What I've Learnt
By Sejal Mehta | Femina September 14th, 2005


Sooni Taraporevala…
Individualistic, endearing and compassionate…she discloses the truths she's lived her life by

You wouldn't usually associate the word 'dudette' with anyone over 35, but the word fits Sooni Taraporevala like a shoe. Extremely talented, laid back and genial, her ready laugh prevails while contemplating what this puzzle called life has taught her…

If you want something, ignore negativity and go for it
I applied to go to American colleges in 1974. At that time, it was very rare for Indian students to get admission as undergraduates and to get a scholarship. And I was severely discouraged by a lot of people who said, 'Why bother, you're not going to get through'. I thought I might as well try. I had a cousin at Princeton who also said it wouldn't hurt to try. So, on my own, I wrote to 40 colleges and applied. This got narrowed down to four or five colleges. And finally, I got admission to the one I wanted to go to - the one at the top of my list, Harvard. I was so excited, I remember jumping up and down on the bed and that euphoria turned to complete dread at night when I was lying on my bed looking at my familiar walls and wondering what I had done! I was terrified of leaving. My teacher used to say 'the agony and ecstasy of life' - that's exactly what it was.

Opportunities open new doors. Don't pass them by
Mira (Nair) and I went to college together. After graduation, she went into film direction while I became a professional still photographer. We had always wanted to work together and when she asked whether I would write 'Salaam Bombay', I agreed. I would have agreed even if it hadn't come from Mira. I think one should try out opportunities when they come knocking. Anyway, the film won immense acclaim. We thought it would be a good movie, but we didn't expect that kind of success. And with it, I found a new career as a scriptwriter. I continued to photograph for myself, but I didn't have to do it to make a living. In those days, photography didn't pay well, so my new career helped a lot.

Success gives you confidence but doesn't necessarily change you.
I am pretty much the same person before and after success. And it was easy to remain grounded because though the movie was immensely successful, I don't think the scriptwriter gets that much of the glory, it's more the director and the producer. Yes, it gave me a certain amount of confidence in my abilities, and myself, but it didn't make me feel I was the greatest thing to hit the scriptwriting scene!

Families make you who you are
My parents weren't pushy parents - you'd never hear them saying stuff like, 'You have to get these marks' or 'Did you finish your homework?'. It was more like 'You study, you get the marks and we don't nag you'. I loved that. They had taught me to be independent since I was very young, even in terms of work. They were only concerned about whether I was happy in whatever I did and that I was learning to make it on my own. My mother was a working mother; she was a schoolteacher. See, when you grow up with an example of something, it hits home much more than it would if it were just preached to you. I saw my mom working every day and I just automatically assumed I would do the same thing. And the same thing has incorporated itself in my house today - we are a very laidback household. My husband Firdaus and I don't have any rules in the way we bring up the kids - we both pitch in and we intend to give them their space, which is exactly how I was brought up.

Don't get discouraged by bad starts - they may lead to great endings
I was terrified when I left for the States. I didn't want to leave my family and my friends. I had never lived alone, or in boarding. The only time I was out of the country was when I was visiting my relatives in Hong Kong. And well, my arrival was just as I had imagined it would be - I missed several connecting flights, I reached at four in the morning, and my pick up at the airport hadn't arrived. I had no small change in American currency. Even between terminals, someone had to help me out. And when I reached my dorm, there was no one there. For someone who had never been on her own before, it was not the easiest of starts. I called my parents and sobbed on the phone, telling them that I already hated it and wanted to come back. They asked me to stay for a while and then come back if I was still unhappy. Of course, things worked out brilliantly after that. So well, things work out in the end.

Marriage is about finding the right person!
I am very happy I married late in life. I think when you marry late, you're much more mature, you've done everything you wanted to do and so you don't feel that you've lost out on something. It's only when you have kids that you find you don't have the energy to run after them (laughs). Marriage is happiness, it is the joy of watching children grow, contentment, an anchor - it's all those things. I am a lot happier than I was before. I don't mean to encourage other women to get into late marriages; I am just talking about myself. Before marriage, I wasn't a high-flying single woman completely happy with my life - I really wasn't. In fact, I was quite miserable and there were times in my life when I was really depressed - out of loneliness, out of a feeling of not knowing where I belonged (I was also shuttling back and forth from the US), my age and from all those things that happen to you when you're single…

As a working mother, keep several balls in the air…
And then juggle them. You need to juggle both - your home and your career. Motherhood is wonderful and it teaches you a certain amount of patience that I didn't know I was capable of. When my son was three months old, I took him with me on an assignment to London. One of the other writers there was also a young mother and she said, 'Sooni, face it, from now on, whatever you do, you're going feel guilty'. (Laughs) I've learnt how to cope with my heart running around outside my body. This is something Shahrukh Khan was once quoted as saying and I think it's a very apt metaphor. I am also learning how not to be overly protective. As a child one always thinks parents worry needlessly and too much. Now that I am a parent, of course I worry needlessly and too much! I can now appreciate how brave my parents were to allow their only child to go halfway around the world alone.

The gender war is universal…
My parents have always maintained that I should be independent and that I should stand on my feet. In that way, it was unusual that I never had this 'Now you should get married'. In fact, when I went to Harvard, it was strange talking to all these women there who felt that they had grown up with some kind of discrimination. They didn't feel they were treated equally and at par with their brothers, and I had come from India and I had never personally felt discriminated myself. I suppose it was because of my family and the way I grew up.

Friendship is very important.
I think I am a very loyal friend, even if I say so myself. I've had very longstanding friendships and they're very important to me. Maybe because I am an only child, friends were more important in my life. I've never had a group of friends. I've always had one-on-one friendships and they all have been very precious to me.

As told to Sejal Mehta


Femina September 14, 2005

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