On June 25 Oliver Stone tweeted (@TheOliverStone): ‘Traveled to Kolkata, India last week after Shanghai. My daughter Tara volunteered for the Mother Teresa Mission.’
Three-time Academy Award-winner and Hollywood biggie Oliver Stone spent three quiet days in Calcutta between June 19 and 22 to drop off his 17-year-old daughter Tara for a month in the city for a “reality” check.
Calcutta was a stop on his itinerary after Shanghai, where Stone — the man who has made Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers and Born on the Fourth of July — was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival.
Urmi Basu, the founder-trustee of New Light, a Kalighat-based NGO working for children of sex workers, received a call from a friend in New York mid-June that Oliver Stone was planning to come to Calcutta with his daughter.
“I was told that he wanted to give her an exposure to how the world lives and a reality orientation,” Urmi said.
Stone, now 66, is known for his maverick ways, and true to style, he landed in Calcutta on June 19 and made his way to Kalighat the next morning, inconspicuous to the city at large.
“I suddenly received a call in the afternoon from a member of the staff that a man named Oliver Stone had come looking for me in office, when I did not happen to be around!” recounted Urmi.
Stone had gone on a visit to Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in Kalighat, after which he found his way to the New Light office tucked away in a corner of one of Kalighat’s infamous bylanes at 10.30am, even before the staff had started coming in.
Big man in office
Sanjib Sen, assistant programme manager at New Light, recalled: “One of the volunteers at New Light called me to say that a certain Mr Stone was waiting in the office. It was 11 by the time I reached and saw this huge man sitting quietly by the window in the hall where the children play. I thought he was one of the many foreign visitors we have in our office at times and had no clue at the time what a big Hollywood star he is!”
Sanjib figured that during the wait Stone had already taken a walk around the surrounding lanes and bylanes of Kalighat.
“Since Didi (Urmi) wasn’t in office I briefed him a little about our organisation and activities. He remarked, ‘You’re doing a very good job’. He mentioned that his daughter was volunteering at Mother Teresa’s and said he would ask her to come and volunteer here as well. He said he would try to come back to New Light when he came to pick up his daughter,” added Sanjib, who spent an hour with Stone without realising the genius filmmaker he was dealing with.
“Stone spent a while watching the children play, smiled, waved and said ‘hi’ and ‘hello’ but he is such a huge man that some of the kids got scared and ran away!” laughed Sanjib.
The next afternoon Stone exchanged messages with Urmi, who he was keen on meeting before flying out the next morning.
“He suggested we meet at the Oberoi Grand coffee shop,” said Urmi, who arrived at the star hotel around 6.30pm with her son and a friend.
“When we walked in, he was sitting there wearing beige trousers and a white T-shirt, his daughter Tara by his side. He stood up and shook my hand and said ‘Urmi, pleasure to meet you’.”
“He was having whiskey and asked us if we’d like to have anything to drink,” Urmi continued, and recalled a time, three years ago, when Stone was supposed to attend the screening of a documentary on her organisation in New York. But that had never materialised. And here was Stone, arriving unannounced right at her doorstep, looking for Urmi to be a local guardian to his daughter!
“He had walked in completely incognito and I got to know about it later from my staff who had no clue who he was! The first thing I did was apologise for not being there.”
City of Joy
Urmi said Stone spent an “unhurried” and “fair amount of time” with them, talking about everything under the sun, except movies!
“He was curious to know more about my life and why I did this work. The only time he did bring up the movies was when he asked me, ‘Have you met Dominique Lapierre?’”
“I said yes, to which he said, ‘Do you know he’s not well?’ And then he added, ‘Do you know that I wanted to do the City of Joy? But when I asked Dominique, he had already given the rights to Roland Joffe! I don’t think it was a very well-made film actually…’”
“It seemed like he was still anguished about it,” Urmi concluded, with a laugh.
Tara, who is Oliver Stone’s daughter from his third wife Chong Son Chong, a South Korean, sat by her father and came across as a “quiet little girl but very grounded” to Urmi, who Stone appointed as someone his daughter could turn to in case of an emergency while she was learning some life lessons in Calcutta.
“I did not sense any anxiety in Tara about living alone in Calcutta and working in a communion. She was aware that she was here not as a tourist but as a volunteer, to do hands-on work,” said Urmi, who quizzed Stone’s daughter about her interests.
“I really don’t know what my father wants me to do here. Let’s see how it goes. I’m finishing high school and then I’ll decide what I want to do,” she told Urmi.
“It seemed to me that Stone has a long-term consciousness of what Calcutta is all about. He seemed to be a very involved parent and keen on giving his daughter an experience that was out of the box. He mentioned that it was important for young people to get a reality orientation and know what is happening around the world, away from the comforts of home and luxuries in their lives. He called it an ‘invaluable experience’,” said Urmi.
She described Stone as a “big, broad but not very tall man, very direct and clear about his ideas and approach”.
Urmi’s 26-year-old son Sreyash had a different experience to narrate with the man whose Platoon is one of his favourite films.
“He wanted to know what I did and when I told him I was a lawyer, he wanted to know what the court procedures here were like. He wanted to know more about me and when I said I played football, he said his daughter too played soccer.”
The master film-maker was not done. He next asked the young man, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I said no,” revealed Sreyash. “And he asked in a very matter-of-fact tone: ‘Why?’ I said ‘Because I don’t have the time or the money’, to which he laughed!” said Sreyash.
“And he further joked with Sreyash and told him, ‘Tara will be here for a month, so take her out if you want to’ and the two kids cracked up!” laughed Urmi.
Urmi says Stone came across as “not someone from another planet but an old friend who I could always hang around with. I came away feeling that he was this man who had always gone out and taken risks. Nothing has been too far out or undoable for him, which is why he got his daughter here, in my assessment, to help her push her boundaries like he has with his life or his work. His awareness of the underbelly of society was probably the strongest connect I felt with him.”
Tara was in Calcutta volunteering with Mother Teresa’s Home for five weeks, till she left for home in end-July.
After dropping his daughter off in Calcutta and heading home, on June 25, Oliver Stone tweeted (@TheOliverStone): ‘Traveled to Kolkata, India last week after Shanghai. My daughter Tara volunteered for the Mother Teresa Mission.’
ABOUT OLIVER STONE
He is a three-time Academy Award winner.
He won his first Oscar for writing the screenplay for Midnight Express (1979), followed by Platoon (1986), which he directed and won Academy Awards for best picture and best director.
In 2010, he directed Wall Street, which won Michael Douglas an Academy Award for best actor. He has also directed JFK (1991), Any Given Sunday (1999) and Natural Born Killers (1994), for which he revised a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989), which he co-wrote with Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic and directed, was nominated in eight Oscar categories and won best director and best editing awards.
In 1991, he wrote and directed the famous biopic on Jim Morrison, The Doors, which was his homage to the ’60s cult rock group.
He wrote Scarface (1983) on the cocaine boom of Miami in the 1980s. Many consider it Al Pacino’s best performance.
He is known for the political content in his films, with particular focus on the Vietnam War, in which he had participated as an infantry soldier.
He has publicly declared his love for Indian cinema and of having studied Satyajit Ray in film school at New York University.
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