Web is offering fabulous roles: Tisca Chopra on making her digital debut with Hostages
Rose to fame with her portrayal of a supportive mother in Taare Zameen Par, Tisca Chopra has now created a niche for herself with her power-packed performances on the digital medium. First, there were short films Chutney, which won her a Filmfare Award for best actress, and Churi and now there is Hotstar special Hostages. Interestingly, all are thrillers. The actress who is ready to exploit the medium to the best of her abilities agrees thriller to be her new found love and also something that works really well on the web. In a bare-all interview, the actress also spoke about her rather amateur entry in Bollywood, being typecast and her journey of falling in love with acting. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What made you make your digital debut with Hostages? Was it challenging to play the character of Dr Mira Anand? Did you draw any inspiration from the original Israeli series?
Tisca Chopra: In the past few years, I have become a huge fan of thrillers and I feel they are great as web-content because they offer that hook that keeps taking you to the next episode. And, I have found that to be the case with Hostages as well when I saw the original Israeli series. I have always seen the story as the king. Besides, how can you not play Dr Meera Anand? She is badass, sassy, spunky, bright, strong and so stubborn… she is the goal for me as a person. There couldn't have been a better debut for me. However, the challenge wasn’t the surgery part, we had a consultant on the set for that but the actual challenge was to maintain that poker-face understated person. In the situation that there was, how do you communicate with the audience because you can’t reveal anything to the hostages, to maintain that quietness in acting and yet communicate with the audience was challenging. I had watched the Israeli series long ago and by the time we started shooting, it wasn’t there on my mind. Also, when you are collaborating with someone as wonderfully gifted as Sudhir Mishra, you sort of pick his brains as much as you can.
Q: You have also done two short films Chutney and Churri for the web, which were also produced by you. What is it about the digital medium that made you go back to it?
TC: There is a certain audience that television has, which is by and large catering to smaller cities where the exposure is limited. Then, there are films which have to deliver the number in the first week itself. Somewhere around the lines, there is a web, which is neither film nor tv but space where people are watching content in a very nuanced manner. Not only are they watching their own kind of content but there is also a conversation around what one is watching, which is what happened with Chutney and Churri as well. There were so many conversations around them! And, although I am an introvert, I like engaging people through my work, my stories and that’s my way - I live vicariously through my characters.
Q: We recently saw Shefali Shah giving a solid performance in Delhi Crime and now, we are seeing you in Hostages and not as one of the leads but as the lead. Is web offering meaty roles for strong actors who perhaps didn’t get their due in Bollywood?
TC: For sure it is offering fabulous roles to actors of all kinds because the length and kind of exploration that you can do on the web, you can’t do that in a film because series are of longer duration. For the lead part, of course, the web is a great part but I am very hopeful that features are also opening up like Neenaji (Neena Gupta) in Badhai Ho. So, I think films also are changing and the web is actually leading the way with content. Chutney, for example, got 124 million views. If all those people would come to a cinema to watch, it would have become Rs 600-crore hit. So, the web is becoming a good litmus test to see what is working.
Q: Where do you think Bollywood is still stuck since a lot of star-studded projects are tanking at the box office?
TC: I am going to make three points here as I have thought about it a great deal. a) The idea of taking just a name and thinking that it would pull the audience to theatres is not working because the audience has so many choices. They won’t be drawn by just a name. The story is the hero. It is crucial. b) The whole old formula of putting together a few songs and this and that won’t work, it has become too hackneyed. That whole idea of having the same bunch of people in different locations, wearing different clothes but doing the same thing. No, it is not really working. c) Cinema needs to wake up and smell the coffee in terms of how the world is evolving as it is no longer alien to the audience. Anybody who has data is watching anything from GOT to Bad Breaking and other programmes. The bulk of your audience is between 18-40 and if you not tickling them with what you are doing then it is not going to work.
Q: How do you see your journey in Bollywood so far? Do you feel you get the right roles? Did you feel being typecast at any point?
TC: I entered rather amateurishly. I was unprepared, undertrained and I entered on the basis of my looks. I looked like a Hindi film heroine - fair, curvy, sexy and vivacious. And, I assumed that’s all. But, after coming here, I realised that is not all and there are a lot of things - it is a business that has its own moods of working. I did a few films and it didn’t really work for me but by the end of it, I fell in love with acting and not with the idea of being a star and that I think was the biggest change of tracks, which also became my biggest asset. I spent the next five years doing theatre intensely with people like Satyadev Dubey, Feroz Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. I worked hard and polished my craft diligently. And, then I stepped back to movies but many doors were closed saying she had not succeeded in the heroine mould. So, I ended up doing two short films (Ek Shaam ki Mulakat, Hum Saath Saath Hai Kya) that Tigmanshu Dhulia was working upon and they became viral. They got good reviews and that opened several opportunities. I did television, Taare Zameen Par, Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji and other interesting projects.
Yes, I felt typecasted after Taare Zameen Par. You know the ‘maa’ in Bollywood is such an iconic character so everyone was offering the similar role of an emotional and supportive parent and it was a lot of conscious effort from my end to not fall into it. Then, I chose to do Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji, which is a cougar and people were quite surprised. They weren’t expecting it. Then came Ankur Arora Murder Case and then Rahasya.
Q: Is it difficult for women to sustain in Bollywood if you are not the lead actress?
TC: There used to be three roles that women get in Bollywood - Babe, Bhabhi and Biji. But, hello, times are changing and even as we speak, there are people writing good roles.
Q: Tell us about your directorial debut. Is there a production house on board?
TC: It is a thriller written by my husband Sanjay Chopra and I. We have spent a great deal of time on the script and it is finally done and now, we are in the process of casting and locking the crew. We will be shooting around the end of the year. It will have a theatrical release and a production house has also come on board but I can’t reveal the name for now.
Q: Besides your directorial debut, you also wrote the script for Chutney and you have also authored a book. When did you explore your interest in writing?
TC: Everyone in my family always wanted me to be a writer rather than an actor because my mother and father have written books and my husband is also a writer. So, writing is closer. Besides, it is something that I have been doing since school days. In college also, I had written and directed a play and even though it was trash, I was very happy about it at that point.
Q: What's next? Tell us about your upcoming projects.
TC: We are doing one more short film for Large Short Films. My team and I are writing it but I don’t know if I would be acting or not. Besides, there is a big Dharma debut that I am making with Good News.
1. Favourite director, actor and actress: Shoojit Sircar, Ranveer Singh, Alia
2. Your dream project: My directorial debut
3. Favourite cuisine: Thai
4. Favourite workout style: Walking in the mountains and Yoga
5. Your cheat meal: Frozen Yogurt