Interview : Tillotama Shome


‘Tillotama Shome: My best is yet to come ‘

She is one actor who believes in having no regrets but at the same time is also trying to get better. We’re talking about SHANGHAI fame Tillotama Shome, who is now all set to star as a queen in Q’s Bengali film, TASHER DESH. Catch her as she speaks about the film, working with Q and why she is satisfied with her career. Read on…

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Tell us a bit about your background?
I started acting at the age of 21. My first film was MONSOON WEDDING directed by Meera Nair. It won the Golden Lion Award. It was insane because it was my first film and I didn’t expect that it would be loved, celebrated so much by people. But that’s how the journey started. Before that I was doing theatre in Delhi and that I went to study at New York University. After I graduated there, I got a kickass job. I had to do drama work with prisoners in America’s highest security prison. So I hung out basically for two years with people who had committed all kinds of crimes. I realized that there is a very thin line between someone who is in jail and someone who is not. So it was a very humbling experience. Also because they are in prison for so long, their creativity is bursting. They have no other outlet for it other than violence. So I think I learnt more about acting in prison than I did in acting school.

You are playing a mother in TASHER DESH. Weren’t you skeptical of playing a role elder to you?
No because in my last film I played an 18-year-old. At the age of 23, right after MONSOON WEDDING I did a film called SHADOWS OF TIME, in which my character span was from 18-40 years. So age is not an issue. My life has followed the strangest of patterns. Then at 22 I played a 40-year old and now at this age I am playing an 18-year-old…So, for me it’s the part that needs to speak. It has to be convincing. I have to be able to pull off whatever my character’s age is.

You play a queen in TASHER DESH. If you were made a queen for a day, what would you do?
The queens of today are quite boring actually. But if it’s the idea of the queens of the yesteryears and if I had powers which were not just ceremonial, I think the one thing I would want to do is banish nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. The stockpiling of nuclear weapons is a virtual bane which is bleeding us of much needed resources which we can use in so many different areas that could better human lives.

Did you know about Q before TASHER DESH? Did you watch his previous films?
I don’t think anyone has watched Q’s earlier films. But everyone ia aware of Q’s earlier films. I think his reputation precedes him. I haven’t actually seen GANDU. But the reason I said yes to do Q’s film was not because of GANDU but because of the script and the part he was offering me.

How was the experience working with Q?
The first time I saw Q, in my mind I went ‘Yaar yeh to nahin hone wala hai’ because he’s too cool for school. I wondered what kind of film he will make. He taught me a very important lesson to not judge a book by its cover. The media just loves him, he’s irreverent, he creates a stir and a sensation. But you know these are all the reasons I wouldn’t want to work with someone. So I was wondering how this would really happen and I was really in two minds until I met him. I don’t think I appreciated the way he worked until I arrived on the set. Once I was on the sets, I realized that he is mad. But there’s a method in his madness. And it’s a method worth witnessing. It’s a method which is very organic. It’s the kind of magic that happens when you don’t plan too much though you have plans. So with Q once I got on sets I realized that he knows exactly what he’s doing but it may come across as if he doesn’t.

What are the factors you take into consideration while doing a film?
I work very instinctively. It has to be the script, the part and the director. The rest is the entire universe conspiring to make it happen or not. There is no game plan.

Any instance you remember on the sets?

On my first day of shoot, he told me that this is the queen’s room, why don’t you get comfortable in it. He said that they were going to shoot something else and would get back in 45 minutes. So I was hanging out in the room and after 45 minutes, they weren’t back and I was getting bored. The room had a beautiful bed. They had also given me grape juice as a prop. So I thought to lie down for a while but not sleep. So I held the glass of wine so that if I felt sleepy, the wine glass would slip out of my hand and I would immediately get up. Suddenly I felt the glass of wine slipping out of my hand and I got up. As I woke up I saw from the corner of my eye that the DOP was already there. And I also saw Q with another camera. So they must have come in to the room saw me passed out on the bed and must have started shooting. There was no formality of calling action. So I just went with the flow. I got up and was half asleep which was great for the part. So I did what I had to do and it was very organic. It was an impulse which was felt between the director and the actor. I just acted on that unsaid impulse and it was beautiful. That’s when I realized that there’s much more to Q than just being radical and irreverent. That is just his exterior. His direction and the trust that he places in his actors is unconventional but effective.

SHANGHAI was your first ”commercial commercial” film. Is it a conscious decision to do very few commercial films?

It’s not a conscious decision. I get a lot of work from International Cinema. It is not a choice I’ve made. I am happy to do any kind of film. I don’t think if a film is commercial or independent. I don’t think like that. SHANGHAI was just another thing that happened. For me it was just another script, a great part and a great director. Instinctively I felt it was something I wanted to do and explore. I don’t think of myself as an actor who does serious cinema. I see myself as an actor who is open to do all kinds of work.

Are you happy with the way your career has progressed so far?

The sense of happiness comes from the fact that when I look back, I am proud of the work that I have done. I sleep easy in the night. I don’t regret. Can it get better? Yes, it can. Otherwise one might as well die. If it’s all over and if one has already accomplished what he wants to do, then what’s the point in living. I feel like my best is yet to come. But it has been a satisfying journey.