I first heard Tanuja in real life when I was shooting with her daughter, the feisty Tanishaa, on the second floor of her bungalow in suburban Mumbai. The photographer and his unit were setting up the equipment and disturbing Tanuja, seated a level above the central atrium. She was in the process of giving a sound byte to a television crew on the third floor. Just then, the shutterbug’s assistant dropped the tripod on the floor and as it clattered noisily, her angry voice rasped out from up above—“Who is this idiot who is still disturbing me?” I had just walked into the space, and burst out laughing. Once the shoot was in progress, I climbed up the winding staircase and met her, and we took to each other instantly. Tanuja is a sheer, outspoken delight. Full of beans, even at 73, absolutely loveable. We chatted over coffee about life, Lonavla (where her primary home is), politics and everything manic that Mumbai brings with it.
Excerpts from the interview:
So your movie A Death in the Gunj is readying for release. Do you want to talk about it?
Then why did you do it?
(Smiles, shrugging her slim shoulders) I did it for two reasons: One, it is in English, and two, it is the directorial debut of Konkona Sen Sharma. Her mother Aparna Sen is a dear friend of mine.
We saw you last in Son of Sardar where you acted with your son-in-law Ajay Devgan. Are you open to doing more projects?
Yes, why not? But on my terms, my conditions.
As always (smiles)
Tell me, what is it that annoys you about the current work scenario?
The hoopla is too much. The contracts run into 25 pages. It is too tedious going through all the fine print.
You could get your lawyer to vet the contract for you…
Why? It is not necessary. I mean, there is too much process, too many driving commercials. But I guess production houses need to safeguard their interests and want to avoid legal hassles. I am just old-fashioned. Of course, the earlier system of working wasn’t like this.
You have always been short-tempered, quite a rebel. Do you get along with the cast on the sets?
Now, yes. Of course, once you start shooting, the entire unit gets along just fine.
There are people who still call me an arrogant bitch. See, I used to be a very difficult person. But I take ownership of all the tantrums I have ever thrown.
What changed you?
Once I lost my temper, and at that time my elder daughter, Kajol, was just 10. She said why don’t you lose your temper forever, instead of losing it again and again, and recovering it to lose it again? That drove the point home. Children are very perceptive. They teach you so much. Everyone has to change; you can’t be flatlined, and live in a rut.
Shilpi Madan for The Goodwill Project