Having made her debut on television with Circus in 1989 and becoming a household name with Surabhi three years later, actor-filmmaker RENUKA SHAHANE tells SAURABH TANKHA that she is saddened by the small screen been taken over by daily soaps but feels happy with the rising confidence among audiences’ on women-centric content. She also talks about her choice of acting over a career as a clinical psychologist, her latest directorial venture, plans for future, her life and more…
Tell us the story behind Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy.
The plot came about in 2014, before I participated in the Sundance Mumbai Mantra Screenwriters’ Workshop. Having a 10-page script is a prerequisite for each participant. I chose to call the script Tribhanga for the sheer love of this dance pose of Odissi. Tribhanga is the metaphor I use for women in the film. Fortunately, my script got selected and I was mentored by scriptwriters and filmmakers like William Wheeler, Asif Kapadia, Anjum Rajabally, Malia Scotch Marmo. After the workshop, I started working on turning the script into a screenplay. The process went on for three years after which I took it to the NFDC’s co-production market (in 2016 at Goa). And while some producers did seem interested, things didn’t work out. Then, in 2018, I met Siddharth Malhotra at the premiere of my film, Bucketlist. I narrated my script to him and he loved it. Stating that Kajol would be the ideal person to play Anu, he took me to her house. She too loved it, and thereafter, everything fell into place.
I think Nayan, Anu and Masha are some parts of me in a little way – the concepts they struggle with, the discussions they undertake and the feelings they go through
Are the lead characters in Tribhanga inspired by any real ones?
Nayan, Anu and Masha are a mixture of a lot of women I have seen, met, experienced and a lot of what I’m. I think the three are some parts of me in a little way – the concepts they struggle with, the discussions they undertake and the feelings they go through. I think Robrindro and Raina are also have a part of me.
Don’t you think that nowadays there is more women-centric content in the industry?
There is much more confidence in supporting women-centric stories – the audiences have proved this time and again. People want to see a wider variety of stories, especially the ones led by women. Most such films have earned good returns in mainstream cinema. Also, a number of A-lister women actors are ruling the roost even commercially. With the advent of OTT, they are looking for women telling women-centric stories or even men stories. There is a lot of encouragement for women filmmakers to not just put out women-centric stories but others too. OTT platforms also encourage women voices.
You took a 14-year of sabbatical. How was it?
I stayed away from the arc lights of my own will, it wasn’t forced upon me. By the time I got married in 2001, I had done a lot of television shows. Now, TV can be a tiring medium as there are no holidays. At that time, we had weekly soaps and at one point in time, I was doing some five of them so I had to divide the 30-31 days between these minus holidays. It was then that I had decided to take a sabbatical post-marriage.
By the time, I decided to get back to acting, the TV scenario had changed totally – it had daily soaps. Though I was not much interested, I did try one, Jeete Hai Jiske Liye, (Sony TV, 2007). But, I wasn’t much satisfied, and didn’t want to do any further daily soaps. It was then that Ranaji (Ashutosh Rana, her husband) suggested I begin working on a script – he knew I wanted to become a director. I picked up my mother’s novel, Rita Welinkar, as it is one of those rare works which is clear in terms of characterisation, and can be easily converted into a screenplay. – not all novels can be adapted thus. I started working on the screenplay in 2007, and after it was ready pitched it to producers Pooja-Aarti Shetty. Rita starring Pallavi Joshi and Jackie Shroff was released in 2009. The film did well at the box office and won critics’ praise too. It encouraged me to move further.
Rita starring Pallavi Joshi and Jackie Shroff was released in 2009. The film did well at the box office and won critics’ praise too. It encouraged me to move further
I’m overly critical of myself and don’t move ahead till I’m totally satisfied and happy with my work. That’s the reason Tribhanga took so long to happen. From then till now, I performed in just one show, What the Folks (Season 2&3).
Isn’t it difficult for a performer to stay away from arc lights for long?
Not for me. I love being at home, and being with myself. I love reading, writing, watching movies and spending time with my kids.
I decided to become a professional actor after I finished acting for Circus in 1990. Filmmaker Aziz Mirza advised me to not go back to theatre but stay with television
Let us go back a little, when did you first decide to be an actor?
I decided to become a professional actor after I finished acting for Circus in 1990. Filmmaker Aziz Mirza advised me to not go back to theatre (which was my plan) but stay with television. He told me I had a lot of potential, I followed his advice. Then I did the immensely-popular show Surabhi – many other offers flowed after that. I never did a film because I wasn’t comfortable. I found television atmosphere more congenial.
You graduated in psychology and have a PG degree in clinical psychology. Didn’t you want to pursue a career in the same field?
I would have gone that way had Circus not happened. I loved studying psychology – it was an amazing life-changing experience. We used to visit JJ Hospital for our practical classes and dealt with patients – diagnosing the challenges they faced and then give therapy as interns. Psychology not just helped me as an actor but also as a writer.
How has the face of Indian entertainment scene changed since you started working?
Television has been taken over by daily soaps. It is sad that such a strong medium which could have ushered in a social change is now just a place where fantasy and unbelievable stuff keeps happening. It has changed drastically and is saddening. In contrast, cinema has made great strides and tackles all genres. Even the working style has changed. It has become more corporatised, disciplined and organised. The challenges women faced back in 1990s during shoots, especially outdoors, no more exist.
What’s your take on OTT space and the web series?
I’m very fond of web series because it is something we don’t get to see in television. We have not been able to get seasons of serials as daily soaps continue forever. I think this web series format expresses a lot in a few episodes. It is reminiscent of the few initial shows we witnessed during Doordarshan days – Tamas, Kathasagar, Buniyaad, Hum Log… all of which left a deep impact on viewers. Moreover, on OTT you can try different genres – family, romcom, comedy, gritty and edgy stuff, fantasy, anything.
I think this web series format expresses a lot in a few episodes. It is reminiscent of the shows we witnessed during Doordarshan days
How do you describe yourself as a director?
On my sets, everyone is equal – I feel everybody should be treated with respect and dignity. I don’t believe in demeaning people or getting angry just because I’m at the helm of affairs. If I have a problem with a department or person, I talk to them separately and not create a fuss. I try to keep a friendly atmosphere around me. Each and every person contributes to the final product and they should be happy while working.
What’s up next for Renuka Shahane?
I’m writing a few scripts – one web series and a feature film. I don’t know whether something will come out of it or not but I’m going to follow that process. I look forward to directing them in future. I’m getting some acting assignments as well – I’ll pick up the best and most interesting ones. No one can take the actress out of me. I don’t plan anything now because after Rita, I had decided that I will direct a movie every two years, but it work out as per my wishes. Plans often don’t work out the way you want them to, and when this happens you tend to get frustrated – with yourself and other people. So, I now prefer to take things as they come. I like experiencing what life throws up at me. Moreover, I love being a full-time mom.