As you read this, actress Tannishtha Chatterjee is at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival for the world premiere of her film Island City, the debut film of FTII graduate Ruchika Oberoi. Soon, she’ll be in Canada for the upcoming world premieres of three other films: Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses and Leena Yadav’s Parched at the 40th Toronto International Film Festival; and Anupam Sharma’s UnIndian, co-starring Australian cricketer Brett Lee, at the Montreal World Film Festival.
This may sound incredibly hectic to many but Chatterjee, 34, is no stranger to festival-hopping. She had her first tryst with Toronto’s glitzy festival exactly 11 years ago when her first international film Shadows Of Time, a German language film, premiered there. In a strange twist of fate, the Oscar-winning director of that film, Florian Gallenberger, has a film in Toronto this year as well: Colonia. “Both my films are playing in the same section — Special Presentation — as Florian’s films,” she said, in a phone conversation. “I can’t wait to meet him again after so many years.”
Chatterjee, a National School Of Drama graduate, has had an unusual journey if you compare it to that charted by the average Indian actress. Hindi audiences may have only recently seen her in films such as Jal (2014), Gulaab Gang (2014), and the recent Gour Hari Dastaan. However, before any of these films had released in India, she’d been garnering appreciation for her performances in international productions such as the British films Brick Lane (2007) and Anna Karenina (2012). Meanwhile, there are a couple of Indian films — Monsoon Shootout and Chaurangaa — that found appreciation at festivals but haven't yet found a theatrical release.
But she isn't cynical about the state of Indian cinema. “The last two years have been the most interesting phase for Indian cinema,” she said. “We’ve seen more Indian films going to prestigious festivals as official selections and not just, you know, being screened there out-of-competition.”
Parched and Angry Indian Goddesses are two films she’s particularly happy about being associated with. While she says it’s true that both are women-centric stories dealing with issues of gender, identity, independence, and sexuality, she stresses that they’re both “quite different from each other”. “I had a blast shooting for both films,” she added.
Having attended a number of film festivals over the years, Chatterjee jokes that they all have one thing in common: making you poorer by the day. “I don’t blame them, though. Market pressures are increasing; government funding is reducing everywhere. The elitism of high art may be getting diluted, but it’s good to see that the films in competition in many of these festivals are still powerful and director-driven,” she said.
Her position seems enviable but doesn’t seem to be looking forward to all aspects of the experience. “At big festivals, there’s a lot of pressure on you to turn up on the red carpet looking your best, or else some fashion blog will write uncomplimentary things about you,” she said.
It’s easy to slot Chatterjee as a purely indie film actress who has rejected the lure of Bollywood to do ‘meaningful’ work, but she doesn’t seem to harbour such black-and-white sentiments. “Hindi cinema is doing some really interesting work, especially in the way they’re looking at women,” she said, citing films such as Piku and Tanu Weds Manu Returns as examples. “I find Deepika [Padukone], Kangana [Ranaut], and Alia [Bhatt] to be quite… fearless. If there’s an interesting role to be done, I’d be very happy to do it.”
However, having said that, does it mean that she could see herself in a typical, commercial Bollywood film as a ‘heroine’? “I don’t think either of us are interested in that,” she said, with an uproarious laugh.