Actor Tannishtha Chatterjee was almost rushed into making her directorial debut. She was working on the final draft of Roam Rome Mein last year when its shoot was advanced. She was yet to put her team together. All she had then were the dates of Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays the lead role. When Chatterjee suggested that they shoot next year when she is better prepared, Siddiqui was more pragmatic. “This year, you have the backing of a studio (Eros). They might change their mind next year. You should go ahead with it,” Siddiqui advised her. Eventually, she decided to take the plunge.
Chatterjee describes Roam Rome Mein as “a feminist film with a male protagonist”. “I have been toying with the idea for a while. I wanted to go deep into the protagonist’s patriarchal psyche by putting him in a situation that is life changing. I thought let me traumatise a patriarch and shift something in him,” she says. As an actor, Chatterjee has been part of several movies, such as Brick Lane (2007), Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), Doctor Rakhmabai (2016) and Parched (2015), where the protagonist is a woman. That made her curious to explore if the patriarchal perspective was changing.
Once Chatterjee made up her mind, a flurry of production-related activities followed. “It was insane. Once we got the team together, we went for a recce in Italy. After that, we had 16 days for pre-production. We used to do all the co-ordination required in India from morning to 6 pm. In the evenings, co-ordination with the team in Italy would start,” says Chatterjee. All these preparations ensured that she wrapped up the movie’s schedule in Italy, where Roam Rome Mein is mainly filmed, in 23 days. The movie is now complete and is travelling to Busan Film Festival for its world premiere. It will be screened there along with several Indian movies such as Gitanjali Rao’s Bombay Rose, Suman Ghosh’s Aadhaar, Gurvinder Singh’s Bitter Chestnut, Alankrita Shrivastava’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare and Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu.
Initially, the actor-turned-director had Venice in mind as the setting. “Logistically, it was not possible. Also, I didn’t want to take the story away from Italy as the Italian renaissance, which began in the 13th century, and the feminist movement that originated during that period, are part of the narrative,” she says. Through this contemporary psychological drama, the director-writer wanted to revisit the period when courtesans had access to education along with women from the aristocratic families. “In Venice, these courtesans were writers. In Rome, they were painters. Shifting the story to Rome made the movie visually more interesting,” says Chatterjee, who also acts in it. The movie features a host of Italian actors including Valentina Corti, who will be seen in the lead role, Urbano Barberini and Andrea Scarduzio.
Writing the script helped Chatterjee put method to the madness. “I knew what I wanted to say. Therefore, I had an idea about whom to cast. Similarly, I had an idea about what kind of locations we wanted,” says Chatterjee, who during the recce in Rome, discovered several interesting locations.
Chatterjee believes that an increase in the number of female directors has led to different kinds of stories being shared. “In the festival circuit this year, several movies made by women directors are making news. This year, four movies by female filmmakers (Mati Diop’s Atlantique, Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe, Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire and Justine Triet’s Sibyl) were chosen for the competition section at the Cannes Film Festival,” she says and adds that to bring more storytellers to the fore, India needs better producers. “India has a lot of creative talent but we need producers who believe in a director’s vision and should be able to facilitate that to the fullest,” she says. Next, she will act in Driving Licence, a movie directed by Onir and written by her. “Compared to direction, acting is fun. Now that I know what directors go through, I will be a far more compassionate actor,” says the graduate from National School of Drama.
Even as Chatterjee was struggling to finish the production of her first directorial venture, she embraced motherhood. She had applied for adoption but didn’t know that it would work out in 11 months. “I was told it would take around three years. I had prepared myself accordingly. But once again, I decided to go with the flow and bring home Radhika, who is four years old,” says Chatterjee.