I just fell in love with Konkona Sensharma: Tanuja Chandra

Tanuja Chandra has directed a 22-minute short called A Monsoon Date, featuring Konkona Sensharma

By Ushnota Paul
  • Published 7.01.19, 8:00 PM
  • Updated 7.01.19, 8:00 PM
  • 6 mins read
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Konkona Sensharma in A Monsoon Date. A still from the short film, A Monsoon Date.

Tanuja Chandra is a Jack-of-all-trades. She made the heartwarming Qarib Qarib Singlle featuring Irrfan Khan and Parvathy, wrote a book of short stories and has now directed a 22-minute short called A Monsoon Date, featuring Konkona Sensharma. t2 caught up with the filmmaker recently to talk cinema.

Ushnota Paul:

What’s A Monsoon Date about?

Tanuja Chandra:

It’s about the journey of a girl on a very rainy day in Mumbai. She’s going to meet a boy she’s fallen for in a coffee shop but she’s going to be telling him a very startling secret about herself. She doesn’t know if he’s going to stay with her after she confesses to him about it because most of the time people have walked away. 

Ushnota Paul:

What was it like working with Konkona Sensharma?

Tanuja Chandra:

She was just pure pleasure, as an actor and as a person. I just fell in love with her. With this movie I wanted Konkona to have a fragile quality, a vulnerability and I think she really did that. I’m very happy working with her and I hope to work again with her. 

Ushnota Paul:

What kind of response did the short get at the screening at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival?

Tanuja Chandra:

For any director, to see a full house is amazing… that’s why we work. We had two screenings — one comprised people who had just come to see a film. The other was the festival crowd. You’d think that the festival crowd would be more open to short films but I was pleasantly surprised. There were laughter and tears in the second screening… that was a dream response. 

Ushnota Paul:

Being primarily a feature filmmaker, what prompted you to make a short film?

Tanuja Chandra:

I think a storyteller should tell a story in every format. The stories that you can’t tell in feature films — or even if you do, you have to make it in a really small budget and struggle — can be told in short films. It’s liberating and I love short films. It’s a great format and you can send them to international festivals and share on digital platforms. 

Ushnota Paul:

Your last feature film Qarib Qarib Singlle was appreciated. Would you consider it a comeback since you hadn’t directed a feature after 2008?

Tanuja Chandra:

You don’t see what a director is doing until a movie gets made and released… it’s the stuff that goes before that. I was working on two or three films that almost reached the production stage and they didn’t. I was writing, pitching and working towards making a movie. Qarib Qarib Singlle got made. It was a genre that I hadn’t attempted before. I had done violence, blood, gore but not a romcom (laughs). I was happy to do that. 

Ushnota Paul:

Was it a conscious decision to direct something lighter for yourself and for the audience?

Tanuja Chandra:

Yes, it was a conscious decision. Qarib Qarib Singlle was light, sweet and funny. A sweeter and lighter film, in my mind, is more difficult to make than drama or a thriller. Because there you have something concrete to grab, but here there’s a slightly nebulous human experience which you’re trying to portray and hoping it’ll bring a smile to people’s faces, but you’re not sure. You can elicit fear but to elicit a smile and make somebody feel loved is tougher.

Ushnota Paul:

You have also written a book titled Bijnis Woman...

Tanuja Chandra:

I have written before but book- writing is different and it has always been one of my dreams. These are short stories based on stories in Uttar Pradesh that I’ve heard from my aunts, uncles, mother, father.... UP is a crazy, dramatic, fascinating, traumatic, mad place. I’m happy that my first book was a book of short stories. I’m working on the next one as well and it’s a novel. 

Ushnota Paul:

Your family is full of authors. Celebrated author Vikram Chandra is your brother and your 17-year-old niece Zuni Chopra has also written quite a few books...

