(L to R ) Tisca Chopra, Charlie Hunnam and Vijay Ganguly
How do we remember the cinematic greats? In their work. But also in the many kindnesses they have showered on the people around them. Like Irrfan Khan. Actor Tisca Chopra remembers how Irrfan was instrumental in her continuing in the profession. “There was a time when I thought I’m going to give up acting. He goaded me into doing Qissa (2013). And he was always challenging me, telling me I wouldn’t be able to do it. And, of course, it spurred me on,” she now says. Her co-star in Qissa, Tillotama Shome, had a similar experience. She was sitting in a hall at an event in New York where The Namesake (2006) was being feted. “Irrfan and Mira Nair were on stage. He saw me in the audience and recognised me from Monsoon Wedding (2001). He asked me why I was looking so sad and why I wasn’t acting anymore,” she says. She had been thinking about returning to India. Irrfan’s words were enough. Such interventions make a difference. After Chopra’s defining role as a troubled mother in Taare Zameen Par (2007), and as wife to the deluded Irrfan in Qissa, she decided to try and create opportunities for herself. She wrote, directed and acted in Chutney in 2016, as the almost unrecognisable, bucktoothed Chandni Chowk homemaker who has the last laugh. The short film in 2016 won awards and made her fellow filmmakers sit up and take notice of her. Since then, she has been busy working on a variety of things, from The Hungry (2017) to Jugjugg Jeeyo, with her latest eye-catching performance in the Disney+Hotstar series Dahan: Raakan ka Rahasya. She gets to play Avani Raut, with a different physicality, which took her five months to work on. “I was in the best shape of my life,” she says. “She is in a predominantly male space but we didn’t want her to come across as a ball-buster. We’re heading towards humanism than pure feminism, I think. Fifty per cent of the planet is female and men need to understand that they need to be happy. We wanted her to be human and vulnerable, but she is ambitious. She represents the government, science, progress. We wanted the body language of determination, not aggression. It was as if she had taken hot steel and poured it into her spinal cord. She is alert to the presence of men around and she is aware she is not welcome.” Chopra had a life-changing moment in 2016 when she was dropped from a movie four days before the shoot despite her having shifted shoot and travel dates for it. “I was extremely upset with myself. I didn’t want to be a flowerpot who was dispensable. So, I took a hard look at myself and asked what is it that I bring to the table that is different and I realised I can write, tell a story,” she says. The result: Chutney, which was a stinging riposte to Bollywood’s obsession with youth and good looks, which is essentially just one of the navrasas. She says: “I realised the audience just wants a crackling good yarn; they don’t give a damn about who is at the heart of a story, a hero, heroine or a mouse. We are a kahani pradhan desh (story-first nation).”
The Other Ganguly
Rupali Ganguly is probably television’s biggest star, as the woman behind Anupamaa, Star Plus’ popular series, but her brother isn’t doing badly either. Vijay’s the man behind the soulful retro cabaret, ‘Ek zindagi’, by Huma Qureshi in the forthcoming Netflix movie Monica, O My Darling (the song is a tribute to ‘Piya tu ab to aaja’ by Helen in the Nasir Husain film, Caravan, 1971), Rashmika Mandanna’s dance number in Goodbye, and last year’s hit number ‘Chaka Chak’ in Anand L Rai’s Atrangi Re. Both are children of the late film director Anil Ganguly.
Scene and Heard
Apple TV+ is hoping Shantaram, based on the 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, starring Charlie Hunnam, will be one of its series hits this year. But remember the time our very own Mira Nair was going to direct it, with Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan? The novel about an Australian convict who finds salvation in the slums of Mumbai is a magnet for the West with its stereotypical view of India—hope amidst poverty and happiness in the middle of despair. Shantaram was supposed to be a movie and Nair was appointed in 2007, replacing Peter Weir, when the Writers’ Guild of America strike halted all work on the project. Now Hunnam plays Depp’s role and Alexander Siddig is in the role meant for Bachchan.