(tg) Indian actress Tannishtha Chatterjee was one of the special guests of the Indian Film Festival 2012 in Stuttgart, Germany. Her latest film is "Dekh Indian Circus", starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui ("Gangs of Wasseypur"). In "I love New Year" Tannishtha is working with Sunny Deol. Tomal K. Ganguly asked her about these films, her career and her background and wondered how studying chemistry might fit to being an actress. Camera/editing by Birgit van Art and Marta Nowicki.
How did the movie “Dekh Indian Circus” (2012) touch you personally?
I think, you know, it’s for people who are working in the film, it is difficult to be objective because we have gone through the process, we have shot the film, we have seen so many versions of it. But, when I read the script, it really touched me and I have seen Mangesh Hadawale’s film which was really beautiful and when I met him for the first time and he explained it to me, I was very excited about it. In a village in North India where most families are very, very male dominated, he actually makes the man of the family mute. And the woman of the family, he uses this woman to say everything that he wants to say. She is speaking constantly, she is making all the decisions, she is very strong and powerful. I found that a very interesting choice of the script to begin with when I read it. I was like wow. And as an actress also, when you get a woman centric role it is very, very exciting. But yes, personally there have been certain choices where I felt very touched apart from other things in the film.
|Tannishtha Chatterjee signing theinder.net flyers.|
Photo: (c) Birgit van Art
Can you identify yourself personally with the role in the film?
(laughing) Well, in some ways you have to. When I went to the drama school I was taught that there are two ways of approaching acting. That you look at a character and you approach from an external point of view where you learn the mannerisms and all the external stuff. I could go to a village in Rajasthan and just dress like them and see them how they try to make rotis and be like them from an external point of view. My approach is always that first you explore the internal energy and then you bring in the external. And I think that’s what modern acting is all about. You have to find something within your own experiences to connect them together. And then of course I went to the village to learn how to make roti, carrying water from the dwell. It is just a sort of changes the body language and Mangesh used to make me run for hours from 5 o’clock in the morning just to read that towards the landscape wearing the entire costume, the setup as it is a very elaborate costume.
So I guess that for you personally it was also a unique experience being like this in Rajasthan?
Yes, absolutely. And you know, the married women in Rajasthan wear something called “chudas” and they never remove them. They wear them when they get married and they cut it when they die. You can’t remove them. For me initially, the first few days, it was like where I couldn’t do anything. And my role is so physical in the film and I had to wear it like day in and day out and just make it a part of my body and my system.
|Tannishtha Chatterjee and Tomal Ganguly enjoying the interview.|
Photo: (c) Birgit van Art
So you could familiarize yourself with this issue?
(laughing) Yes, you know, I had multiple cuts in the clothes. Because I had to carry the kids, I had to do the domestic course and run the house. And it had to be very normal and natural. And also like all the other actors in the film, the two kids were local, their eyes are so real. And all the character roles in the film, they were from the local theatre, they were local people. So to merge with them and not to look artificial, not like an actor, I had to work up very hard.
How was the acting with the kids? Was it difficult?
You know, Mangesh auditioned about 11.000 kids to find those two. And he didn’t want actors from Mumbai. He wanted local kids who were real and comfortable in front of the camera. Those two kids have never acted before, never seen a camera before. They were so wonderful that I didn’t need to do anything. I just looked at them and just reacted.
So they were talented a lot…
Yes, they actually helped me. And it was such a wonderful experience to have them. They could come into my trailer and sleep with me, eat. The little boy, he could sit with his books during the breaks we had in between and he asked me questions. I did truly become a mother to them for these 35 days (laughing).
Are you still in contact with the two kids?
Yes, they came to Mumbai for a particular screening and you know, kids grow up very fast. They have become little bigger in that one year (laughing).
You have also acted in other films, e.g. “Brick Lane” (2007) or “Road Movie” (2010). The list is long. What was your most favourite movie or moment where you acted ?