Tanuja Chandra:

And also my sister Anupama (Chopra)… she has written non-fiction books. We are all very enthusiastic and encouraging about each other’s work but also not overtly full of praise. Even if there’s no criticism, there will be a very measured response, which is fine. Except for my mother (Kamna Chandra, writer) who loves everything that all of us do! She cannot be taken seriously (laughs)

Ushnota Paul:

Did Vikram read your drafts before the book was published?

Tanuja Chandra:

 Yes, my brother was my first reader. I was really worried about what he’d think, but he said, ‘I’m thrilled by this’. I was very happy.

Ushnota Paul:

What inspires you to write, be it books or films?

Tanuja Chandra:

I think it’s an illness… if you have it, you can’t lose it. A community of storytellers is a place where once you come in, you cannot leave. My excitement to make movies, to tell stories, to write has just increased and thank god for that. If I was bored of it, I wouldn’t be able to do it. 

Ushnota Paul:

You started off more than 20 years ago, co-writing the screenplay for Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai. Looking back, how do you see your journey?

Tanuja Chandra:

My journey has been interesting and fun. My first film Dushman completed 20 years this year. That time, there were only a handful of women directors. Now there are many more, but not as many as there should be. Till 50 per cent of directors are women, I wouldn’t say it’s enough. If there are more female storytellers, there will be a new kind of storytelling and there will maybe be more stories about women. We desperately need that.

Ushnota Paul:

Why do you think there’s a dearth of women filmmakers in India?

Tanuja Chandra:

I don’t know and it shouldn’t be like this. It’s a tide of centuries that you want to turn around. So you’re swimming against the tide and I know it’ll take time. But this is it, this is the time, this is the moment where we are raging against those waves where women can come out and just make movies. It’ll be a struggle but the opportunities are there to be grabbed. I personally enjoy working with women, I seek women out as writers, as assistants, as production designers and every technical aspect of filmmaking. 

Ushnota Paul:

What are you working on next?

Tanuja Chandra:

I just finished doing a documentary. It’s my first documentary and I loved making it. It doesn’t have a name yet because I struggle with coming up with titles. I’m also working on a few film scripts. 

Ushnota Paul:

What are your thoughts on how cinema has gone digital?

Tanuja Chandra:

I’ve been developing films in a long format since a long time now. The longer format is exciting, you can really get into the details of characters, you can tell stories in a leisurely pace and you can really explore the characters and you can still tell some unusual stories. But web series allows you to be very new and fresh. I’m excited and think it’s great. 

Ushnota Paul:

With smaller films doing well last year, do you think there’s been a paradigm shift in the movie-going audience in some way?

Tanuja Chandra:

It’s not enough of a shift for me to consider it as a shift. Yes, the times are more exciting. Hindi cinema is traditional. You do have some sparkling anomalies where you see two or three unusual films and then they become a hit, which is great. Every year there will be some film that will be given no credit when it was being made and then it becomes a hit and then everybody wants to make those kinds of films. If only we could take the risks more often, I think the results would be very profitable.

Ushnota Paul:

Do you think that streaming platforms are taking away the larger-than-life movie-making experience?

Tanuja Chandra:

And it should take away! Big screen is lovely because I showed my short film on the big screen at MAMI which otherwise cannot be seen on a big screen that often. But this is a short film that allows me to break boundaries. When larger-than-life restricts me and does not let me break boundaries, then that’s not a great thing. Let there be cinema that is really not meant to be larger-than-life and see where it goes. People are ready to watch movies. It’s the industry that’s fearful of trying something that may not work. Let there be a 100 films made by women directors at least to be able to conclude this much money has been made. Right now, no claims can be made.

Ushnota Paul:

Which actors from Bollywood would you would love to direct?

Tanuja Chandra:

Vicky Kaushal and Bhumi Pednekar are amazing. I worked with Konkona and Parvathy (in Qarib Qarib Singlle) and I really enjoyed it. Ranveer Singh is an outstanding actor and Deepika Padukone is beautiful. I like Priyanka Chopra a lot and I like Anushka Sharma’s quietness that I don’t think she has explored much — that to me is the sign of a really good actor, when you can really be still and still be compelling to watch. 

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