Known for woman oriented films Tanuja Chandra says that she would like to make comedy films in the future. She firmly believes that a good director should not stick to a specific genre in which he or she is successful; rather one should try all aspects of cinema. After giving thrillers like Dushman, Sangharsh she is all set rock with her next outing Zindaggi Rocks.
How and when did the idea of Zindaggi Rocks begin?
It happened last year. Actually Sushmita and I were going to do another film but that film wasn't working for many reasons so we decided to do a hip-urban movie. I thought it would be really nice to see Sushmita not as Sushmita but as a rock star. She is someone, who is very urban at the same time very hip, hot and successful and who is also doing well for herself. Also at the same time she is single mother in the movie. She is somebody who's not a typical rock star. I thought it would be a very interesting image. Through that a story and screenplay developed. Sushmita agreed and she was so good and appropriate for the role that it would have been a tragedy if we wouldn't be able to do it without her.
Since most of your movies have conveyed some message, what are you trying to say this time?
There are many things. Of course I won't be able to reveal the main plot but there are many things like the movie is full of hope. The movie looks forward to say that life goes on. There will be relationships, joys and sorrows, problems but the stream of life always flows. And towards that end every character lives in the movie. Every character plays his or her role in order to make life fulfilling. Other than that there are many love stories. There is a love story between Shiny and Sushmita, her relationship with her ten year old son and that's a really amazing love story because they are like friends. It also talks about her relationship with her mother. It's a family where there are all women. Moushmi Chatterjee plays the double role of twin sisters and both can't stand each other. One is very serious and the other one is a party animal. Then there is Kim Sharma, who plays her manager. She is like her sister so it's a unique set of relationships and how they confront with the really big crisis in their life and how they deal with it. Basically the message is how you can make Zindaggi Rock by living every moment beautifully and by giving completely as much as you can.
Main protagonist of your film is a rock star. Was Sushmita your first choice or did you considered some other actress before her?
The role was thought with idea of a rock star, a vivacious woman, who speaks her mind. A woman, who loves with all her heart and has a ten year old son so this whole image was Sushmita Sen to me. I would have been really sad if she had said no. She is just perfect and it's not a mother, who has to be a typical mother and neither a rock star has to be a typical rock star. The basic line is that greatness is sometimes found in unusual places.
What made you to sign Shiny opposite Sushmita?
Well, Sushmita is a difficult person to cast with, because she has a really huge screen personality. Even while I was shooting, I like the way she was doing it but later when I was editing it would become even more enlarged. I don't know how that happened but it happens when people have that charisma. It just comes so much more on the screen when you are watching it rather than just directly seen as in person. So it was difficult to cast any actor opposite her because many men look pale in front of her.
I have always liked working with interesting people and the time we cast Shiny, he was basically new. I had only seen the promos of his first movie Hazaron Khwaishon Aisi. That time he had not even received those awards and Gangster had not even released but just from the promos I could make out that this guy will be a really good actor. I was instinctively convinced that he is a fantastic actor so I spoke to the producer. I convinced her that this is the right guy. Now I am really happy that it's not just my conviction that has come true but others too appreciating his performance. So it's right timing for my film because it's very good that we started off with the new person but now my film has someone, who is a star so that's really great!
What was the reason behind Maushmi's double role? Was it a requirement of script?
It was totally in the script. The idea was to have an unusual and funny family. For Sushmita she has a mother named Mrs. Sengupta, who is very serious. She has a library of thousand books but I thought there would be interesting to off set her seriousness with somebody who's just opposite to her. She goes out for parties with Sush. So its really good fun to see both of them and Moshumi is the only one who could pull it off. She is extremely amazing, emotional and a dramatic actress and at the same time she is very funny so she could do the two ends of the spectrum well. Any actor would have enjoyed doing that role as you get to play two extremes. It's nice to see these two bickering sisters and there is a point when they do come together and also learn to love each other after of course many years.
According to Sushmita, male actors get lot of attention when a women filmmaker directs a film. What's your take on this?
She teases me a lot and this is one of her favorite jokes, which is completely nonsense. It's nonsense that I paid more attention to Shiny than to her. She sounded very funny when she teased me and said "Oh, you know, you are more interested the way Shiny is doing the shot and not interested the way I am doing it." But believe me it's not true in any case. I am the kind of director, who really likes instructing, pushing and making something really beautiful to come out in terms of performance. I have worked a lot with Shiny in this movie as well with Sush and they both have performed well. I am feeling fulfilled to see the actors doing so well. Once again I would like to say that her joke is complete nonsense. Don't believe Sushmita Sen's joke.
You have always worked on feministic subject. ZR is also on the same lines?
I wouldn't say this is a female oriented film where a woman does everything. Yes her character is really strong. It's really powerful and has lots of shades in it. There is softness and intensity and at the same time being a performer she is loud. Shiny's role is big, if not bigger. It may be little than Sushmita but it's certainly not less powerful or any less important. So I would say it's as much about Shiny Ahuja as it is about Sushmita Sen. Its not in that sense a female oriented film. I can never make the movie, where female characters are weak or they are weakly written or they are just vague or unimportant. That's not possible for me. But I wouldn't say that this is a feminist film. I mean, I don't like female characters to wave a flag and say that we stand for this and that. I think action speaks louder than the words and even in this case the way the character leaves her life and the way she wants the people in her life. That's how a woman should be and not like a woman, who fights for a cause all the time.
As you said you don't want weak female characters in your film, so are you a feminist in real life?
