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Exclusive! Tillotama Shome on her character in The Night Manager: It's nice to see a working woman navigate her way in a man's world

Tillotama Shome also reflected on her 20-year-long journey and how the wait for meatier roles has finally arrived. 

Exclusive! Tillotama Shome on her character in The Night Manager: It's nice to see a working woman navigate her way in a man's world
Tillotama Shome/Instagram
  • Aishwarya Vasudevan

Last Updated: 07.38 AM, Feb 17, 2023

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The year was 2001, when we saw Alice, a simple but quite interesting girl, come on screen in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. Yes, we're talking about Tillotama Shome, who shines brightly in the roles she chooses. Now, within a few months after playing an antagonist in Delhi Crime Season 2, we see the talented actor as a RAW agent with a spunky and deadpan sense of humour.

The actor, who has previously appeared in films such as Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost, Hindi Medium, A Death in the Gunj, Sir, and Chintu Ka Birthday, to name a few, is already winning hearts as Lipika in the Disney+ Hotstar series.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Tillotama spoke at length about playing a character who works within a bureaucratic, male-driven workforce and also having a supportive husband. Moreover, the actor reveals how she hopes Olivia Colman "forgives" her for playing the character that the British actor played in the original series.

Tillotama has gotten meatier roles over the course of her two-decade career, and she deserves to be one of the shining stars.


Edited excerpts follow below:

I thoroughly enjoyed watching you bring that spunk as a RAW agent in the series. What's something that you found very interesting about your character that prompted you to join the series?

It's nice to see a working woman in a man's world navigate through it in a way that is humane. At the same time, for someone who doesn't care much for protocol and is not very circumspect about what she says and what's on her mind, given that it's a man's world and she has to get her approval from men in positions of power, there are two ways of going through life, right? When you're in a situation like that, you can become cynical and negative about a setup like that. But Lipika has survived that and saved herself from that cynicism, I think because of the support of a partner in the show. She has a loving husband who understands and gives her space to do what she wants to do. She has a sense of humor, which allows her to survive working within a bureaucratic, male-driven workforce. I like these contradictions; I also like the fact that she comes across as frazzled and all over the place. But there's a method to her madness. It's instinct, of course, that's honed with time, but she's also extremely sharp and extremely intelligent. Even though she comes across as a bit all over the place, I like playing characters that have these contradictions.

As the series progresses, we see your character becoming pregnant and experiencing the most intense sequences during that time. How did you sink into your character, which becomes more challenging as it progresses?

I think she's more hungry than usual; she's eating for two people. But other than that, I really like the fact that in the show, not much is made of the fact that she's pregnant. We know of her mothers and aunts, who worked through their pregnancies. This idea of a pregnant woman fulfilling her reproductive role, can't do anything else, was really debunked by the fact that much is not made about the fact that she's pregnant. In fact, Tessa told me that Olivia Coleman was pregnant during the filming of The Night Manager, which meant she was given a chair more often and blocking was sometimes changed because she had to sit more. But other than that, there's no mention made of it. I really liked that because sometimes we want to underline the fact that "oh, she's pregnant, and yet she's working." Women multitask; they have to; they run homes; they're working; they're raising a family; these are their responsibilities. So many women do it, day after day, month after month, year after year, just like Lipika.

The Night Manager is an adapted series, and your character was played by Olivia Colman in the British series. What did you love about your character that you felt was missing in the original series?

I did watch the show after I finished. But I've been shooting nonstop. So I really, to be honest, couldn't finish it. I have to say that, but because it's an adaptation, what's really important is the script of the adaptation; it doesn't matter what the original was. The context will change when it's a RAW agent in India, the crisis will change, and the writing will change. So I actually just asked Sandeep and Priyanka to share the script with me that she had written. Yes, I said it was based on the script, not on watching the original. Also, once I said "yes," I did think I would see the show. I was confirmed, but after hearing for the hundredth time that I'm playing Olivia Coleman's part, I decided not to watch it because I'm a huge fan of her, not just because of the attention and fame she's gotten in the last few years, but from the beginning of her career, dating back to Tyrannosaurus, and all the wonderful work that she's done. She's so inspiring because of the longevity of her career and the choices that she has made for such a long time. I decided that I'm too big a fan and too in awe of her to watch this before shooting, so I decided that I'll have to make Lipika my own and hope that Olivia Coleman can forgive me for it.

There are only four episodes in the first part of the series; the second part will be out in June. Do you think the wait is too long, as all hell breaks loose in the fourth episode, giving your character a different arc?

I know that Hotstar has made this decision based on a certain understanding, and I really want to respect that. For me, is the wait too long? I've waited for 20 years for this kind of volume of work and opportunities.

It's been more than two decades since you've been a part of the film industry. Since the beginning of your character, we have seen you play these characters, which are among the shining factors, be it in a film or a series. With the advent and rise of OTT in the past couple of years, have the offers also become meatier than before?

Oh, yes. Earlier in my career, I would play supporting roles where you had to shoot for three days to create a character, and you only had two or three scenes, and you poured your heart and soul into it, hoping that it would lead to something else. It was really hand-to-mouth. This is it. If you don't make these two days, these three scenes, count, you might never be called again. That awareness that you're as good as your last job came from such rigorous training and then having to wait between projects for years. That kind of training, when you're going through it, makes you feel terrible. You go through such self-doubt and questioning of your self-worth and whether you're good enough, and I think that's part of the journey now. 20 years later, I feel like, when there's so much work now, sifting through what you really want to do and what you really feel energetically about will inspire you. The kind of people you want to surround yourself with—that's become very important. It's not just about the work now; if there are red flags about the kind of people and their way of working doesn't settle with me, I won't do it, even if it's commercially viable. But that confidence also comes now from the amount of work that is coming my way. But I don't want to change anything because those 20 years gave me the foundation to continue for another 20 years—or another 40 years, if I live that long. For me, the gap between my personal and professional lives has shrunk to the point where who I am in my personal life and what I bring to my work are equally important. It's become important because of those 20 years of understanding that becoming negative, cynical, and mistrusting is not a way that I want to work, not how I want to live, and not how I want to work. I wouldn't feel the kind of joy and appreciation that I feel now if I hadn't gone to that. The ability to wait, the ability to not rush—just because you're getting a lot of offers, just take them all—I don't feel that need.

You're a nature lover, and I am sure you find it therapeutic. But does simply removing yourself from the hustle and bustle for a while help you choose your roles better?

It does—I mean, this is what I was telling you earlier. This distinction that I made in my 20s and 30s is not one that I stand by anymore. It's the same me, so the way I want to live is the way I want to work. I want to live with the kind of courage and joy that my mother and father have. They have simplicity, courage, and a sense of consideration, and I want to bring that to my work; it's become very important. A walk in the forest, being able to garden, and learning embroidery are all very humbling because they require patience. The more I do it, the more I'm at ease, and the more I am patient with my work as well. It mitigates the restlessness. It's a journey, right, and it's difficult to articulate, but I do feel like there's a certain synergy that's happening in life where work and personal life are not in separate silos. I will be nice to my family but aloof with the people at work because I'm just going to work and coming back. I make that distinction because, for however long I have, I like to live it with a certain kind of joy. That's me.