‘Every day, I was wonder-struck.’
Rani Mukerji’s act in her latest film Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway may have been a bit screechy, but the box office doesn’t mind.
Its director Ashhima Chibber continues to feel excited about her film and she tells Rediff.com Contributor Mohnish Singh, “Rani is phenomenal from playing a young girl to being a person who is standing in front of an Indian judge and talking with confidence. In the crime scenes, I used to cry first and Rani used to cry later. Her performance was so heavy and it impacted me so much.”
Your film is in cinemas now. How are you feeling?
I am feeling very excited about the film.
I don’t feel like sleeping or eating because of the excitement.
How did you come to realise that Rani Mukerji was best to play this part?
My first thought after reading the script was that it is a good film for Rani Mukerji. I felt only she could do justice because the film requires a range of emotions.
Performance-wise, you have to transform yourself into a young girl, who has come to Norway, and you have to celebrate Christmas, New Year, and Durga Pooja.
After that, she gets pregnant, and then she has a second child and you join them in kindergarten.
It’s a Cinderella story.
But one eventful day, your kids are snatched away from you.
Then you have a two-and-a-half-year fight — 610 days! — without your children.
It’s a complete range and what Rani Mukerji has done is simply incredible.
What convinced you to bring this story to light?
I knew the incident because it happened in 2011 and when that story was all over the news, I remember wondering how this could happen.
You always hear of things, like someone’s house getting robbed, but taking away your child was something I had never heard of.
I remember following the story at that time and after that, I lost touch with it.
After that, I got a call, and they said there is this story and if I was willing to direct it.
I was already a mother and that’s when I decided that I must not leave this opportunity.
I know what to do with this story.
See, as a director you need to have a vision. You need to know how you will make sure the story reaches great heights.
Because for me, the story is about a mother’s struggle to get her children back and everything else can be taken care of.
You live in a foreign country, you drop your children at kindergarten, and all that is your secondary life.
Your first life is with your child.
You directed Mere Dad Ki Maruti in 2013 and now you are coming up with this film after a decade. Why did you take a sabbatical?
I was doing a lot of work.
I did a lot of work with MTV, I did music videos and then I took a few years off to be a mother.
You need to devote some time to your children and then come back to work.
I am very grateful to my producers who supported me as a single mother and provided for my child while I was shooting.
It has been more than a decade since you have been working in this industry. Do you feel women are still deprived of equal opportunities?
It is a difficult medium for everybody.
It’s not that men don’t face it.
Of course, there are challenges.
Being a woman, you have a biological clock, to have a child, and to be in a profession.
It is a lot being a mother. You have to take care and those challenges have always been there.
It is daunting because the industry is mostly run by men and you have to convince them that you are as good a director as your male counterparts.
I have lost a few jobs but I don’t think along those lines.
I put my head down and do my work. The struggle is for everybody.
How did you end up being a part of the world of cinema?
I was studying in the UK.
Then, I had moved to the profession of teaching. My parents were also teachers.
You study and do your PhD and after you complete your education, you become a teacher.
But you know, I could not settle down. I was a little directionless because I was not happy with what I was doing.
I felt something was missing.
A student was working in Box Office Cinema and that’s when I started developing this liking for cinema.
Before that, I was very good at writing, theatre, and all.
I did a film-making course in the UK.
I came to India and assisted on a film called Ab Tak Chappan (2004). That led me to Chak De! India (2007).
Then I worked on Rockstar (2011).
I worked with the best of directors and I wanted to be like them.
My choice of working with directors was that I was not ready to do just anything that comes my way.
I wanted to be where I saw myself, working on such stories and such writing.
You will know that a female director has directed it because of the sensitivity with which the character is portrayed. Also, because I am a mother.
What is it like directing Rani Mukerji?
I saw the magic of cinema in her.
For me, every day was a film school.
A star like that walks into your life and you collaborate on such an intense story.
Rani is phenomenal from playing a young girl to being a person who is standing in front of an Indian judge and talking with confidence.
Every day, I was wonder-struck.
In the crime scenes, I used to cry first and Rani used to cry later. Her performance was so heavy and it impacted me so much.
Is there any particular scene that moved you?
Lots of scenes.
I will tell you, with a mother, your body is also a mother.
Your body doesn’t know the country you live in, your body doesn’t know how educated you are, but your body is continuing to be a mother.
You have to emote that as an actor.
It takes guts to be okay.
There is an internal journey as well as an external journey for the mother.
The external journey is where you have to get on the technicalities but the heart of the film lies in the emotions and the internal journey.
When you wake up in the morning, there is no noise in your house — a house where your three-month-old child was cooing and the next day, there is no sound of your children. You live in a country, Norway, where there is pin drop silence.
Even if you enter a restaurant, you won’t hear a word.
You will think it is empty if you close your eyes because people talk softly. There is no traffic.
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