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Small is big for her

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Tears of laughter Tanuja Chandra: ‘Even comedies draw from pain and sadness’
Tears of laughter Tanuja Chandra: ‘Even comedies draw from pain and sadness’

Tanuja Chandra tells SNIGDHA POONAM in small, quirky films there is no compulsion to play safe

World Movies recently launched “50 Movies To See Before You Die”. Telecast on Fridays at 11p.m., the series showcases the world’s greatest movies handpicked by India’s most celebrated directors and actors. Tanuja Chandra, director of critically-acclaimed movies including “Sangharsh” and “Sur”, is one of them.

I tell her that her picks, “Cleopatra” and “Black Cat White Cat”, are both romantic comedies, which is surprising since one would think she had a weakness for intense movies.

Tanuja laughs at the contradiction but supports her choice of movies, “Not all movies I am showing in the series are comedies. But you must also consider the fact that even comedies draw from pain and sadness. ‘Black Cat White Cat’ is a whacky comedy, full of abandon. But in ‘Cleopatra’, the heart of the movie is sad. It is the story of two women, both unhappy in their respective non-gratifying relationships, setting out on a journey of freedom and desire to forge their own identities.”

Another movie in the series, “Taste of Cherries” by Abbas Kiarostami, also one of Tanuja’s all-time favourites, she says, is a Iranian film about a man planning to commit suicide and desperately seeking anyone to assist him.

He has already dug out the grave but everyone refuses to bury him by some reason. The movie of death and how it awakens a sense of life, she says, really touched her. “It reinforces the fact that life is short and makes you think about things you haven’t done.” Eduardo Mignogna, the director of “Cleopatra”, has been famous for having worked with the same actors, either as a screenwriter, director or both. I ask her if that works for a director.

“I am happy working with new people, exploring unknown territories with different actors,” she clarifies at the outset but concedes that working with the same actors helps forge a relationship, “an understanding that leads to bigger things.”

Asked who her favourite director in foreign cinema is, she doesn’t take time to name Mike Leigh, the British director who made “Secrets and Lies”, one among the movies she is showing as a part of the 50 movies. “He makes films about small, intimate dreams, stories of different working class people in London.” British movies, she says, work because they deal with raw emotions as against the American movies where the directors tend to blunt the edges making the movies more palatable.

Returning to Leigh, she adds that he makes movies about his relationships with groups of people, of pent up emotions, and of the outbursts that change everything for the better.

The conversation then veers to foreign-language cinema and the little exposure we have to them in India thanks to the hegemony of big-budget Hollywood movies. She is sure that things will change with World Movies having started the trend of promoting small films.

In small, quirky films, she says, people have the liberty to say what they want to say, where there is nothing at stake, no compulsion to play safe. “We need to promote the small-cinema tradition. World cinema is now becoming more accessible to us. Though there is a niche audience for this kind of cinema, the base will grow.”

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