Rediff Logo Movies Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index
June 2, 1997


Writer, director, likely star

Suparn Verma

Tanuja Chandra
Tanuja Chandra looks the quintessential US-returned geek, peering through soda bottle lenses, wearing a perpetual grin. She doesn't look like someone who'd write the life history of a eunuch or who'd essay directing a film with rape and growing up as central themes. But the stereotypical mould has been broken: Chandra is doing just that.

But if you still wish to cling to cliches, it's all there in the blood. Mother Kamna Chandra wrote the dialogues writer for Chandni, 1942, A Love Story and Prem Rog, brother Vikram Chandra is an internationally-acclaimed author and sister Anupama Chopra covers the entertainment industry for India Today.

Paresh Rawal and Pooja Bhatt in Tamanna
Tamanna, Pooja Bhatt's maiden venture as a producer for which Chandra has written the script, is the true story of a eunuch Tikku who adopts and brings up an abandoned girl. Of course, the story does verge on the maudlin, with the Bhatt call for an alternative morality running through it all. But the film did win a national award for the best film on other social causes.

For Tanuja, Tamanna opened the gateway to Bollywood, for director Mahesh Bhatt it meant regaining his position as hot shot film-maker.

Though she staked her reputation on the film, her mind's now on her next venture -- directorial -- in Dushman. "But really, yaar, I'm so bloody scared. I will have to follow the legacy of Tamanna and that is going to be a real tough act to follow," says Tanuja.

Dushman is the story of twins, with Kajol doing the double role. One of the twins, shy and introverted, is born three minutes after the other, who turns out to be aggressive and protective of her sister.

Tanuja Chandra, Pooja Bhatt and Kajol on the Dushman sets
But their household comes crumbling down when the elder twin is brutally raped and murdered. The shocked younger twin withdraws further into herself. The criminal squeezes his way out of trouble, as happens in Hindi movieland, through a technical loophole.

Then the quiet one meets a blind ex-armyman, a major no less, played by Sanjay Dutt. The major saw his younger brother being killed in the Bombay blasts and can't understand how the girl keeps mum in the face of injustice and tells her, "Till you look upon me to look after you, you will be dependent, and that weakness is your enemy." Your enemy, yourself, got it?

The girl undergoes a mental metamorphosis and follows the criminal so diligently that she even sees him raping someone else.

"I think that the act of being a mute witness is worse than the act of the perpetrator. Dushman is about the growth of a girl. It is a story of a woman who says that I cannot blame anyone but my helplessness," says Chandra.

Kajol and Tanuja Chandra share a joke on the sets of Dushman
Chandra thinks Dushman is a product of the times. "The film says. `Don't be a silent witness to the suppression of women. Hit back, not at the physical level... The inner strength has to be developed..." Empowerment of woman, down with male domination? That kind of thing? With physical retaliation thrown in for good measure?

No, says Chandra, "The film does not advocate militancy. Even in the end she (the protagonist) is driven by fear to commit the final act."

Which is why Dushman, despite appearing superficially similar to Thelma and Louise which started a debate on female militancy in the West, does not intend to make women pick up arms against men.

"Films can only raise questions; it cannot make someone react. Thelma and Louise is all about reaction," Chandra says, dismissing it.

She confesses to feeling nervous about shooting the rape scene "It will be depicted in all its viciousness. I'm going to be traumatised shooting it... I have only read about rape and that is second hand knowledge. I have met victims of rape, and when they talk about their experience their hands turn cold because they relive that moment every moment of their lives. That's what I want to portray."

Paresh Rawal and Pooja Bhatt in Tamanna
Chandra has her own opinions about how rape is viewed in India. "It's shocking that rape is not even treated as a crime in our society. Since it has sex attached to it, the crime immediately becomes an issue of respect. We do not confront sex for what it is. It's an animal desire. You eat, you screw. But our society makes the woman feel guilty as though she brought it upon herself."

A green card holder, Chandra taught at an elementary school in Houston, Texas, and spent the rest of her time making short documentaries for a public access cable company which leased out equipment at subsidised rates. She later entered film school at the Templeton University in Philadelphia.

"It was a very close relationship we shared as students. Everyone would discuss each other's work, watch films together and then everyone would try to find hidden meaning where there was none. What I hated about film school was that a teacher telling me what to like in a film."

Pooja Bhatt, Tanuja Chandra and Kajol on the sets of Dushman
"None of the film schools prepare you for the outside world. It is only when you come in to the marketplace that you realise that things are very different. As a director you have to sell your product and make sense to the people out there."

"I have learnt so much from Mr Mahesh Bhatt that it is impossible to talk about it. I learnt that if you make movies trying to impress others your own insecurities will show. You have to make your film with humility and reverence. I learnt a whole new concept of movie-making: Movies are all about how you can make a stranger connect with the characters on the screen."

And she doesn't go for the art for art's sake kind of film-making and even though, as a woman film-maker, she will be expected to conform to -- and tout -- certain stereotypes. "Naturally, films made by women directors and producers will be different," she says, adding, "Films are for the general masses; they are not a means of self-satisfaction."