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Having made her debut with Monsoon Wedding way back in 2001, Tillotama Shome is only now coming into her own and exploring the “deep end” with films like Hindi Medium and A Death In The Gunj, and by juggling platforms. The actor says she is happily figuring out the strokes.
“It has been an exciting phase for me as, in the last 15 months, I have played a ‘yes’ game and done seven films, hosted a TV show (‘Dristhi – Documentaries’) and travelled with Rajat Kapoor’s play ‘What is Done, Is Done’ in the US and India. I just wanted to jump into the deep end and figure out the strokes,” Tillotama told IANS in an email interview.
To cite an example, she took on the role of a snobbish education consultant in Hindi Medium — a character that the film’s casting director felt could break the stereotype around Tillotama’s “intense, serious, poor, rural, activist and maid” portrayals. She will also be seen as a mother in Konkona Sen Sharma’s soon-to-release directorial debut A Death In The Gunj.
For the uninitiated, Tillotama famously played Alice — the maid in Monsoon Wedding. She did a slew of English, Bengali and Hindi projects thereafter, but the game-changer was Anup Singh’s Punjabi film Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost. An acting heavyweight like Irrfan Khan in the frame notwithstanding, she left a mark with her performance as Kanwar, a girl child raised as a boy and caught up in a gender crisis.
Then with the years, what came along was the play What’s Done, Is Done on Rajat’s persuasion. “I feel inadequate as an actor on stage. I don’t feel the sense of thrill and intimacy that I feel as an actor in front of the camera. But I trust Rajat immensely. I knew he and my co-actors would handle my fears with sensitivity.
“And hence, I was willing to jump in despite the crippling fear of being on stage and being found out to be an impostor. However, the failing, the fears, the disappointments on stage had a magical effect on my film work. I guess challenging a fear opens you up in ways unexpected,” she said. This experience let her then say “yes” to new projects.
In A Death In The Gunj, a family’s story set in 1970s McCluskieganj in Jharkhand, she will be seen as Bonnie, a mother who is not fussing about her kid and definitely does not want to miss out on the fun with her friends.
The film’s world was familiar to her as she grew up in a “pretty liberal, unconventional home that travelled gypsy-like every four years and wherever we went we made new friends and the caravan of life was full of dancing, drinking, singing till late in the night and holidays to quaint little places”.
Besides, working with an ensemble cast including actors like Tanuja, Vikrant Massey, Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah, Jim Sarbh and the late Om Puri, and under Konkona’s direction, was akin to “living a dream” for her.
“There was no question of being overshadowed or wanting to overshadow,” the actor said when asked about any insecurity of being in a film with a large cast.
“I know I harbour a million insecurities, but in this set I was utterly free of them because the film was bigger than everything else for me. I have played so many cameos and smaller parts and my focus has always been to explore and explode to the best that I can in the space given to me.
“Jane Austen, when critiqued about the narrow drawing room world of her novels, once said that this was the two inches of ivory that she was familiar with and her attempt was to carve as finely within those two inches.”
Tillotama, too, seems to believe in a similar world view.