Tisca Chopra

16 Sep

“One can’t be a person with half a brain and not see the many things that need changing in India” – Tisca Chopra

Tisca Chopra may not be seen in every other movie but when she does decide to partake in a film, you know it’s one to watch. In more recent times, she has been a part of two such films that have made headlines in India and in foreign waters: Taare Zameen Par and Firaaq. Both films went on to become India’s entry to the Oscars and winner of five international awards respectively despite her entrance into the world of films opposite Ajay Devgan in Platform. Unable to make much of an impression, she quickly moved towards theater. However, there is more to Tisca than meets the eye. The actress is an avid social worker and a devout Buddhist, however cannot talk about her association with Bharat Soka Ghakkai, an NGO which promotes peace, culture and education. The actress-social advocate speaks to Roshni Magazine about life in films and out, her passion for good work and future plans.

You’ve always been a fine actress, but you only really received the recognition you deserved after Taare Zameen Par. Too much too late?
Why late? And why too much? I believe that we get successful when we are ready for it. I had my own learning to go through as a human, not necessarily as an actor. As for too much- how odd, I expect this is only the beginning. I hope to represent India on the world level.

And the now, we last saw you in Firaaq. Why have you chosen to stay away from more mainstream films and picked to work in films which deal with more delicate matters? One makes the best of the opportunities that come one’s way or creates new opportunities. I have yet to be offered a splendid role in the mainstream format and I hope to rock it. Meanwhile I’ve started work on producing a film, so as to create my own opportunity. If something like TZP or Firaaq come my way, I’ll certainly do such wonderful and meaningful films.

Both films received extreme accolades in film festivals and of course TZP was India’s nomination to the Oscars. Where do you see Hindi cinema headed now?
All the way up. We are a culture of story telling and music and drama. And now everything is so exciting. There’s so much work happening in Mumbai, both for the domestic market and internationally. The world is watching India and Indian talent now.

After your debut film, Platform, you decided to move into theatre. Your performances in plays like Mahatma vs. Gandhi, All The Best and Salesman Ramlal were critically acclaimed and loved by all. Do you think that was a wise choice and which do you prefer?
That was a really sorry time in Hindi films; crappy plots and single dimensional roles for women. I was so square-peg-in-round-hole in that scenario. Theatre breathed life into me. And it sustained me while cinema in India came of age with the opening of multiplexes. The roles for women are getting more layered and complex and it is truly an exciting time.

You’ve even dabbled in television. Why did you feel the need to work in all areas of entertainment?
Like I said, one takes what opportunities come, I try to max them. While great film offers were not coming my way, I decided to polish my craft by doing television. It is difficult to hone one’s skill in the drawing room. I got some excellent roles on TV and they really helped me become what I am today. Also I gathered a huge fan following that still watch my films, because they liked my acting on TV.

You are closely associated with many NGO’s. The most prominent being your work with the National Knowledge Commission. What is your title with them and what kind of work do they do? Why did you choose to be associated with them?
One can’t be a person with half a brain and not see the many things that need changing in India. The education system is still a legacy of the colonial times, an ancient, obsolete, rote learning monolith. The situation of women, especially in semi-urban and rural India is beyond what we can digest. And we continue to exist as if Global Warming has nothing to do with us. The use of plastic, the toxic drainage into rivers and vehicular pollution is going unchecked. So I work with the National Knowledge Commission on educational reforms, it reports directly to the Prime Minister’s office.

Which other NGO’s do you work with and what is your work with them?
I’ve recently started working with The Guild of Service and Mrs. Mohini Giri for the widows of Vrindavan. And I support Green Peace in its Environmental work.

Tell us about why you converted to Buddhism and also about Bharat Soka Ghakkai.
It is a solid philosophy of life that answers all my questions about how to lead one’s life as a human being, while being of service to others.

What is coming up for you on the acting front?
First up is Rangeen, a comedy. I was dying to do one after two back to back serious films. It is a total riot and had huge fun making it. Then is a guest appearance in a film called Mirch with a director I admire, Vinay Shukla. Also this year I’m finally doing a play and we’ll start rehearsing in a few weeks. And finally I’m working with the director on the script of the film I’m producing.

What do you like to do when you have any spare time?
I spare a few hours every week to nurture my creative self. I go to stationery shops because I love new stationery and paint and stick on things or I go to button and bead shops and spend a few hours looking and touching and planning a new wall hanging or place mats. I love going large plant nurseries and spend a few hours looking at the shapes and textures of various plants, their smells and characters. There is a magical, mysterious nursery near my house in Mumbai, I love going there whenever I get sick of city living.

And lastly, what is your message to young aspiring actors?
Learn to act. Doctors or engineers or architects take five to seven years to learn their craft. Somehow actors in India have an idea that learning on the job is the right way. It is not. Film making is very expensive; the cost of raw stock, the time of other artists and technicians etc, all are extremely expensive. Unless you are a huge star, it is best to be very good and not depend too much on luck. Be very well prepared as an artist. Theater, acting school and workshops are all great places to learn. Besides your confidence as an actor shines through in your first few roles, that is a wonderful way to start rather than stumble about unknowingly.

~Roshni M.
(September 2009)

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