Qarib Chat With Tanuja Chandra About Her Upcoming Film
Director and writer, Tanuja Chandra does not believe in settling for anything mediocre. Insisting on choosing the road less travelled, she shuns the easy way out. Having left no stone unturned in her professional journey, she has made a formidable mark in the fields of journalism, script writing and direction. After nine years, Chandra makes a comeback as a director and The Quint talks to her about her upcoming film, Qarib Qarib Singlle starring Irrfan Khan and Parvathy.
You started your career in television journalism. How did you veer into film direction?
Tanuja Chandra: I always intended to make movies, journalism was something I really enjoyed. Even now, I love to write. I have been writing for magazines and newspapers. I consider it to be fiction writing and all fiction is based on life around us. So journalism only lent itself to me for writing books and scripts. Journalism was all a part of the work space, I always intended to write movies. Writing is a solo activity but direction is not. It is necessarily a team activity. And it sort of rounds up all the people and makes them work towards one goal. It is not about talking well, rather it is more about integrity. I seek integrity from the people I work with. If I have to decide between writing and directing, I will say writing is tougher. When you start, you look at the blank page and you think you will never reach the end of the script. Then you need to go right to the top because you need to make it better. The scripts that I have written so far are all about writing and rewriting and making them work.
You have made a comeback in Bollywood after nine years. What do you think has changed in this span?
Tanuja Chandra: It wasn’t like I had left Bollywood, I was right there. I was in the film industry working on various scripts. I started working on the script of Qarib Qarib Singlle three years back. Before that I was working on a script, which was almost on the verge of becoming a film but it couldn’t for various reasons. There is a script in place and we will make a film soon. There was a script before that too. So I was there in the film industry because I was writing and once that was done I was meeting the actors, then the producers and other people required to put a film together. This is a part the audience doesn’t see. Believe me, it is a very tough struggle. An actor does 2-3 movies in a year, a technician does several movies but for a director it doesn’t work that way. Rather it is like several years and just one movie. I was riding the change. I must say, some things have changed. Not as much as they should have. There is an interesting digital world which is very exciting to be a part of. But honestly, cinema is very traditional. We still stick to a very safe kind of cinema, some of it is unusual. There should be more movies about women, there are more than when I started. But usual ones exceed the unusual ones. So we need to correct that ratio.
What do you think have been the changes in the notions of Bollywood romance between the period from Dil to Pagal hai to Qarib Qarib Singlle?
Tanuja Chandra: People are still interested in watching films which have more of a slice of life nature, a little more true to life. But enough of those are not being made. We are still in the kind of cinema which is a little more fancy and unrealistic. Both kinds should be made, there should be all kinds of movies. So there has not been a very big change in romance on big screen.
You pick unusual subjects for your films. What makes you avoid the safe path?
Tanuja Chandra: I couldn’t have gone on the usual path, I have no talent for it and I don’t have any interest in that. I want to make films on the stories, which are rooted in the lives we lead. I can only make something I am in love with and I can connect with. In movies, we have a beginning, middle and end. Life doesn’t work that way. Life has an unhappy ending, contrary to movies. The movies right now gloss over all the tragedies in life. I want to make a crystal clear picture of life.
You belong to a family comprising a film critic, a film director and a writer. Do you seek help from them while directing films?
Tanuja Chandra: Anupama doesn’t review family films. For this particular one, I did not take any advice from Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The story is my mother’s but my co-writer Gazzela and I wrote the screenplay. But there is a script that I have worked on with Vidhu. His interest in cinema is at another level and he is very passionate about cinema. So for me, to see somebody who has worked in this industry for almost 30 years and yet not lose integrity, that pure passion for movies is really inspiring. It is not about taking help in my scripts, that I can do anytime and I have done it. It is more about being surrounded by people who are so passionate about their work. Like even my brother Vikram Chandra, his book Secret Games is now being made into a Netflix series, which is really exciting. I prefer learning from their work.
As you mentioned, the script was inspired from that of your mother’s play. Have you made any changes in it?
Tanuja Chandra: It wasn’t a script really, it was just a small radio play. We made a lot of changes because we wanted it to resonate today’s world, which was only possible by making changes. We had to modernize it and make it reflect an urban life. It is very different for a 25-year-old to look for companionship and a 35 or a 40-year-old to look for a companion. Here the human emotion is the same but our society is a little judgemental. After a certain point, you have no business looking for love. I say, you can look for love at any point because that is something we all seek and also use today’s amenities like a dating website, which is where the protagonists of my story meet. The funny thing is that it is called Ab tak Single. It is like someone saying ‘even now you are single’. He is a strange guy and she really finds him odd. But at the same time, he is really progressive, he supports a self-made woman, and he is very honest and caring. So that makes her trust him and they set off on a journey. This journey is before that phase where the couple has said, ‘I love you’. They are not committed to each other. So I made changes to make it as progressive I could for the audience.
