A short film is like a small piece of jewellery with intricate meenakari work on it: Tisca Chopra

The Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films’s Rubaru is a deliciously-dark short that sees Radha Malhotra, an aging superstar trying frantically to hold on to the last bits of fame. Her glory days are over; her halo is fading, her boobs are sagging, her mind is playing games on her, she is on the verge of being stamped as discarded and obsolete. Standing on the brink of the abyss of oblivion, she must reinvent herself. And for that, the star must now tap the actor within. But has that actor died long back smothered by the showbiz? Standing on the stage, laying herself bare and vulnerable in front of the audience who had for so long venerated her and are now waiting to pounce on her and tear her apart, Radha decides to find the answer. Rubaru is Tisca’s version of Sunset Boulevard, albeit fifty shades darker.

Rubaru is an actor facing her inner demons, it is probably also an actor (Tisca) looking at another actor (Radha) and confronting her own insecurities through her. It is a meta short which is also an autofiction shows the actors’ inner journey, it touches upon their insecurities and anxieties. Tisca scrubs clean every bit of fake from her face as well as from the quintessential ‘actors’ lives’ and lets the arclights highlight every wrinkle, every enlarged pore, every blemish. The result is part ugly, part beautiful, part too dark…but always real and raw.Tisca Chopra has already established herself as the superstar of short films with Jyoti Kapur Das’ Chutney (2016) and Mansi Jain’s Chhuri (2017), two critically-acclaimed and well-loved shorts that Tisca both produced and acted in. It was probably a matter of time that the actor turned director. And, with Rubaru she has finally taken the plunge.

Short is Big

“I think I like telling stories. As an actor you are always collaborating with people to tell their stories. When you have a story to tell, I think you have to take it upon yourself and tell it. My first production and writing gig was Chutney. I wrote, produced and acted in it. Then, working on Chhuri further helped me get acquainted with the process of filmmaking. I was behind the scene every single day and I was constantly learning… especially the editing process, which really helps you understand how to tell a story effectively. Also, the kind of response I got from Chutney and Chhuri afforded me the opportunity that allowed me to direct Rubaru. I have to say that the people at The Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films have been very kind and have been a constant source of encouragement,” says the newly-minted director when we catch up with her for a quick telephonic conversation.

However, she adds it was not planned as a trilogy. “In fact, the story that I wanted to get into direction with was that of a feature-length film. But that got delayed due to some casting issues. I had this story brewing in my head for the longest time. So, I decided to go ahead and make a short film out of this,” she adds.

She points out that apart from it being more convenient to handle along with her other acting assignments, short films are possibly one of the best ways to learn filmmaking before getting into a feature-length movie.

“It is a great way to learn and experiment and understand how to make a film. One wonderful thing about short films is that because the duration is so less, you have no time to explore characters, you have to literally do it in 30 seconds, you have to hit the ground running. Your expertise in telling a story has to be high as a writer. Because you have to grab the attention of the audience from the word go. So, when you get into a feature-length film, you do a much better job out of it. A short film is like a small piece of jewellery with intricate meenakari work on it. When you can craft deftly on a smaller piece, it trains you to work on a larger piece.”

The heart of darkness

Although maybe not planned as a trilogy, at the core of all her three shorts is something that is essentially very dark. “All humans are shades of grey, some darker, some lighter. The very private lives of people are something we hardly get to know, even if you are living under the same roof for twenty years. It is that area which you don’t know that interests me. The private side—the trials and tribulations that happen away from the public eye—make for an interesting concoction.

“Also, the story of the underdog story interests me. Chutney, Chhuri and Rubaru are essentially about the underdogs. Their reasons might be different. In Rubaru, Radha is an underdog because of the misogyny inherent in the industry she is in. It is about how she confronts that and overcomes her own lack of confidence. Also, you see the pain behind the performances, the flipside of the sparkling Bollywood that gets splashed all over the media,” she explains.

But Rubaru is essentially also about an actor trying to reinvent herself and her quest to remain relevant. It is a constant struggle every actor faces. “You are just as good as your last release. But people will appreciate you for a strong performance over the years,” says Tisca, who is still lauded for her diverse yet brilliant turns in films like Taare Zameen Par (2007), Firaaq (2008) and Qissa (2013).

“Reinvent along with a character. Not as yourself. You can try to reinvent yourself by looking younger, looking fresher, looking thinner, but that is you reinventing yourself as a person and not really as an actor. In fact, a lot of actors, especially in Hindi cinema, tend to play themselves in the movies, they are the same in every film. I think an actor needs to reinvent himself/herself with every film, with every character, whatever the shade or the shape. An actor needs to reinvent both psychologically as well as physically to fit into the character,” says Tisca adding, however, that apart from this, it is also crucial to keep oneself updated with the technology. “Five years back when we made Chutney the technology was so different. Today, we are doing live grading… colour correction on set! The technology is changing so fast, every one and a half years there is a sea-change. I think it helps if you work with newer people and fresher minds.”

Future is…song and dance!

So would we ever see her direct a full-on Bollywood movie? Tisca laughs. “By Bollywood, do you mean a song-and-dance movie? Why not! Maybe not in the typical way, but I have something in mind, which is a period film. But it might be too big for me to start with right now. I have another film that I have written, and already has a producer attached to it and we are casting for it now,” Tisca signs off.

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