Courtesan is iconic part of Indian society... but it was different for me to explore her in new territory with Mira & others: Tabu
Toronto, Oct 16 (Canadian-Media): During one of the conversations series organized by the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Geoff Macnaughton of TIFF catches up with Tanishka Maniktala playing Lata, Ishaan Khatter playing Maan, and Tabu playing Saida Bai in the film ‘A Suitable Boy,’ a primetime presentation recipient of the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media. The director of the film, Mira Nair’s six-part drama series is an adaptation of Vikram Seth’s famous novel about a young Indian woman's struggle to create a balance between family duty and personal independence in post-partition India.
Canadian-Media's Editor/ Director, Asha Bajaj brings you the excerpts:
Ishan with Tabu. Image credit: Reddit.com
Geoff to Tanya (Tanishka): Tanya, congratulations on such a wonderful performance. Tell me which characteristics of Lata you were really drawn to when you first read the novel and the script? Can you describe the journey from getting a lead role in the BBC series, to working with Mira, Andrew, Ishaan, Tabu, to showcasing a film in a major film festival?
Tanya: I am still reading the novel and have not finished it yet. But even before I started reading it, I had a call with Nita, and we discussed Lata’s character and the story, and I had done an audition. Lata may not be the drop-dead gorgeous girl, but the characteristics that drew me most towards her were her simplicity both in her thoughts and actions, no pretenses, her confidence, her appealing charm, unmoved by the things around her. Being smart, and honest, she lives in her own bubble, has her own thoughts, is well-spoken, and speaks her mind. These characteristics of Lata motivated me to play Lata's character.
The journey feels really surreal. I cannot believe I am here. I am doing this with all of you! (laughter)
Tanishka. Image credit: Facebook Page
Geoff to Tabu: Tabu, your first international project was Mira’s 2006 film, ‘The Namesake’. What was it like to work with her again? How did you feel working with Mira on set, and what makes her a successful director?
Tabu: It felt like we were never away from each other and were just coming back. Mira feels like home and a family within my profession and industry. Coincidently Namesake showed in Toronto, and here we are again with ‘A Suitable Boy’. She is just the same, though with ten times more energy than she had in Namesake. It is always a celebration to work with Mira. When Mira offered me the role of a courtesan in ‘A Suitable Boy’, I stayed on. And then, the project kept getting bigger, and bigger and our family of actors kept getting larger and larger. Even though the courtesan has been an iconic part of Indian society, culture, entertainment, cinema, theater, it was different for me to explore her in new territory with Mira, Vikram, and Andrew and that was the most exciting part.
Besides her skills to get people together, she has an eye for talent and brings on board exactly the right people for her project, holds on to her relationships for all her people, she has worked with, for years and years. People have worked with her for 30 years and they are still working with her, and Mira has successfully extracted some great pieces of work. I know that even when I am 80 years old and if I am working in the movies, Mira will definitely work with me (everyone laughs). It is a beautiful thing, to be able to sustain a film family that keeps carrying on and with so much energy. One can totally depend on her aesthetic. I can close my eyes and go into a project and say Mira will take care of everything and will make a beautiful piece of work.
Geoff to Ishaan: With this being a period piece, do elements of production and aesthetic, whether it is art direction, or costume, or writing, help you as an actor embody your character?
Ishaan: I was very much supported by the elements of authentic production design, the costume, the location of the film, ‘A Suitable Boy’ which transports you, fuels the truth of performance, and reduces your work as an actor for yourself and for the audience. Working with Mira, for the first time, I felt that everybody in the crew was very much in sync, and energized, a tone that the director sets. The thing that struck me in my first meeting with Mira was that she almost felt at par if not more energized than I was about that audition. (laugher) . It was quite striking and true. (cross talk and laughter).
To Ishaan: The relationship between you as Maan and your father played by Ram Kapoor, is one of love and pain, and visible tension between both of you in some of these scenes. Do you think you elevated each other’s performances in those scenes and how?
Ishaan: The scenes demanded a lot of collaboration between the two actors. Being an affable person, and a collaborative actor, Ram, who played Mahesh Kapoor, directly informed my performance as Maan, and both Ram and I appear as a real father and son. They have their differences, especially Mann, being a dark horse of the family made it difficult for the father to keep him under the same roof and under control. Though several layers of love, genuine involvement, affection, and empathy are revealed in these six episodes in six hours, the evolution of their relationships is very distinct.