It is difficult to say. And I am not being diplomatic, but I think I enjoyed a lot of different films for different reasons. My first big film was actually a German film called “Schatten der Zeit” (2005, engl.: “Shadows of Time”). And this film will remain always very, very special to me. I came to the Berlinale for the first time with that film. And then from there to “Brick Lane”, then “Road Movie”. I have always played powerful women parts. And I did a very interesting film called “Bombay Summer” (2009) which was an American film. And this year there is a list of films which I have done which start in different festivals, start releasing from September onwards. And various diverse kind of films. So it is difficult to say that because for me it is interesting to work in different kinds of roles and also work in different cultures. Like this year I have done a British film, I have done an American film. I have done another British film this year and five Indian films. Now there is some regional Indian films people are approaching me with where I have to learn languages again. As long as I do interesting things it is not about my favorite. I enjoy the process more. Sometimes I disconnect myself from the end product. That’s a film makers vision.
|Tannishtha Chatterjee receiving flowers from honorary consul Andreas Lapp at Stuttgart Film Festival 2012. Photo: (c) Birgit van Art|
Your background is very interesting. You are not an actress from your childhood. You have studied chemistry and then came to the National Drama School. How did this happen?
(laughing) I became an actor by default. A lot of people say “No, you have studied acting. You can’t be…” but you know, the whole thing happened to me. And when it happened, I decided to study it. Because I always felt that if you want to become a doctor, you go to the medical school. If you want to become an engineer you go to an institute. You know, dancers rehearse 10 hours a day, and musicians practice 15 hours a day. Why is it that actors think that they can act just spontaneous (laughing). I think spontaneity is something that needs to be practiced as well. When I went to the drama school, there was the first lesson taught to me that as an actor you have wonder and vulnerability throughout. And I was very lucky that very, very early in my career – I did a play with one of the legends of the Indian stage and cinema. And she was 90 years old, just 100 now. And I did my first play with her and I saw the wonder and vulnerability with 90 in her eyes and her freshness to approach everything, her dedication to every work that she does. And that was something to learn from. And to be able to, to be adaptable to every co-actor, technician and the director. And that inspired me.
So these were actually the initial points which led you to go this way?
Yes. I studied chemistry and I fought to myself that OK, 18 hours in a lab in some old university, I would have traveled the world and do something interesting.
I know that you can sing very good! You don’t have to sing now, but…
(laughing) Thank you …!
...you have sung for the film “Page 3” (2005) for example or also in the Royal Opera House in London. So you are an actress, you studied chemistry and you are a great singer. How do these 3 things match ?
I think acting and singing is a common combination. […] Actually, when I did the German film, this was one of the advantage points that I had when I auditioned. Because at that time I was a newbie, it was my first film. And Florian (Anm. d. Red.: Florian Gallenberger) said, when there was a scene with dancing and singing, “I don’t want someone else”. Because in Bollywood it’s playback singing. The girls really don’t sing themselves, someone else is singing. And he said “I don’t want that. I want this girl to sing and dance while she is performing.” And (laughing) the audition was sort of like that, I was moving and singing. And I passed that actually. But you know, traditionally actors have been dancers and singers. Like theaters, musicals are all about that. It is not something unusual, singing and dancing and acting.
But as you like to sing, do you love to sing or is it only for the purpose of acting ?
I love music! And music is something which is very spiritually close to me. So a lot of my musician friends say that you have to sing more and come to their concerts. It is something I don’t want to make commercial. I have sung in the most of the films which I have done. I have sung in “Schatten der Zeit”, I sang for “Road Movie”, I sang in “Brick Lane”. So I have sung in a lot of films. I have just finished a film called “Bombay’s Most Wanted” where I play a singer in a bar and I sing all the songs. So I do things like that and this is something like a personal journey to me, the most nebulous form of art. To me it is meditation; it is my connection to myself.
Where do you think is your journey going towards ?
I don’t think that I want to guide me towards something so early in my life but I still want to explore it where it leads to.
What are your next projects ? For example there are Bollywood movies called “Jal” (2012) and “I love New Year” (2012) you are working on. Can you tell me more about these films?
