a very democratic change, as, we are going to get closer and closer , going to get interested in each other’s world. It is a very good time for story tellers and to make an impact for new people.
Q.You have often raised concerns over Environmental Issues, Women Empowerment, Fair Skin Syndrome, Animal Welfare and a lot more? How important it is for people to address these concerns? Would you like to give any message to the readers ?
I really do believe in messages, believe in thoughts, ideas, always share that and I have a great concern for environment because human race will not be there, if we don’t take care of the environment and our environment is everything. It is not only Forests, it is all like fruits , flora and fauna species ! Development, intolerance for ideas and the caste equality- these are not just topics, it is a huge step to make change to ! And if we believe in war and violence than I don’t really want to know the development! For me the development is all about having compassion and tolerance!
Q.You are also doing a 20 episode web series on the life and death of Phoolan Devi (the dreaded Chambal dacoit-turned-Member of Parliament). This is after 25 years of the cult hindi film Bandit Queen ? What was the thought behind giving the nod to the project? It will draw lot of attention and comparisons. What are your thoughts on it?
As an actor, the life of Phoolan Devi has many colors and drama, any actors dream would be to play that character. I was nervous when approached to do this film because there has been an iconic film on Phoolan Devi. However, I was told that this format is longer and the life of Phoolan Devi is being covered more extensively. The long format helps one tell the story more effectively than you would be able to in a 2 hour film. I’m very excited to play the part of Phoolan Devi, any actor would be.
Q. Do you have any advice for upcoming actors and content creators?
I think you should be an actor, if, you’re in love with your art form because you’ll never get frustrated and be happy with your work. If you really love what you are doing, it doesn’t matter if you have a big film or small film. For me, like I said, acting is a very spiritual process. So, if you take this art form, you internalize it and then it’s a beautiful journey, it’s a life time thing !