I have always seen Irrfan playing serious roles. How did you choose him for a comic role?
Tanuja Chandra: That is precisely the reason. I wanted to experiment with and explore his funny side. His way of doing a comedy is not conventional. It is very real and understated but it is felt by everyone. At the stage of writing this script, he was in my mind for this particular role. If he would have denied it, I would have to really think about whom to approach. For me, the interesting thing is that he is utterly believable. Like in the trailer, when she orders Latte in a coffee shop, he says “apni latte lekar na ana” to the waiter, it is a very stupid line but at the same time he is also a believer in a strong woman. Those two things coexisting is a unique ability. He is not stupid. He is a very intelligent man but he is not shy of behaving stupidly.
Did you find anything extremely annoying about Irrfan since you worked so closely with him?
Tanuja Chandra: Not annoying. I would say he is obsessive about the character. He really thinks about the character a lot. He is very shy of doing anything over the top. So I had to push him sometimes and make him understand this is really not too much. It is the demand of the character. You have to make him understand that you won’t look bad but the best thing is, he finally complies. He thinks he might be hitting the wrong sur otherwise. He thinks he will land on a wrong note. He is a very invested actor. He also doesn’t like doing many takes. On the other hand, I am a lover of many takes. He feels that it reduces the spontaneity. Parvathy on the other hand comes from a very different culture of hard work and rehearsal, so they are very different. The characters are different and the cultures they come from are also very different.
What made you think Parvathy is suitable for the role? Had you watched any of her previous work?
Tanuja Chandra: I hadn’t really seen her work but when I did, I loved the fact that she is a very intelligent, very well read and in her acting, she could easily bring that vulnerability. Her character is that of an awkward woman. Meeting someone for coffee is awkward for her. She is a very strong woman but that doesn’t mean that she is not shaky. I met her after seeing her work and I saw that she has the quality of combining strength and vulnerability. Then I went to meet her in Kochi and luckily she liked the script. We were able to combine these two people, who are very different.
Going by Bollywood’s trend of female lead selection, Parvathy is not exactly a size zero. As a director, how comfortable were you with this fact?
Tanuja Chandra: Why will I ask her to lose weight? Rather, she should put on some more. I am a real person. When Irrfan is so real, I wanted someone as real as him to match up to him. It wouldn’t have worked otherwise. I wanted to keep someone who the audiences could meet and say ‘Oh! We are like that’. I didn’t want her to have an impossible figure and that impossible beauty I didn’t want her to be all well turned out, all the time because in real life you can’t be like that. The charm has to come from your personality, your heart and your brain, not a skinny body because that can’t make a good film. She has a really lovely face and personality, so that worked for me.
Do you think Bollywood’s obsession with size zero has an impact on the society we live in?
Tanuja Chandra: I think it is the other way around. I think the way we are in society affects Bollywood. Beauty is a huge currency and by beauty I mean the idea of beauty, what we consider beautiful. So in real life, that is what we deal in. There is a friend of mine, who says ‘Duniya ke sare compliments ek taraf and you have lost weight ek taraf”. I mean how happy do we become when we hear this, it is a sense of pride. We are living in a world, where to lose weight is considered a great achievement. So I think life is what influences movies but yes my responsibility as a movie maker is not to say size zero is wonderful. If I can have Parvathy in my movie who is not a size zero but love her for what she is and appreciate her for her work and personality, then I feel yes I am doing something that adds value to my work and to the society. It spreads the right sentiment of not judging people by the way they look. Although this is the first thing we see and we all have a habit of appreciating physical beauty, is that the only thing we should appreciate? There is a mind, there is integrity, there is a heart, what happens to all of these qualities. Are they meaningless? Well, they are not. They are very much important. Relationships are based on these, not on looks. If we look at it this way, then I guess there will be a change in the films. But I also think we should portray this in movies so that we start to validate this idea.
Lastly, do you think Irrfan is a sex symbol for all the women out there?
Tanuja Chandra: Oh! Don’t ask me about that. Women really find him hot because it is his mind that they find hot. His thinking, his ability to get on screen what the role demands - that makes women like Irrfan. I am of the thought that have your great looks and have your average looks side by side. That is what the world is, it is not just handsomeness and beauty being looked upon very highly.