Yes. “I love New Year” is a Bollywood film. I am working with Sunny Deol in that film. It is a little different than the typical masala films. But it has songs and there is dancing, it is like a masala movie. The story is over one night during New Year in New York and Chicago. It is a romantic comedy. Then “Jal”, as the name suggests, is about the water crisis in the area of Kutch in Gujarat, India. And where actually flamingos, they come in search of sweet water every year. But there is an environmental issue; the water is drying out so the flamingoes are getting affected. And the world is really concerned about that but the people e.g. in Nigeria is also dying of water scarcity but no one really is thinking about it. So it is a story about a tribal community there. And there are love stories; also lots of different things are there e.g. competition between the two tribes for water. But it talks about these things; I think it is a very interesting film. Then there is another film called “Bombay’s Most Wanted” which I just mentioned. It is a cops-gangster-story with two women protagonists in it. I just love it, it is very interesting. There is a journalist who follows the story and there is my character – a singer in the bar – that plays around with the story. So that’s a very interesting film again. I also made another film called “Monsoon Shoutout” (2012) which is co-produced by Asif Kapadia and Anurag Kashyap, so it is a Indo-UK co-production. And there is of course “Dekh Indian Circus”. So there are plenty of films around at the moment.
Sounds like a lot of work. How can you manage all this? Do you have to act in films parallel?
No, I can’t do that. But there was a time, last year, where I was doing 3 films at the same time. Because what happened was, I couldn’t give chunk dates and there was e.g. a film shooting for 40 days and the other one for 20 days. But it wasn’t 20 days continuously, 5 here, 5 there and I had to go in between to do another film and come back again. It was a nightmare. And I was travelling as I was shooting in England, in Russia and then in Mumbai and also in Rajasthan. It was crazy. And I promised myself that I won’t do that anymore. In a way it was also a great exercise for me to go to the basics of acting. Because there was one film where I had no preparation time. I just came on the set and had an idea of the script and I was like “Okay, let’s do it!” (laughing).
That sounds very interesting. Coming back to the fact that you also acted in a German movie, can we expect more from you in the German cinemas or televisions?
Yes, I would love to. You know, I had such an interesting experience with Florian. And I would say that he taught me the basics of camera acting. I had done theater, a lot of theater before acting. Actually I have done two films before “Schatten der Zeit” in India, but this was the kind of detailing and the kind of new answers that he expected and pushed us to words. And there is a specific style. Acting in a German film is different than acting in a British film or acting in an Indian film.
|Indian actress Tannishtha Chatterjee was one of the special guests of Stuttgart Film Festival 2012 in Germany.|
Photo: (c) Frank zur Gathen
What are your experiences from acting in a German film?
Like my experiences, I did a short film with a German director once, and even with Florian. He stripped us out of any aids. I couldn’t do any mannerism, I couldn’t any properties. Nothing I could express or show obviously, it was just very internal and understated. And he said “Do nothing Tannishtha, just be!” And I was like “OK”, but that does not mean that you were doing nothing. For me it was a great learning experience and I loved to do it with the Germans.
So you can speak German now fluently I guess…
I should by now (laughing). Just some words here and there. I wouldn’t dare to say it right now; I am still in the process of practice when I master it, if I do. (laughing)
What are your suggestions for the upcoming actors and actresses?
I think that the first suggestion is that you need to learn the craft. And after that you practice it till a point. It is actually like music, that you learn everything. And you know the rules. And then when you master those rules, you say “OK, now I am a great star and improvising” and start enjoying and performing. Without that, there is sustenance for a long time. For women I would say especially that you feel pretty and all and have a few little roles here and there. But if you don’t know the craft, and if you don’t work on that, there is no career in a long-term way. And I feel, like I said, if you want to be a doctor you have to study hard on medicine…
And in your case one has to study chemistry to be a famous actress like you…
(laughing) That also helps! A bit of experience in life also helps.
Thank you very much for your time, all the best for your upcoming projects and we hope to see you soon on the big screens in Germany.