Woman of many parts

LOOKING FORWARD Many books, many ideas

LOOKING FORWARD Many books, many ideas   | Photo Credit: PHOTOs: MURALI KUMAR K.

From films about minority communities to those on educated women, actor-turned-director Soni Razdan tells AYESHA MATTHANthat things haven’t changed much for either

On a wintry evening, Soni Razdan and this reporter, with red noses, sniff incessantly into handkerchiefs and nurse cups of tea for warmth and comfort. At Mother Tree after a book reading of Fiona Harrold’s “Be your own Life Coach” and Lavanya Sankaran’s “The Red Carpet”, Soni says as an avid reader, she always has at least three books on her bedside table — two non-fiction novels and one-fiction. “I am reading Alex Von Tunzelmann’s “Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire” about the relationship between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, set post-Independence and William Dalrymple’s ‘The Age of Kali’.”

The Bombay-based former actor and now director says though she was in a state of shock when she heard about the blasts and siege, it was a wake-up call. “This time, a section of society defined by money was targeted, and not just the masses. ” Soni feels this attack on the upper strata brought with it a stronger reaction and apathy where friends and family who were affected, were more visible and heard. “So far, we were unaware and nurtured a false sense of security.” Says Soni of German-Kashmiri lineage: “One has to take a hard look at the knee-jerk reactions of looking at Pakistan in isolation. We need to go right back in time — to the Babri Masjid demolition in ’92 and Godhra massacre in ’02 and the church attacks recently and then see where we went wrong. We have bred terrorism in India.” She feels as this is a country with many castes and creeds, instead of letting this rich cultural heritage enhance our lives, we pull ourselves down by creating divisions. “Our relationship with the U.S.A. has a role to play too.”

Having played the roles of Rosemary Stoneham, an Anglo-Indian in Aparna Sen’s ’36 Chowringhee Lane’ and Dilnavaz, a Parsi in Sturla Gunnarsson’s ‘Such a Long Journey’ based on Rohinton Mistry’s book by the same name, Soni feels that characters from minority communities in India are still depicted as caricatures whether it is in “Parzania”, “1947 Earth”, “Being Cyrus” or others.

Soni is in the process of directing a film based on Manju Kapur’s “Difficult Daughters”, set in the 1940s about the true meaning of independence for women in pre-Independence India. “Looking at the situation of educated Indian women 60 years hence, India has not changed all that much, especially in smaller towns — it could be a relationship with the ‘wrong man’ or being educated by one’s family only to find a better husband.”

She is directing “Sin City”, which is about corruption, self-serving cops, politicians and terrorists. She felt that Shoiab Mansoor’s “Khuda Kay Liye” was important about proclaimed perceptions of the enemy country across the border, Pakistan.

“Aur Phir Ek Din”, says Soni, was a serial borne out of desire topped with the energy of acting. About two single parents bringing up their children, the serial on Star Plus was washed away by the wave of bahu soaps, says Soni who acted in the path-breaking TV serial, “Buniyaad” and the poignant Mahesh Bhatt film, “Saaraansh”. The surge of films about terrorism in Bollywood, says Soni, has become a part of life where directors and scriptwriters who are pre-occupied with realities, are worried. “There is space for unconventional scripts from ‘A Wednesday’, ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’, ‘Omkara’, ‘Chak de India’, ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’, ‘Bheja Fry’ to even ‘Dostana’ which is only possible now.”

She says acting began for her at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London and directing, after making “Girvhi”, a short film on child labour for Doordarshan in ’96. “Otherwise I am busy with my two children,” concludes Soni, who says she always looks forward.

Soni Speaks

Soni has acted in Shyam Benegal’s “Mandi” based on Pakistani writer Ghulam Abbas’ Urdu short story “Aanandi” and Esmayeel Shroff’s “Ahista Ahista”. When it comes to films on prostitution, be it “Chameli” or “Umrao Jaan”, she feels the issue of AIDS and its control becomes important.

“Pushing children into prostitution and forcing women into sex trade must be raised seriously.” She says that the ban on dance bar women has created prostitution, as the same women patrol Juhu Beach regularly now. “It is important to create solutions, not more problems,” states Soni Razdan.

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