Monday, 30th October 2017

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TETE A TEA WITH DP - What happens when your office becomes a film set starring Deepika Padukone? t2 found out at J Thomas & Company

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 24.01.15


I’ve found my client, said a young man with a scruffy beard, as he stopped in my path and peered at me. For a moment, I was transported to that scene in PK where Aamir Khan looked at the transistor for the first time. But because I had been aimlessly hanging around for more than an hour on the sets of Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha, on the second floor of J Thomas & Company on RN Mukherjee Road, any kind of signal was now welcome.

“Would you like to chat?” I asked him with an eager smile, assuming that this man, who others were referring to as ‘Rocket’, was willing to talk about the film shooting that I was here to find out more about. Imtiaz had already explained the “Calcutta connect” but I was looking for “insider” details.

“We could, but I’m part of the casting team and I need you to be there,” said Rocket, matter-of-fact. I slipped out a nonchalant “Oh!” and was pretty sure I looked like Chrissy Teigen’s not-so-pretty cry face at the Golden Globe Awards, uncertain if I should be delighted or disappointed.  

But it’s not every day that you get offered a ‘I need you to be there’ in a film starring Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor. So what if the ‘there’ meant one of the many people hidden in the background in a scene where she walks out of the J Thomas boardroom. Even if I were to be edited out, in my head, PK’s transistor fused out and suddenly I was the Golden Snitch in Harry Potter’s open hands.


Ten minutes later, Imtiaz Ali stepped out to brief us. “Keep chatting. As Deepika Padukone walks past, just look at her casually as you would normally do when a person walks past,” was his brief to the three of us, two of who work at J Thomas and were selected after a quick screening a few days before the shooting began in their central Calcutta office. “If I were normally to see someone like Deepika walk past, I wouldn’t stop looking,” grinned one of the boys, waiting until the director was out of earshot!

He was right. It was hard to take one’s eyes off the leggy lass. Someone yelled ‘take’ and Deepika walked past us, in a fitted skirt that ended just below the knee, a formal shirt and her brown hair neatly tied.

“The character that Deepika plays in the movie is Tara Maheshwari and her father (played by Nikhil Bhagat) and the family own many tea gardens. She works with her dad and that’s why she’s here. We’ve borrowed the title of Darjeeling Impex for the film, which actually belongs to the Poddars of Calcutta. That’s the Calcutta connect and the tea connect,” Imtiaz had explained earlier.

That also explained her formal look. “I think the world of tea is a very distinct and still a formal kind of world,” added the director.

A day later, when the tea girl paid a visit to t2, Deepika picked up a cupcake shaped like her character Mohini in Happy New Year, wearing a flowy golden dress with open locks. “That’s a lot like my character in Tamasha,” she said, giving away a clue to the other side of her role in the film.

Back to the sets. “No pictures please” a crew member warned her small fan following allowed into the office, around 10 people huddled on a long L-shaped sofa. Ten-year-old Ahmed Monem sulked. “I love her dancing in Badtameez dil. Can I take just one picture?” rued the Class IV student. The rest were a gang of girls, mostly wives and friends of the employees. Each one had her mobile phone grasped firmly in hand but the toughest part of the day was not the hours spent waiting to catch a glimpse of Deepika... it was will power not to ‘click’ her!
So we made up by watching her every move. How she largely avoided eye contact. How she looked taller on screen than off it. And how she covered her costume with a robe to protect the character’s look from curious eyes.


On a regular work day, the second floor of J Thomas would be teeming with tea executives walking past, discussing market prices. “We use the boardroom for meetings and when we have clients we have lunches here,” said Akhil Sapru.

The company is the world’s oldest tea auctioneer and its heritage is one of the main reasons why Imtiaz chose it to be his site for Tamasha, set for a December release. “The building is very old and colonial and there’s an old-fashioned elegance to J Thomas in terms of look. So we are borrowing very heavily from their spaces,” he said.
Much of the shooting on that day happened in the boardrooms on the second floor lined with framed pictures of the company’s former chairmen. “The boardroom has got a very interesting history. Every passing-out chairman engraved his name on the wood of the table top so you have the entire history of everything that has happened in J Thomas for a long time,” observed Imtiaz, adding that some of his family in Calcutta has also been in the tea business for almost 10 decades.

But why put Deepika in Calcutta when most of the action is in Delhi where the boy (Ranbir Kapoor) comes from. “I know the city and my preferences are here. More importantly, I thought that this girl had to be from a city like Calcutta,” said Imtiaz.

See you around, Deepika.


Q. What is the link between tea and the movie?

A. The character that Deepika plays in the movie is Tara Maheshwari and her father (played by Nikhil Bhagat) and the family own many tea gardens. We’ve borrowed the title of Darjeeling Impex for the film, which actually belongs to the Poddars of Calcutta. She also works with her dad and that’s why she’s here. That’s the Calcutta connect and the tea connect.

Karo Christine Kumar