Star profile: Cerebral actor Tillotama Shome on her upcoming film, Raahgir and more
There's a lot that inspires Tillotama Shome. An avid gardener by hobby, the petite actor shares her sense of awe about how, in nature, there can emerge a profusion of life from practically nothing. “I get a lot from it,” says the soft-spoken and normally media-shy actor. Shome, who was born in Kolkata, but grew up in different parts of the country as her father was in the Indian Air Force, made her debut in Bollywood in 2001 as Alice, in Mira Nair’s much-appreciated movie, Monsoon Wedding. Since then, her acting skills have been showcased in many a film, including Qissa — The Tale of a Lonely Ghost, Tasher Desh, Hindi Medium, A Death in the Gunj, and Kadvi Hawa.
And now, she will be seen as one of the protagonists in multiple award-winning, veteran filmmaker Goutam Ghose’s upcoming release, Raahgir. The film, which premiered in Busan Film Festival last month, was well-received both by the audience and critics. We caught up with Shome, who’s currently busy shooting for a couple of movies and a web series named Mentalhood, for a chat about her upcoming movies, her acting process, and more. Excerpts:
Raahgir debuted at the Busan Film Festival this year. How was it?
I was very happy that Raahgir had its world premiere at a festival like Busan. It’s a joy to see your films travel to places that you have never been to. In Raahgir, you essay the character with so much poignancy.
Tell us a little about your experience, and how you prepared for the role.
I had to lose weight and needed dialect training. That, strangely, was easier to do than come to terms with the abject poverty of the character I had to play. In the middle of a shot at a bus stop, where Lakhua and Nathuni take some much-needed rest, I was overwhelmed by how little they had. I told Goutam, I am not going to play a poor person for some time, as I became nauseatingly aware of my immense privilege. This had never come up in the last twenty years, in such a physical way.
Tell us a little about how it was to work with a stalwart like Goutam Ghose?
He is like a child who jumps with joy when he’s happy. There was tremendous warmth on that set. He is full of stories and adventures, and I enjoyed being in his presence.
Your film Sir also premiered at Jagran festival and was praised across the board. How did you play that role with so much conviction?
I had wonderful co-actors in Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni. When you have such incredible co-actors, you can literally fly! My focus was on keeping Ratna’s inherent sense of dignity alive, which was very important to my director. The class dynamic was easier to inhabit, perhaps because one is surrounded by inequity.
Even Chintu Ka Birthday saw you in a different role. Could you give us a peek into the character you played?
Well, I had to inhabit a character from Bihar, and so, I had dialect training. Now, I find it difficult to get out of it. Perhaps the most incredible gift was to sing a song for the film. And I was lucky to have singer-actor Mansi Multani teach me how to sing. It was an unconventional entry point to the character, but it helped a lot.
Your acting career started with theatre, and you also worked with prison inmates in the US...
The experience of teaching at Rikers taught us many things, but predominantly a few things became clear. First, the line between sanity and insanity, guilty and not guilty is very slippery. Second, the prison system and culture of medication in America was a different level of sophisticated slavery. Third, I was just plain lucky to have the privilege I did, and it was funny that I felt that way in New York.
What films are you working on with Madhuja Mukherjee, Anup Singh and Rima Das?
I cannot divulge much right away, but all three films have women protagonists and in a way, explore a world of deep longing and desire.
You will also be seen in the web series, Mentalhood?
I am playing a mother who craves to fit in with the ‘cool’ mothers. What she is lacking in ‘class’ she makes up with heart.
Fashion, fitness and diet
● My choices are dictated by comfort. I like wearing fabrics that breathe. I wear what I like.
● Swimming or functional training. I learnt to swim only a few years ago, so I am addicted to it. I love the feeling of noise cancellation underwater.
● I don’t really follow a diet. I do have amla (gooseberry) juice in the morning but besides that, I eat three hearty home-cooked meals. Rice is a staple. I know what I am craving for and make sure that I can get it at home.
● Comfort food: My mother’s cooking.
● Apart from gardening, I love reading a lot and currently, I’m reading The Promise of India by Jaimini Bhagwati.