'Yellow Bus is a heart-breaking story based on a real incident and will strike a chord with mothers across the world.'
Tannishtha Chatterjee's new film Yellow Bus will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month and is inspired by a true story. The actress, who is a single mother to a seven-year-old daughter, admits that it was a heart-wrenching experience for her.
Speaking to Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, she says, "I was sobbing while reading the script and after enacting certain scenes, I would hug the little girl playing my daughter because she was so much like Radhika. During those eight weeks, I was literally living this story and it made me anxious for my own child."
You have been to the Toronto International Film Festival before...
Yellow Bus is my eighth film at TIFF.
I have been to the festival six times, starting in 2004, with the German film, Shadows of Time, followed by the British drama Brick Lane in 2007.
Thereafter, I went with mostly Indian films, such as Dev Benegal's Road, Movie, which premiered in Toronto in 2009, Parched and Angry Young Goddesses in 2015.
In 2013, there was the Indian-Canadian drama, Siddharth by Richie Mehta, who directed the first season of Delhi Crime.
Three years later, there was Dev Patel's Australian biographical drama Lion, but I didn't go with that film because I had a very small role.
After that, I spent two years directing my film, Roam Rome Mein, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival.
Then, the pandemic struck.
I'm looking forward to returning there because the TIFF audience is really warm and I enjoy the Q-and-A sessions.
The first two trips remain the most memorable because during Shadows Of Time I was just 23, and during Brick Lane around 26, still discovering the world.
It was my first exposure to the red carpet and meeting stars like Jude Law.
(Laughs) And the media interviews made me feel so important.
Yellow Bus is co-produced by Guneet Monga, right?
Yes, and I am grateful to Guneet for thinking of me for the role of Ananda Ishwar.
Once an actress hits the late 30s and early 40s, they stop writing lead parts for you.
But since our writer-director Wendy Bednarz is a mother herself, she penned this beautiful, heartbreaking journey, which was so fulfilling for me as a performer.
What made it all the more interesting is that it was a multicultural set.
The producer, Nadia Eliewat is from Jordan, and the line producers, the first and second ADs (assistant directors), in fact, most of the crew were Arab women.
Wendy is American, my co-star Kinda Alloush is from Syria, and my make-up team was from Egypt.
DoP (Director of Photography) Sofian El Fani is French Tunisian and has shot films like Timbuktu and Blue is the Warmest Colour.
In fact, except for the camera department, and some of the actors like our own Amit Sial, it was primarily an all-women unit.
That's interesting, given that the general perception is that Arab women are suppressed and spend their lives behind their veils.
Then, this film will be a myth-breaker.
It was for me as it was for this bunch of cool women who had heard about dowry deaths in India.
It's a part of our narrative, just as these stories are part of theirs, but the reality is that these are educated women living independent lives, no different from other artists all over the world.
Nadia is a real go-getter; Yellow Bus is her fourth film as an independent producer.
She has made two Arab comedies before this, predominantly with women, and they did extremely well.
She has two kids and is separated from her husband.
Wendy also has two children, one of whom is adopted.
It was a single mother, working women friendly set with children and nannies around.
You took your daughter along for the shoot?
I was given the choice, but I didn't want Radhika to miss school for eight weeks, so I left her in Mumbai with my parents.
But between shots, I was managing Wendy's young son, trying to get him to do some craft.
But I quickly realised that a boy is very different from a girl.
He was always running away, wanting me to play very physical games with him.
(Laughs) I had to tell him that I couldn't crawl under a dirty table after him and ruin my costume.
It's pretty hectic balancing a demanding career and the responsibilities of a single mother with Radhika too.
She is seven-and-a-half going on 13, and of late, I have had to explain why I went to see& Barbie without her.
(Laughs) When I told her it was a film for adults, she insisted that was not possible because we don't even play with Barbie dolls.
Being a mother must have made it easier for you to empathise with the character.
Yes, I've played a mother before, in films like Brick Lane and Great India Circus, but unless you go through the journey, you don't really understand what being a mother is all about.
I feel my performance in Yellow Bus is far more mature, that it has changed for the better.
There are actresses who do a very commendable job on screen, but today, I can tell you from experience if that person is a mother in real life or not.
Yellow Bus is an intriguing title.
It refers to the school bus that this six-year-old girl boards along with several other children.
She's tired, takes the last seat and falls asleep.
No one notices her, and after the last child gets off, they lock up and leave and my on-screen daughter dies in the stifling heat of the UAE.
It ends on a spiritual note, but it is a heart-breaking story based on a real incident and will strike a chord with mothers across the world.
I was sobbing while reading the script and after enacting certain scenes, I would hug the little girl playing my daughter because she was so much like Radhika.
During those eight weeks, I was literally living this story and it made me anxious for my own child.
I was face-timing Radhika from the sets and telling her never to roll her bus window up or fall asleep when returning home.
Another film of yours which has been much feted on the festival circuit is The Storyteller.
Ah yes, an amazing, quirky story written by the master himself, Satyajit Ray.
It's my fourth collaboration with Ananthji (Ananth Narayan Mahadevan) after Rough Book, Gour Hari Dastaan and Doctor Rakhmabai.
He's so disciplined and clear about what he wants.
I'm so glad the film has been getting such an overwhelming reaction on the festival circuit.
We had more than a full house at IFFI, and since it was the first time I was watching The Storyteller on the big screen, I sat down on the steps as there were no seats available.
There's another film, Joram, that after a lot of accolades on the festival circuit, is supposed to release this October.
I have a small role as Manoj Bajpayee's wife.
Devashish Makhija is a great director and I'm so glad I did it.
And then there was Manoj, after being social friends and meeting at film screenings and festivals, it was a pleasure working with him.
I've been so lucky with my co-stars, be it Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Manoj or Amit Sial.
They have spoiled me.
In Scoop, you played a hard-as-nails editor of a tabloid. What was life like on the other side of the firing line?
But the script was so well written and Hansal (Director Hansal Mehta) is so clear that I simply had to follow instructions.
I also spent time with Hansal's associate, Ankur Pathak, who was a journalist in a tabloid earlier.
Finally, tell us about Dahini: The Witch in which you play the lead role.
It is directed by Rajesh Touchriver, whose In the Name of Buddha about a Sri Lankan Tamil doctor, Siva, was screened at Cannes and whose Naa Bangara Taali bagged the National Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu.
It's a true story, with J D Chakravarti and me, revolving around witch hunting lore.
It's about a woman living in a village in Orissa, some things go wrong in her life for which she is blamed and branded a witch.
The villagers want to kill my character, but she fights back.