I lost my stammer because of theatre: Tillotama Shome

The actor talks about Sir, which premiered at Cannes in May, her next with Goutam Ghose, and her recent theatre outing

By Ushnota Paul
  • Published 1.10.18, 10:54 PM
  • Updated 1.10.18, 10:55 PM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Tillotama Shome The Telegraph
Ushnota Paul:

Rohena Gera’s Sir premiered at the Cannes film festival this year. How was it working in the film?

Tillotama Shome:

It was a wonderful challenge to bring to life the delicate negotiations within Rohena’s script with my wonderful co-actors Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni. The subject matter of the film is so delicate that it was extremely nerve-racking and yet it is also what made it so rewarding. We are so oblivious to our deeply entrenched class prejudices that when I read the script I knew that I had blood on my hands, that I was guilty of having the very prejudices the film critiques. It made the journey that much closer to the skin. 

Ushnota Paul:

What was it like to play one of the three witches in MacBeth: What Is Done, Is Done

Tillotama Shome:

The challenge for me lies in my discomfort with being on stage in stark contrast to the freedom I feel in front of the camera. My preparation is still on and there is a lot of room for improvement. It is this discomfort that attracts me to the stage. The director, Rajat Kapoor, is extremely supportive and straight up with his feedback. There is no beating around the bush. His critical feedback after a show is so direct and yet done with such love that it leaves one feeling encouraged to do better.

Ushnota Paul:

How different is it on stage as opposed to being on screen where you can give several takes if needed? 

Tillotama Shome:

I do not think about the possibility of another take even on films. Despite the shift to digital, one holds each take as a precious opportunity and a resource one must not squander.The difference, I feel, is in the intimacy the camera affords where even the slightest breath is caught. 

Ushnota Paul:

What’s that one myth people have about theatre actors that you’d want to squash?

Tillotama Shome:

Not all theatre actors are good on film just as the reverse is true about film actors. But the latter is a more popular opinion than the former. 

Ushnota Paul:

Did you always want to be an actor?

Tillotama Shome:

I would not have dared, as I had a stammer! And yet it was my foray into theatre at Lady Shri Ram College (in Delhi) that made me eventually lose my stammer. Acting was anathema to who I was and was an act of defiance. It still is in many ways.

Ushnota Paul:

What’s the thing you won’t compromise on before saying yes to a film?

Tillotama Shome:

The script — it is the hero. A compromise there is a compromise all the way.

Ushnota Paul:

Do you think you get stereotyped in the roles offered to you?

Tillotama Shome:

The film industry is, by and large, pockmarked with stereotypes as it’s safe to go with the familiar. Thankfully, I met directors who celebrate the unfamiliar and were willing to break all stereotypes to cast me in their films. 

Ushnota Paul:

Would you do a commercial potboiler?

Tillotama Shome:

I will happily do it, if the part I am being offered excites me. 

Ushnota Paul:

What are your upcoming projects?

Tillotama Shome:

Chintu Ka Birthday, directed by Satyanshu Singh and Devanshu Kumar, with Vinay Pathak and Seema Pahwa. I also have a film by Goutam Ghose with Adil Hussain and Neeraj Kabi (tentatively titled One Day In The Rains). 

Ushnota Paul:

Do you remember the best compliment you got for your acting?

Tillotama Shome:

You remember the criticism more than you remember the compliments. But I remember a celebrated writer of our industry sending me a message after watching Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost. He encouraged me to never give up. He told me that even if the industry tried to reject me, he felt that I was like seepage that would eventually enter every home, small or big. I was initially confused about his words and it made me laugh as much as it made me think. But what I took away from it was the need to be persistently stubborn whilst keeping myself flexible. 

Ushnota Paul:

Is it tough to be yourself in showbiz?

Tillotama Shome:

I definitely struggled hopelessly when I tried to be anything but myself. It was an utterly futile exercise. I find it far easier to be myself. What is tough is to keep working on creating a strong sense of self that is still open-minded and flexible. The arrogance of the righteous is such a turn off!

Ushnota Paul:

Apart from acting, what are your other interests?

Tillotama Shome:

Reading, cooking, swimming, walking and then, reading some more. 

Ushnota Paul:

What will we find on your bookshelf? 

Tillotama Shome:

On my bookshelf, you will find various phases of my curiosity, books from friends, family and lovers from across countries and times, few college books from my MA in English literature days, recipe books, books on Buddhism and one token graphic novel, which is a gift. I’m still trying to find my feet with graphic novels. 

Ushnota Paul:

One book that changed your life and you’d want to recommend it to everyone?

Tillotama Shome:

I will never be able to answer this question as there have been too many books that have changed my life and are still changing it. The book I am reading right now is surely changing my life. Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla is an unflinching and heartbreaking look at caste. 

Ushnota Paul:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Tillotama Shome:

Reinventing myself and starting from ground zero.