Having performed on the international theater circuit since a very young age, she made her first foray into acting with a German production titled Raju, which won the Student Oscar Award. Several roles followed, and then she acted in Ankhon Dekhi as chhoti bahu, a role that was critically acclaimed. Another role she has received great applause for is in Mouth of Hell, where she plays a coalminer.
Here we have an informal chat with Taranjit about her work, interests, and things that motivate her.
- What kinds of roles do you prefer?
I prefer roles that challenge me as an actress. When I read a script, I need to first feel excited by the story. The next I look for is how much it will help me grow as an actress. If I do the same thing over and over again, it won’t help me. Hence, I prefer taking up roles that inspire me to push my boundaries.
- What was the biggest audience you have performed in front of?
In theatre, I have performed in front of huge audiences at international events such as the London International Theatre Festival, D’Avignon Festival of Theatre in France, and the Perth Theatre Festival in Australia. The reception you get from such huge live audiences is mind-blowing to say the least.
- When did you perform your first acting role?
My first acting performance was in theatre. I started out at the age of 15 with acclaimed theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhary. This led to a phase where I traveled to various cities of the world and performed there. In films, my first role was in an Indo-German movie named Raju. My performance in it was highly acclaimed and the movie ended up winning the Student Oscar Academy Award in 2012. The movie was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. In Indian cinema, my first film was Ankhon Dekhi, which was directed by Rajat Kapoor. I played a major role in the movie, that of the chhoti bahu.
- Do you think you could have done a past performance better? Which, if so? And how could you have improved upon it?
As an actor and a creative person, whenever I look at my previous work, I always feel that I could have done it better. It is a natural process with all of us. We are always evolving and growing with life and the various experiences that come our way.
- Tell us about a time where you found it difficult to step into a character. Which character was it? What were the challenges?
I did this British film titled Mouth of Hell in which I played a coal miner. This was the most challenging role I have played so far. Just a day before we were going to start shooting, when we had already done a few readings and rehearsals, I felt that I needed to know more about the women who worked in coal mines. I wanted to become one of them. So I actually stayed for a day in their houses, ate with them, slept in their houses, and somehow felt the hardships they had to go through. We had taken a costume with us, but I insisted on changing it at the last minute as it looked ‘too clean’. There was a mentally challenged woman among these coal miners who had not bathed for months. We asked her to give us her saree, and that is what I wore in the entire film.
- How did you start out with acting?
It seems strange to me now, but getting into acting was not a conscious decision for me. I just happened to start out with theatre at a very young age, and then my traveling with the theatre company started. But I never had any plans to join films at that age. That happened much later. I first acted in a diploma film at SRFTI which was directed by Srikant Agwane. It was then that I realized that film is just another medium.
- What career would you have been in if not acting?
I have always been writing, even as a young girl. I have also been a part of documentary filmmaking. So I think once I am done with acting, I would start writing for films and making documentaries. But I hope I keep on acting till I am 80!
- Tell us something about the different styles of the directors you have worked with.
I have been indeed fortunate to have worked with a wide range of directors from across the world. I will always be indebted to Rajat Kapoor who gave me a chance to work in my first Hindi film, Ankhon Dekhi, which is today considered to be one of Hindi cinema’s landmark films. He is the warmest and most affectionate director I have worked with. He gives a lot of space for actors to improvise and perform.
Max Zahle, the director of Raju, the Indo-German film, was so professional in everything that he did. He had great vision for the movie. It was wonderful working with him in Raju and with Wotan Mohring, who is a star in Germany and yet so down-to-earth.
Then there is Samir Mehanovic, the British director, a BAFTA award winner, who directed Mouth of Hell. He has a very spiritual approach to filmmaking and it was almost magical to work with him. After Mouth of Hell, he told me that he’d like to make a feature film in India with me as he had never seen such an expression of pain in any actor’s eyes. That was a huge compliment for me. In that movie, I played the role of a coal miner on the verge of death.
I also worked with Alberto de Rosa, an Italian filmmaker, on a documentary titled Lost in Kolkata. Working with him, I learned how you should adapt yourself to every situation and find a solution when you are making films. I learned a lot of human skills from him.
- You are from the theatre background. Has that been an advantage for you?
Being from theatre definitely helps a lot. It teaches you the craft itself, and tells you a lot of things about how to approach a character and to improvise and evolve throughout the process.
- We saw you in Airlift. Tell us something about it.
It was wonderful working with Raja Krishna Menon. It was amazing to see how he could direct more than 500 people on a set and still always be so calm.
- Would you like to say something to people who wish to take up acting?
I would like to tell them that there are no shortcuts in life. If you are serious about becoming an actor, then you should first train yourself. When you get a role to play, spend some time in studying the character you have to play. Watching good films and theatre can help you grow as an actor.