By Utpal Borpujari
In Bollywood, it’s almost a habit for quite a few to keep on announcing their impending foray into international cinema, which somehow never happens or turns out to be just another appearance in an NRI film. But there is someone who does not believe in making any such announcements, but is working her way up the ladder, working with diverse filmmakers from across the world and carving a special niche in the world of cinema far away from the media-favourite glamour babes in Mumbai.
We are talking about Tannishtha Chatterjee, an alumni of the National School of Drama, who, with her superbly-nuanced performance in British director Sarah Gavron’s Brick Lane based on Monica Ali’s novel of the same name. Chatterjee, now living between London, Mumbai and Delhi, has just wrapped up Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie, costarring Abhay Deol and Satish Kaushik, which became the first Indian feature film to be acquired by global distribution giant Fortissimo Films during the recent 62nd Cannes Film Festival, and is now concentrating on quite a high-profile projects, including Gavron’s next film costarring Annamaria Marinca, the star of 2007 Cannes Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days of Cristian Mungiu.
The trained Hindustani classical singer who has sung for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3, Chatterjee is also busy in Bhopal Gas Tragedy-backdropped A Prayer for Rain, co-starring Martin Sheen, Kal Penn and Mischa Barton, and has just wrapped up Joseph Matthew’s Bombay Summer costarring US-based actor Samrat Chakrabarti, and Aijaz Khan’s The White Elephant, even as she prepares for an almost silent film, Partho Sen-Gupta’s Arunoday. The petite National School of Drama alumni, who made her debut with Anwar Jamal’s National Award-winning Swaraaj – The Little Republic in 2002, has come a long way in these seven years, acting in critically-acclaimed films like Shadows of Time, a Bengali film by Oscar-winning German filmmaker Florian Gallenberger, and Partho Sengupta’s France-India coproduction Hawa Aaney Dey.
Indeed, it is not surprising to find Chatterjee fast becoming one of the best-known faces in the international cinema circuit, with quite a few directors looking for Indian actors more often than not ending up at her door. Gavron, in whose Brick Lane Chatterjee gave a powerful performance as a young Bangladeshi girl married to a much older immigrant in London, played by Satish Kaushik, apparently had no second thought about selecting her again for her next project, tentatively titled Pole Dance. Chatterjee justifiably is excited about the character she is playing in the film, which she says is about two pole dancers in London, one from Eastern Europe and the other from Mauritius or Sri Lanka. “The backdrop of the film is pole dancing but it’s about female bonding, with an angle of breast cancer coming in though it is set in a sexy backdrop,” she says. “It’s about the confidence of a woman’s body that gets shaken by something like breast cancer. It’s very complex subject and we are doing a lot of research and rehearsing.”
Another film that she is worked up is Arunoday, in which none of the four main characters has more than three sentences each in the entire film. “My character in it is someone for whom time is frozen. For the rest of the world she is mad. It’s the whole history of hers that she has to convey without saying anything. It reminds me the whole exercises that we used to do in Naseeruddin Shah’s classes in NSD, in which you come into a room and have to communicate everything about your relationship with another person sleeping in the room without uttering a single word and without waking that person up,” she says.
Chatterjee, who was recently seen in Raja Menon’s Barah Aana, is also looking forward to the release of The White Elephant, an NFDC production in Hindi costarring the talented Prashant Narayanan. “It’s a very sweet film about a very poor family who gets to keep an elephant for a year as part of a ritual in Kerala. The elephant selects a home for itself and it’s supposed to be a blessing, but the elephant eats all the time, and for the poor family it becomes a white elephant literally. It is about how the drunkard husband gets reformed due to the new responsibility, how the wife is worried, and how the kids are excited about the elephant coming home. It is all about how the dynamic of the family changes because of the coming of the elephant,” she says.
Chatterjee’s tryst with big Hollywood names is happening in A Prayer for Rain, for which Sheen will come down to India to shoot. The controversial subject forced the makers to shift the shoot from the real location of Bhopal to a studio in Hyderabad, but nevertheless she is confident it would turn out to be a powerful film. Also in the pipeline is a project by Aditya Bhattacharya of Raakh fame, which takes a look at the underworld from a woman’s point of view. “I am very excited about this film as it has allowed me to break the image, and the weird sense of humour that Bhattacharya has comes through in the film that is partly intense and partly light-hearted,” says Chatterjee, who is waiting eagerly for the India release of Brick Lane, which has made her a big name in the British film industry.
Quite evidently, for this Chemistry graduate from Delhi University’s Venkatashwara College who came to the world of acting “just by chance”, it has been quite an eventful journey that promises to get more and more exciting in times to come.