Shahana Goswami has steadily built her image as a 'serious actor', but a chat with in.com brought out a whole new side! Goswami sat down with us to discuss her upcoming film ‘Midnight’s Children’ and how she hopes to break out and do many different things on screen. Excerpts from the interview:
In the film ‘Midnight’s Children’, you play Amina, the mother of the protagonist Saleem Sinai. How did you prepare yourself for it?
Working for someone like Deepa (Mehta) means your homework is pretty basic. She’s a director who uses her cast to build up her character. We had long discussions for every nuance of the film, to get clarity on the smallest emotional graphs of the character. There were intense workshops with the full group, as well as readings for every scene. And once Deepa took the lead, we just followed her directions to help mould the person in the plot into a real thing on screen.
So was it intimidating at all to work with the likes of Salman Rushdie and Deepa Mehta?
I’m very expressive and open. Deepa would always tease me about how I gave bear hugs! They are very humble, down-to-earth people and I was really enthusiastic to work with them. They definitely don’t classify as intimidating. Working with Deepa was a dream. It’s funny how these moments are cherished more in hindsight. I’m now sitting here and drinking in the fact that I had that opportunity. Not that it was lost on me even when I started!
Had you read the book before you were approached for the film?
I’m not a voracious reader, though I wish I was. It wasn’t among the books I had picked as I was growing up. But three days before I was to meet people for a role in this plot, I had read half the book, and when the shooting began, the novel was among books I had successfully pored over.
What did you enjoy most about the book?
As a picky reader, I was glad that Salman Rushdie's writing style found an instant connect with me. I was floored by the depiction of human relationships - an honest and revealing take. It was an intriguing flow of words, and Deepa wanted to retain this essence of the book. Seen through the eyes of a boy on his course of life, the writing depicted reality very closely. Then of course, the gratification of meeting the author and being part of his story was a whole new high!
You had a secrecy clause added to your contract. How was the shooting experience for the film?
Frustrating! Imagine not being able to talk about what is possibly a huge thing for you. It was so clandestine, although some close friends eventually knew about the inside story. But in a way, Deepa insisted that the film be shot this way, to save it from the colossal publicity that films get nowadays even before cameras roll! This is an epic film. You don't want the hype to kill the creative process. It gave us the intimacy to create what felt like a film made by a family.
An intimate scene with your Canadian co-star Zaib Shaikh was your first shot together for the film. Was it a good ice- breaker?
(Laughs) Well it’s not like these scenes are easier if you know the person better! It just lessens the tense factor by degrees. We honestly went with the flow, and since it was choreographed in that moment, the technicality of it all helped to take the edge off. I was expected to take off my kurta and stay in a bra and bottoms. But I figured, it’s not like I was in a bikini!
How different are the Hollywood and regional working styles?
Deepa Mehta has a very different direction sense. Also, the way the whole unit functions is different. Here there’s more of a hierarchy, which tends to be limiting in a group dynamic. There, actors and technicians interact on a more even platform. I guess the crew is backed by 8- 10 years of minimum experience, so everyone’s role automatically afforded dignity. That helps working in a team.
Would you ever consider working in a masala film?
I’d love to do one! I’d love word to go around that Shahana is not ‘serious’. I was used to ‘nautanki’ even through school and college. I’ve grown up on masala movies, watching say Raveena Tandon in ‘Andaz Apna Apna’, where she had so much scope to be versatile. I feel like within myself, there’s so much more I can be onscreen. I’ve danced in front of mirrors as a kid, and I’d love to be like the actresses I grew up watching.
And do you see ‘Midnight’s Children’ becoming a commercial success story?
I believe it could. Look at ‘Life of Pi’. Granted it was a visual spectacle and was directed by Ang Lee but the fact is that the film is relatable to audiences. The truth of human relationships hasn’t changed down the years, and people still enjoy them. Plus there’s a lot of anticipation to see how the inimitable Deepa Mehta and the Booker-of-Booker Rushdie collaborate and create. Even though I know that the language might alienate a certain section of viewers, but I’m sure it will hit its mark with people.
How much does a director help to bring out a character from the actor?
Mostly through discussions, like discussing a scene as animatedly as a friend’s life. A director is always invested in his actors, which is key. Each has his own way to get them into character. Some give you a gesture or a stare that’s designed to bring out the desired emotion in you.
And were you ever at the receiving end of a ‘stare’?
(Laughs) Not in a bad way. For one scene called ‘Glass Kissery’ like the chapter in the book, two former lovers reunite years later and the most intimate they get is when they share a glass of lassi. You have to really believe the intensity and innocence of the act. But Zaid and I were too distracted by the buzzing atmosphere. So Deepa suddenly packed up all but a select few crew, to bring about a vibe of intimacy. Once done, the scene still gives me goosebumps. She knew what had to be done to get it right.
If given a chance to direct your favourite film into a movie, which one would you choose?
If you think about it, you’d usually pick a book you loved reading to make a film, though that’s not always the recipe to a good screenplay. If a book by say Haruki Murakami was put on reel, it may just kill his vision. So I can’t really choose one right now.
What can you tell us about Shahana Goswami when she's not being an actor?
I love my friends. They are a prominent part of my life and its priorities. I am very close to those I hold dear and I love freely. And I’m imploding with unexplored talent, and need a channel to vent other shades of Shahana on celluloid! (Laughs) I’d love to do a passionate dance sequence, an action-driven film or a sports flick. I hope this reaches the right ears!
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