No, I think a lot of your life comes into your movie. Again like I said I don't like flag-waving women as I have lived my life and will continue to live with the way I think is right and dignified. I think that's the way even if it is not the conventional way. So yes my feelings in real life are very much to what comes into my movies. I may not have experienced, say what Kajol's character went through in Dushman or what Priety has done in Sangharsh and at the same time I am not a Rock Star but I can feel it as a woman. What I think is that important issues in the world those have certainly found their ways into the movie have been spoken through my characters.
How was the whole experience like?
Well, filmmaking is not fun, it's tough and lot of hard work is involved. Its people management, lot of sweat and grime and fighting and persuading and requesting all these kinds of things happen. But this is my job so I am not complaining. From outside it may feel like a fun job as there are some funny moments but most of the times its hard work like all other jobs. Sometimes it's erratic. You have long days and then you have the patches, where there is nothing happening and then you depend on an unpredictable thing which is called human response. So it's completely subjective that the whole year you work on one thing that you offer to the people and it depends on whether they like or dislike it. So it's a very shaky business to be in.
After directing several films do you still feel the same?
No. I have a certain good feeling, which has turned out with the beautiful moments that I wanted. Of course, what you start off with in your mind is often different at the end. It's a team effort. While writing is easy as you can write anything you want, but when you actually work on it there are so many things that you have to take into account. The magic happens when it's a collective effort. I am really happy with the way this film has come out. I am proud of this film and I am hoping it will do well.
What is your expectation this time?
Well, like I said it's a unique and completely original story. I know most directors love to feel that their work is very different and unusual. I always, in any case, want to do that and I have done that within a commercial framework. I always wanted to make unusual movie and I have had unusual plot as well. Now I can safely say that I haven't seen this story in any Hindi movies so far. There is a huge drama that happens in the film effortlessly. Off course you will find it when you see it. I think the plot and story works. Performances are nice and I am really happy with the music, which is being liked by the people.
You might have had some memorable incidents on the set, share some with us.
Yes, but the worst is when Sushmita hurt herself. As a director you don't want any actor to be hurt ever. Even when I have done more physical actions like rape scenes or fighting sequences in my earlier movies any actor has never been hurt. This time in a dance sequence she aggravated her back badly. But this time it was just a bad luck. Well, when it has to happen, it happens.
Tell us something about the snake story that happened while shooting ZR. Is it true that Sushmita prayed before snake?
Yes. We have photographs of it. I was shooting in a club, which was quite open. There was a cobra sitting there. I am not an animal lover so I said "let's get out of here." I didn't want to stop shooting though. And before I knew it, she sat in front of the cobra and started praying. She has lot of guts and complete conviction and faith. She is great believer of Lord Shiva and obviously the Snake God. She convinced that the Snake God has visited us where we are shooting and we have to pay sort of respects to it.
Where have you shot this film?
We have shot in Mumbai.
What is the USP of this film? Why should people go and watch Zindaggi Rocks?
Well, the USP of every film is generally its story. Yes, you can have very big stars to pull audience but beyond that the foundation of the movie is the story. I would certainly say that a strong plot and powerful story and add to a complete beautiful and wonderful person called Sushmita Sen. There's Shiny Ahuja, whom people are increasingly liking as a good performer. While from the promos one can easily detect the emotional part of the movie which is what finally touches an audience. That's how we could pull them in and I am hoping they will find something that will make them laugh and cry as well.
What after Zindaggi Rocks?
There are two scripts with me and I am in the process of choosing.
What is happening to your English movie Hope and a Little Sugar?
This film has been made totally in the format of the English movie, which means there are no mixing songs. The language is off course English but the emotional tone is softer and more the way English movies are and less like Hindi movies. For me it was a very good experiment. I was given this offer and I just jumped because it gave me the opportunity to write an unusual script without thinking that it will work on box office or not. Sometimes you have to keep your mind a lot with the Hindi films so I didn't have to do that. This movie is very close to my heart. It's a Sikh-Muslim love story with the backdrop of 9/11. How something like this has changed a normal person like you and me. It's called Hope and a Little Sugar as it has resolution that looks to a future where we can all live with each other even though our religion may be different. This movie is a part of the festivals first before the release.
Your last film Film Star didn't have a theatrical release and was released only on DVD. Do you feel bad about it?
No it wasn't released on DVD. It was first released by Sahara on television. Yes, off course it's disappointing as any director wants to have a theatrical release of their film and not on television. But I am not the producer so there is nothing much I can do about it. I do wish that it could have released in theatres but it wasn't, so you live and you learn. Even though it was a television release, they should have done the promotion on television to get more viewership so I think that's the real failing.
Since you have consistently made a certain kind of film, do you think a director should stick to a specific genre in which he/she is successful?
No I don't think a director must certainly not stick to any one kind of movie or genre, because it means you are limiting yourself. Yes, a director is certainly good at one kind or better at one kind than the other kind of cinema. So you should milk it for all its worth and make sure that you squeeze all your plots that are there in your head and fits into that genre. My favorite is a dramatic, intense and emotional story and that is the genre I personally like to work on so I am naturally towards that. But if there is a time when I feel I am comfortable enough; I would like to try my hands on comedy. I am a funny person in real life but that doesn't mean that you will make funny movies. And comedy is very difficult to do. I'll plan to do it sometime later but not immediately. I think for a while I will continue in the slightly dramatic, thriller genre. But I would like to try all for sure.
You had written the screenplay of Dil To Pagal Hai. After that you didn't work with Yash Chopra in any of the films?
Yes but that was long ago. It's not my kind of movie. I have co-written it. When the offer came from them asking me to develop a certain story they had in mind into a screenplay it sounded interesting at that time. But basically there was no story. They showed these two people who don't meet till halfway point of the film but there is a kind of love happening. However now I write only for myself.