Such a long journey
In conversation with Aditi Sharma | Mumbai Mirror | December 11th, 2005


Even after three decades in the movie business, Sooni Taraporevala has lost none of the initial josh, discovers Aditi Sharma.

Scriptwriter and photographer Sooni Taraporevala’s friendship with Mira Nair, her classmate, co-worker, friend and ‘sister’, has lasted almost 30 years. Taraporevala’s adaptation of Pulitzer-winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s second book The Namesake, which has been filmed by Nair, is ready for a 2006 release. She is currently working on Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist, also for Nair.

On the side, she is silently putting together the script for her own movie, to be directed by her. She is not too keen to divulge details about the project yet, but sitting in her office in Grant Road, with crayon drawings and family portraits adorning the walls, she shares with us the places visited and territories yet uncharted.

So you’re finally ready to make your own movie.
I can’t say anything about the film. I am looking for a financier, following which work will begin.

Explain your transition from a photographer to scriptwriter, and now a filmmaker.
I have a Masters in cinema studies, so filmmaking is not totally alien to me. In my mind, all the fields merge into one; I don’t see them in distinct air-tight compartments. They will hopefully flow into the film that I am planning to make.

Tell us about your interactions with the authors whose books you have adapted for film scripts.
I’ve only interacted with Rohinton Mistry in the ’90s for Such a Long Journey. I haven’t interacted with other authors. Once they are done with the book, most authors move on to the next. And if they are smart, they understand that film is a very different medium and leave it at that.

What was the experience of working on the film Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, which you co-wrote with Arun Sadhu and Daya Pawar?
It was the most difficult script I have written, since I had never done one on a real person. Dr Ambedkar did so much in his life. My main concern was to be able to fit it all into this very limited format of time. I was not used to the political pulls and pushes either. And as he is so revered by his followers, I felt a great responsibility of getting all the facts right.

Also, we did not fictionalise the script at all, which was a tough call. How do you make a dramatic feature without using fiction? But I am very happy having done the film. I wish that it would have had a wider release. It’s very frustrating to work on something for nine years and then have very few people see it.

Do you see yourself as part of Bollywood?
Not really. The kind of scripts I write are different, my concerns are different. Besides Prakash Jha and a few other filmmakers, I see Hindi cinema dealing more with fantasy than reality. That’s totally contrary to my sensibility.

Do you think there is very little emphasis on socially relevant cinema in India?
I blame the censor board for discouraging socially-conscious filmmakers attempting serious subjects. Making a film is an expensive proposition. Who is going to risk all that capital, if at the end of the day, the film never gets shown?

Anand Patwardhan wins all the national awards, but has to go to court to show his documentaries. It’s absurd! Such films are more relevant than fantasylands of American campuses and people playing basketball. It’s about time people stood up and said we don't need the censor board or the act. We need to get the rating system in place, like in America.

What are the moments you can recall from your first venture with Nair — Salaam Bombay?
It was everyone’s first film — Mira’s first feature, my first script, the kids’ first film acting, Sandi Sissels’s first film as a cinematographer — we had that josh. That madness leaves you as you get older. Because we did not know any better, we simply plunged in and luckily it worked. The success of Salaam Bombay gave me a career; before that I was a photographer first and then a scriptwriter.

Your friendship with Nair has lasted more than 30 years. What is the secret?
We’ve been friends since the time we were both 18 and 19-year-old. We’ve seen each other through various stages of our lives. We’ve both changed, but we haven’t grown apart. It’s like having a sister. Also, the creative aspect of our field works as a bonding . That has also brought us together over the years.

What happened to your company, International Behnji Brigade, that was to make ‘glocal’ films?
The producer who was supposed to put up the money backed out and so it just died a natural death (laughs). The behnjis have disbanded!

Tell us about your book Parsis — A Photographic Journey.
The book is a documentary, obviously from my eyes, of the Parsi community over the last so many years. I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive and definitive as possible. When I started out there were a few photographs of Navjots and weddings. There were books on the religion, but no pictorial record of the community as such. I think that’s what my book is

The book has turned you into a mouthpiece for the Parsis in the city.
Yes, but there are other mouthpieces as well. And I am happy to let them talk. I am happy not to get calls when the vultures die out (laughs).

You’re essentially a Mumbaikar. If you’re ever to make a film on the city, what would it be?
I would always want to shoot in real locations, because I come from the tradition of documentary photography. Even when I am in a cab or I am driving, I love to just look around. There’s so much to see in Mumbai — every street corner is rich with events and people. That’s what I love most about the city, and that hasn’t changed from the time I was growing up. Only New York can match this energy. The streets in New York smell of piss and so do the streets in Mumbai. (laughs) The weather is nicer here though.

Have your children Jahan and Iyanah taken to photography?
We had got Jahan a camera when he was four and he took a lot of nice pictures. It is interesting to observe that when children go out to take pictures, the subjects are only too happy to pose for them. Everyone has these big smiles. But that was a novelty and it wore off. My daughter keenly observes me work and likes to take some pictures herself. If I got them a small digital camera they’d be taking a lot more pictures. Both of them take good photographs.

Where are you headed? What else is in the offing apart from the film you’ll direct?
Who knows! You can’t really plan anything, so I am just happy to take it as it comes and hope that it’s all good stuff.


Mumbai Mirror | December 11, 2005

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