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Tisca Chopra: The Story of a Story-Teller

By Armin Sethi Friday, Sep 15, 2017 10:38: AM

Tisca Chopra is no stranger to taking up good scripts, projects, and delving completely into the character she portrays. It is not every day that a conversation leaves you feeling so philosophical about filmmaking, but that is exactly how I felt after my telephone call with Tisca.


The Hungry is adapted from Shakespeare. Taking away some of the elements of a play and putting that into a film, into a modern-day era, of an upper-class Indian society, is a unique way of adapting a play. Given your background in theatre, how do you ensure as an actor, the core of the play remains intact while also balancing the need for the film script to take a life of its own?

Well, my allegiance is to the script I am given and to the director. Those are my two allegiances really. If one deviates from one or the other, then I think one would lose track. The director keeps track of the whole story. You keep track of your scenes and character. Naturally, the way this play was performed a hundred and fifty years back, is not how it would be performed today. It has to seem real and true and be believable in the context of the world that the director is setting up, in the context of the script. That is the truth I follow rather than try to lose myself in the unnecessary baggage of this or that.


You were also involved in the script process as well.
Yes, there were several workshops on that. We tried, as far as possible, along with Bornila Chatterjee, and the script writer, to keep certain elements of Shakespeare intact. Such would be the Shakespearean chorus, which is a vital element. And keep forces of nature alive in the film, which is another important aspect of Shakespeare’s plays. But that is at the script stage. When you are acting, you are true to the scene and to the character and the world that is being set up at that point.


The collaboration that occurred at the script-making stage - How does that work when there are so many creative persons with so much experience?
Well, I’ve come to the realization that filmmaking is one of the most collaborative processes known to humankind. There are so many different teams that work together, which, now as a producer, I notice more and more. There is a post-production team, camera team, lighting team, direction team, make-up teams…they all have to come together with one vision. Yet again, it is the director at the helm of affairs at the end of the day. The director is of paramount importance. Keeping the director’s vision in mind, we all try – I think it is unforgivable as an artist to notice something and not bring it up. Ultimately, it is your film. I take absolutely one hundred percent of the ownership of the film in every which way. I will come up with my suggestions and ideas and say what I think. I’m very fortunate to work with directors who are such lovely collaborators. They happily incorporate what they feel will work, and they will reject things that they feel doesn’t fit within the larger vision of the story. It is a multi-layered process which comes to bring the whole film to life. The entire team, I mean, they were such wonderful people – I loved working with them. It was collaboration in the truest sense.


I found myself feeling a level of both sympathy and empathy for specifically your character, despite how dark it was. Do you empathize with your character? If so, how do you maintain that empathy yourself for your character?
It’s a difficult question to answer I have to say. And a very good question. I think the key to any character, whether dark or whatever shade of grey they might be, is to find their humanity. To find out how that person would react and what their motivations are. In The Hungry, their motivations are extremely clear. In that sense, it is author-backed. You can perfectly understand why a woman in that situation would react the way she did. It does not require a leap of faith or logic. To find the truth within the character, and the motivation, that part of my job was easier in terms of finding empathy because what was the most precious to her was taken away from her so brutally. She continues normalcy to the best of her abilities but she also tries to provide justice in her own sense. She didn’t start the situation, but she sure as hell finished it.

The setting that this takes place in is not outside of my own life experiences as well. I grew up in North India, specifically Noida and kidnappings were a common occurrence. I mean, the recent Chadha case about the killing at point blank range – what else is it? That kind of stuff is also what this film touches on.

 

You’ve always been involved in quality projects. Chutney, your short film, I believe is the reason why many more short films are being made and are doing well. What is it about a particular project that draws your attention?
Story. For me, it is age-old – the love of man for story. It started off when we started off – with us sitting around a fire and telling stories. Animals don’t tell each other stories, I don’t think. We can tell stories and that’s what gets us surviving. Each civilization has its own stories and traditions and those are passed on from grandparent to grandchild. Now we have cinema and that becomes part of popular culture. And continues the story of us. For me, it is a very sacred thing to be able to tell a story.


Chutney is a film which I wrote and produced as well so for me, that’s the kind of work which is meaningful, delicate, nuanced, and pronounces. I like the little touches of humanity in darkened cinema – that’s what I really love about story-telling. Ultimately, the little things impact whether a story and whether a character stays with us. I like to tell stories that are told in a new way.

 

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