#TIFF2020, #Bollywood, # TIFF, #MiraNair, #ASuitablaBoy
Toronto, Oct 14 (Canadian-Media): During one of the conversations series organized by the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Geoff Macnaughton, Senior Director, Industry & Theatrical/Lead Programmer, Primetime at TIFF, catches up with Mira Nair, director of ‘A Suitable Boy,’ a primetime presentation recipient of the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media. Nair’s six-part drama series is an adaptation from Vikram Seth’s novel about a young Indian woman's struggle to create a balance between family duty and personal independence in post-partition India. Asha Bajaj, Editor/Director of Canadian-Media brings you the excerpts:
Mira Nair. Image credit: Wikipedia
Geoff to Mira: Tell us about the first time when you discovered Vikram Seth’s novel.
Mira: Vikram Seth is one of our classics and extraordinary writers. I have loved all his works. But I know him as a friend and visited him while he was writing ‘A Suitable Boy' which took him ten years and I was just waiting for it. I read it in 1993 months after it was published. And probably one of the few people that read it back to back twice. It’s a novel that encapsulates free India moments set in 1951 right after independence. It was the time when we as a country and as a people, really struggled to find out how to shake off this extraordinary English influence that we all lived with and to make efforts to find our authentic voices. Seth’s use of humanity, humor, drama, and extraordinary truth actually captured me. But at that time (more than 20 - 30 years back), it was too large for me to consider it as a series. I actually made my smaller version of it in ‘Monsoon Wedding’. But after so many years Seth decided to do a series, and I was very happy to be asked to direct it.
The film 'A Suitable Boy,' Image credit: TIFF
How did you and Andrew Davis get to a point in which you were happy with the narrative especially knowing that you are only working with six episodes, versus the wealth of the story that you were pulling from?
Mira: I came into the picture after Andrew Davis had written the whole novel in eight episodes. I was quite charmed by the distillation of the whole novel into the eight episodes. But due to financial constraints, we had to reduce these episodes to six hours and it was then that I got involved very muscularly into the choices. At the heart of the tale is a very universal search for a suitable boy by a mother for her unmarried daughter, Lata. India’s first national election was in the same year as ‘A Suitable Boy’ is set. I found a parallel between the search for a suitable boy for Lata and the search for India. Hence the importance of the deep political undertone of the novel. Then also highlighting the characters that sometimes do not speak but are deeply the cornerstone of so much character, for instance, Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor, a deeply religious woman, and Ishan Khattar's mother's character who tries to keep this political family together amidst tumult. The main reason why I agreed to direct the film was Saida Bai, Tabu’s character. I was drawn towards it by the whole culture of the courtesan, the music, the refinement, the art of seduction, and the marginalization of the courtesan in our society. I also come from a tradition of loving that music. I was also drawn to it because of the interwovenness of both Hindu and Muslim languages, and culture. This embodies our descent from such an ancient tradition which is being obliterated today. ‘A Suitable Boy, in all these facets, holds a mirror to our society today.
Ishan with Tabu. Image credit: Reddit.com
We are very good friends, TIFF and you. We have had a long and strong relationship with one another. Not including this exact moment. Do you have a favorite memory of the festival?
Mira: TIFF feels like with my family to me. You have literally seen me right from the beginning with Salaam Bombay and other films. I have several memories. My most cornerstone memory is the extraordinary passion of the audiences. And before the world cinema or global cinema was being celebrated, TIFF always had the eye towards the subcontinent, towards the world. The diversity of the audience of Toronto, so much a part of the rest of the world embraced me. With A Suitable Boy, I was especially energized, because this is my first long-form cinema. I still think of it as a film, not a TV series, it’s 6 hours because that is how I know to think. I was so happy and privileged and surprised to be taken in the embrace as a long-form film, which TIFF has done. I just want to thank the audience of Toronto. Toronto is very special to me for yet another reason. I got married in Toronto, weirdly, a shotgun wedding on the weekend. (laughter) In fact, Deepa Mehta, your other wonderful filmmaker, my Benji, as we say, in a sense was the decorator of my wedding. So my relationship with Toronto is very old and lovely. And it is just so wonderful to be back, even if virtually. Even if we are not Americans anymore.