Director: Tisca Chopra
Writers: Sanjay Chopra, Tisca Chopra, Namrata Shenoy
Cast: Tisca Chopra, Arjun Mathur, Chitrashi Rawat
DOP: Sirsa Ray
Editors: Anant Singh, Konark Saxena
Streaming on: YouTube
Method-acting metaphors fly thick and fast in Rubaru, a short film starring a gifted middle-aged actress as a yesteryear film star who, in a bid to prove herself as a serious artist, takes the stage in the role of a failed middle-aged writer. I'm wary of actors playing writers (one's all text, the other's subtext), but Rubaru involves an actor playing an actor playing a writer. Tisca Chopra is Radha Malhotra, a woman haunted by self-doubt on the opening night of her Hindi-language play. The play is no ordinary one either; it is loosely based on the life of author Virginia Woolf. Radha, once a Bollywood star whose youth camouflaged her lack of talent, is now at an age where the industry has discarded her in favour of male counterparts. She has been robbed of a big-screen comeback. Her life is in pieces. She looks like someone who isn't very comfortable with her own company.
Now Radha has no choice but to reinvent herself on the stage – a switch of medium that not only brings to mind the meta-fictional (Kareena Kapoor doing an arthouse film in Heroine) but also the auto-fictional (Tisca Chopra reinventing herself as a bonafide short film superstar). After breaking the internet with Jyoti Kapur Das' Chutney and legitimizing that legacy with Mansi Jain's Chhuri, it's only fitting that Rubaru is Chopra's directorial debut as well. As a result, she is in complete control of a character who is on the verge of losing control. The spotlight is on her, in every way possible.
Her performance is complex: she is essentially playing a bad actor who must will herself to be a good one in a few hours. The film opens with her rehearsing a scene in which she must subtly depict the hopelessness of a writer's mind. Her director (Arjun Mathur, taking forward his Luck By Chance character) is livid with her lack of feeling. Like the best of cynical theatre veterans, he has no faith in her inert movie presence. The film closes with the same scene in the actual play, and to Chopra's credit, the difference is not stark. It doesn't look more dramatic, but it feels more significant because of what we learn about her in the interim period. By now, we've seen her disillusioned by not just her sagging relevance but also her sagging skin. By now, we know that she is mentally crippled: does she, like the person she's playing, have it in her to transform this fragility into art?
The film itself is designed like the insides of Radha's troubled head. The score is sinister, as if this were the monologue of a sociopath. The spaces are dark, full of makeshift stages and voices and props and discerning eyes, and most importantly, features a gun. On the gun hinges the success of this play – and this short film. If the applause is loud enough, perhaps nobody will hear the trigger being pulled. If the hall is silent, perhaps everyone will hear the fear of fading.