Blurring lines

We speak to Tannishtha about motherhood, how she understood the alienation of a migrant in a foreign land, and what is an ‘insecure’ actor.
A still from Yellow Bus.
A still from Yellow Bus.

Tannishtha Chatterjee and Amit Sial starrer Yellow Bus, a tale of a migrant mother in a Middle East town looking for answers after the death of her child, recently had its Asia Premiere at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Helmed by American filmmaker Wendy Bednarz in her directorial debut, Yellow Bus has been co-produced by Oscar-winner Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment, along with Jordanian, Emirati, and American production houses, including Screen Project, Metatron Productions, OSN, Creative Venture and Ta Films.

In the film, Tannishtha, known for festival favourites like Brick Lane (2007) and Parched (2015), plays Ananda Ishwar, whose young daughter dies after being abandoned in a school bus under the sweltering heat of the desert sun.

The film was shot near Abu Dhabi during the pandemic. It was a particularly difficult time for Tannishtha, who had to undergo the emotional turmoil of losing her fictional child, while her real daughter was a million miles away. Reel and real frequently collided and the actor couldn’t leave the agony on set. “I knew it was just a story, but still,” she says.

We speak to Tannishtha about motherhood, how she understood the alienation of a migrant in a foreign land, and what is an ‘insecure’ actor.

How did Yellow Bus happen?

I received a call from Guneet (Monga) who was co-producing the film along with Nadia (Eliewat) our main producer from Jordan. Guneet and I have known each other since Monsoon Shootout (2013). While reading the script, I got teary-eyed often. Just three years back, I had become a mother when I adopted a three-year-old girl. The experience of motherhood during the pandemic had shifted something internally for me. My kid, Radhika, is the same age as Aarushi, the child actor who plays my daughter in the film. I initially thought, ‘Should I torture myself?’ But I knew I could do the part.

Yellow Bus is also the story of an Indian couple in the Middle East. How did you go about understanding the alienation a migrant can feel in a foreign land?
Right from my childhood, I have lived in different places. Even as an adult, I moved to London for 5-6 years after I did Brick Lane (2007). You leave your home country for a better life, but when you go abroad, you realise it comes with its own share of problems. This made me understand what Ananda might be going through, her dreams, and her aspirations for her children. This whole concept of ‘better life’. In many ways, this film is also a story of migrant aspirations being shattered. We all think life is better abroad but it is not always true.

You once said that if a script isn’t well-written, not even the best actor in the world can do justice to it. Is it entirely impossible for fine actors to elevate a script?
Actors can only make a scene interesting but the graph of a character is the product of writing. This is something Naseer sir (Naseeruddin Shah) told us when he came for a workshop at the drama school I was in: ‘The best actor in the world can’t elevate a bad script but an average actor can shine in a well-written screenplay.’

For you, does that filter scripts out, since there is so much badly written stuff out there?
A lot of times. Mostly I don’t go for scripts that are not well-written. But sometimes, I am like, ‘Ok, it isn’t that good but pays well, so let’s just do it,’. I mean we do have to pay bills. But I do hope nobody sees those films.

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The New Indian Express