So I finally moved out of my place, where I’d lived ever since I set foot in Mumbai. The reason was obvious—this was a small apartment, though it was fine till now because I hardly spent time at home. Life had followed a little zigzag line: I’d moved to London for five years and, when I moved back in 2012, I was travelling continuously. I have been in this extended-temporary phase of homelessness thanks to my work and travel. In 2016, I’ve already been to Europe four times, once to Australia and twice to New York, not to mention journeys within India for Angry Indian Goddesses, Island City, Unindian and Parched. The mind itself is in a state of constant travel: where’s the time to look for a bigger space where one can settle down with a Tourister full of thoughts and other knick-knacks?
When I get precious spare time to look for places, I come back with the strangest stories but no house. Once we sat down to negotiate the price and the couple who owned the flat started fighting. As I sat there watching, a touch stupefied, I realised they were selling the apartment because they were separating. And suddenly, in the middle of it, they did not want to sell it anymore! In another case, two brothers had a disagreement. Sometimes the bank did not approve the papers, some didn’t have parking...an endless list of fruitless ventures. My friends are now tired of giving me agents’ numbers and asking, “You still have not found a place?” Yes, I am still homeless. Some friends who’ve been through this understand my plight, and understand how difficult it is to find that one right place in Mumbai.
Believe me, it’s almost as difficult as finding that one right guy/girl. I am still looking for both, the house and the man....
The only good thing about my (temporary, hopefully) homelessness is that I jump at every opportunity to get out of this city. And that’s when all the brilliant ideas and stories come to me. All the interesting people I meet, all the special incidents happen, all the beautiful places I visit...that gives me enough fodder to create, to build an alternate home so to speak, or call it the various transit lounges artists pass through as they try to find their next big idea in this perplexing, fascinating world.
A few years ago, when I was shooting for Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie in the Rann of Kutch, I met a woman who taught me to make rotlas, to wear the costume and carry the dupatta for my role. We grew fond of each other and I visited her a few times. One day she suddenly hugged me and revealed her life-story. She had become a widow at 17 and had brought her son and daughter up with great difficulty. It had been 15 years since a man had touched her. She missed it. She had desire which was all suppressed. She had the most beautiful and saddest eyes I had ever seen. They stayed with me.
A few years later, I shared this story with my friend Linaa Yadav and Aseem Bajaj over dinner. Linaa found it fascinating and asked me to take her to this village. She met this woman (my role, finally) and many others in the village. And we made Parched, which tells stories of women, their lives, desires, sexuality, female bonding. Our star producer Ajay Devgan says it is a film “every man should watch”. Women will watch it anyway.
The film has had an incredible journey. It premiered in Toronto last year and thereafter went to 23 international festivals and won plenty awards. I won the best actress in IFFLA and France (and now await the India reception this week!). In all our travels, we realised the stories were universal. Women in America, Sweden and Mexico came to us saying this happens in their backyard. Stories set in a village in India strike a chord across the globe. That was a sad revelation. Reactions to Parched and Angry Indian Goddesses made me realise how privileged some of us are. That we can live a much freer life than many women can even imagine possible.
The key idea in Parched is that our conditioning is the biggest villain. (Men are victims of the same conditioning.) I’ll answer the question, ‘Will this change the plight of women?’, with a cliche that must be repeated. Art has never stopped a war, or fed a poor stomach, but art makes all of us better humans.
In the 21st century, when the blur of technology is taking poetry, music and nature away from us, the human soul needs to be kept alive and watered with art. Let’s give more life to our parched existence.
Pune-born Tannishtha Chatterjee is an NSD-trained actress internationally known for her roles in Brick Lane, Shadows of Time, and most recently, Parched.
Your diarist tweets @TannishthaC