Before Freida Pinto emerged on the firmament of Hollywood, we had Tannishtha Chatterjee as our ambassador in world cinema. Discovered as a global talent by Academy Award winning director Florian Gallenberger, when he cast her in Shadows of Time, Tannishta’s reputation grew beyond boundaries in no time. Her performance as Nazneen in Sarah Gavron’sBrick Lane drew applause from critics. She was noticed in a small role in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina. In between she did some meaningful films in India. From Barah Anna and Monsoon Shootout to Siddharth and Sunrise her choice of characters has been eclectic. Recently, she was seen in Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain, where she shared some poignant moments with RajpalYadav, bringing alive the emotional impact of the Gas Tragedy.
Extracts from an interview:
Why did you pick Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain despite the fact that your character is not central to the story?
Well, it has been more than a film for me because of the kind of subject it deals with. You know it’s not fiction. It is a fictionalized form of something that actually happened. To be sensitive and responsible about that, it’s a double responsibility.
Was it difficult to act in a real tragedy film?
It wasn’t easy. I was overwhelmed with emotions while playing the role. It was not just a film for us, it was an experience. I learnt about that time period. I could feel how they were feeling after losing their families, relatives, friends and even animals. It was heart-wrenching for both of us. Because the story tells us we never know what could happen in future.
This film is very important in today’s times. People have forgotten the incident and they need to be cautioned that safety and quality are compromised easily when corporate greed seeps in, something which happened during the gas leak. It is important for all of us to know so that such a tragedy doesn’t reoccur. The movie warns people not to go blind with profit motive.
Films likeBhopal often don’t find as much favour at the box office as other commercial genres?
I think young generation should understand what good cinema is all about. Most of the Bollywood films focus on glamour rather than realistic subjects. People usually don’t put their money into films based on real life triumphs and tragedies that give messages. We all are aware that in this era, most of the films are being popularized through item songs, glamorous actors and mindless entertainment. I think we should look for engagement rather than entertainment. Having said that films should not be boring either. They should not put audience to sleep. Issues and problems should be raised in a very entertaining and engaging sort of way.
What’s the difference between engagement and entertainment?
There a single difference. While one is blank, the other is a trigger that sets you thinking. It’s not like that we just want to laugh, we like sadness too – it’s part of human behavior. This is where we are different from animals that we want to think. And what if we stop that process of thought? Then I guess we are not humans. Tragedies and comedies should coexist.
How was the experience with director Ravi Kumar and your co-actor RajpalYadav?
Ravi is much sorted. The script was excellent, which is why we all agreed to do the film. He is from Madhya Pradesh and he is a doctor. That’s why, a lot of research in terms of scientific and medical aspects was already in place and his emotional connect to the story and the area helped. RajpalYadav is a senior actor but he is so grounded and so real. It always helps when your co-actor is so rooted.
Victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy haven’t got justice yet. What’s your take?
People have been denied justice for 30 years. It is understandable they are angry that Warren Anderson died unpunished. But the man is dead now so nothing can be done about it. It is also the fault of Indian bureaucracy and political leadership. I don’t know how to fight for their justice but as an artist and as a socially aware person, I can do my bit by acting in films like Bhopal: A prayer for rain, which is a tribute to the resilience of the victims and those who are fighting for them.