Tillotama Shome shows up early for our shoot, which is always a pleasant surprise, with actors. I see her sitting on the steps of the location, deftly rolling a cigarette, not bothered by anything around her. She is petite, yes, but when she looks at you, her eyes demand respect. As I realised during the shoot, Shome has a bewitching quality about her — it’s very difficult to stop looking at her.
“I am busy searching for a part of me that is fun and light. I know it exists, but the rest of me eclipses it”, she tells me. She is workshopping for a film by Rohena Gera, which goes on the floors this month, and is travelling with Rajat Kapoor’s production of Macbeth. Shome is an inspired addition to Kapoor’s cast as one of the three witches, and in her last film outing, Konkona Sensharma’s A Death In The Gunj (which releases this Friday), she is one of the highlights. “I am still amazed by the fact that I am a full-time actor, and the monosyllabic life is a thing of the past. Acting was never even a consideration. I thought I was just born to read in solitude. My stammer did not have a chance of surviving in this fertile world of acting. It continues to be an act of defiance against my personal limitations. But my biggest achievement is yet to come. Until then plod, run, fall, scrape, fly, crawl, glide —but no looking back.”
Shome’s performances, from Monsoon Wedding to Shanghai, the path breaking Qissa to Sensharma’s …Gunj, have always stood out for their effervescence, nuance and their ability to affect the audience. How does she prepare for them? “I usually have a lot of questions. Each part has called for a different journey, and each director has been a different compass.” Is prepping for theatre any different? “From the perspective of preparing for a role, my approach to theatre is no different. Rehearsal for both is key, and often requires painstaking effort with marginal improvements. One has to free fall with the director, but working ahead of the shoot or show allows a certain familiarity and lived-in experience that’s difficult to create from nothing. The reassurance of another take is lovely, but one is not thinking of another take when one is in one.”
Is she sometimes affected by the unrealistic standards of beauty in our movie industry? “I don’t think I am breaking the rules, I am just choosing to not be broken by them”, she says. “The airbrushed look, the race to be on a magazine cover, the perfect selfie, eternal youth… it’s endless. I dip myself into the pond of being well turned out only once in a while, so it feels like a fun day and not armour I have to wear every day. Often, you lose a job based on your appearance and you wish that could change. But on the other hand, the jobs that you do get need you to be exactly how you are. Besides, all the directors I have worked with have made me feel very beautiful.” How does she react to negative criticism? “It’s a point of view; you take it in, it will either resonate with your truth or it won’t. If it does, process it to avoid repeating it. Most people criticise you behind your back and are usually polite or hyperbolic in praise to your face. Thankfully my husband and a few friends will say it as it is”, she smiles.
It’s a big smile, brimming with honesty, and she almost breaks into laughter. Her eyes crinkle and, for a while, unabashed innocence shines through. She suddenly transforms from a serious actor to a naughty Bengali belle, and it’s difficult not to be charmed. I change the subject and ask her what she’s watching on TV these days. “After The Crown and The Night of, I have not committed to anything. I am obsessive by nature, and it’s too dangerous to start a series when you are struggling to find time to sleep. A book is so much nicer.”
This article was first published in March 2017
Junior Stylist: Neelangana Vasudeva
Hair & Make Up: Jean-Claude Biguine
Location Courtesy: Anavila Store, Mumbai
Wardrobe And Accessories: Anavila And Amrapali